The first thing it communicates is that managers have a door, and ordinary employees don’t. Have you ever heard of an Open Door Policy for ordinary workers? I haven’t. Apparently, top management thinks that normal employees have less need for privacy than managers do. A door emphasizes a separation, even when it is open.
The second thing it communicates is that it is OK for employees to ignore their own manager, and to discuss and negotiate matters with the superiors of their superiors. The policy encourages people to skip nodes in the line of command (both upwards and downwards). They can circumvent people with a strong opinion, and deal with the ones who are more pliable, and who often lack the context to make proper decisions.
The third thing it communicates is that, at any time, employees can peek in the top manager’s private room, and see his personal secretary, mahogany desk, private Nespresso coffee machine, and titanium golf clubs.
I think the Open Door Policy communicates and emphasizes distance, while organizations are better off emphasizing closeness and togetherness.
We need a different policy, one that emphasizes that managers should not be separated from other kinds of employees.
I prefer to have a desk somewhere among our teams. It is the same kind of desk that they have, with the same kind of stone-age-workstation. And I drink the same miserable goo that is being passed off as coffee. I appreciate that important decisions (like architecture and interface choices) are shared with me before people make them final. Which is why I do the same: I ask people for feedback on stuff like brand names, logo designs, company rules, and tool selection, before I make the decisions.
I want to suggest that we call this approach the Open Space Policy. In an open space you share the same air, and the same rules. It doesn’t mean there needs to be a physical open space (though it can help). But it communicates that everyone is in it together. We’re the same kind of people. We just have different jobs, with different responsibilities. And I would leave my Nespresso coffee machine at home. If I had one.