The Ultimate Guide to Open Office Hours
Imagine a recent company announcement left one of your newest team members with questions, but they don't know how to approach you remotely.
Scheduling a Zoom meeting doesn't feel necessary, but it's also hard for them to articulate their question in a Slack message without writing a whole paragraph. Popping into your office for a quick face-to-face chat feels right—but your team is fully remote. So instead of talking it out, your team member shrugs off their confusion and hopes for the best.
Instead of leaving your teams wondering how to connect with you, make yourself approachable with open office hours. You'll virtually re-create the quick shoulder-tap moments that reassure your team, even when they're dispersed.
What are open office hours?
Open office hours refer to a regularly scheduled time when direct reports can go to their managers to ask questions, share concerns, or just chat and connect. These hours can be hop-in / hop-out style, or you can request people express their interest ahead of time.
Just like college professors schedule physical office hours for students to drop by with questions, we suggest that leaders use open office hours to stay in touch with their remote teams. You don't need a physical office to host them, either—it's easy to use video software to host open office hours for remote and hybrid teams.
Are open office hours right for my team?
Open office hours make the most sense for departments of 10+. Can smaller departments experiment with open office hours? Sure—but there probably won’t be enough questions to make hosting these hours productive. For these small groups, we suggest having direct reports ask their questions in weekly team meetings, where they can be answered without taking a lot of time.
If your department is 10+, ask direct reports to hop on open office hours if they have questions or concerns that can be handled in ten minutes or less, and save the more involved chats for 1:1 meetings. From there, customize how you run open office hours to suit your culture and communication style until you find the perfect fit.
Experiment with different frequencies and group sizes to see what makes sense for your org. For example, if you have departments of 100+, host separate office hours for each team, host frequent open office hours to accommodate a high volume of questions, and ask teams to submit questions ahead of time to make the best use of their session.
When should I host open office hours?
Set up open office hours anytime you sense your team could benefit from extra support. Here are our recommendations for how to offer your team that extra guidance.
Recurring open office hours
When you set up recurring open office hours (like monthly or weekly open office hours), team members can put a pin in their low-priority questions, knowing they’ll have an opportunity to ask them at the next meeting.
Regular sessions also cut back on interruptions to your workflow and give you a way to address frequently asked questions once while multiple team members are in attendance.
Christine Orchard, who leads a fully distributed team at Arc, shares: "Office Hours are so helpful in our remote team! I hold them every Tuesday and link my Calendly for teammates to choose a time to stop by."
All-hands meetings are often full of new info, especially if there are major org announcements. With so much on the agenda, these meetings aren’t the ideal place to answer every question that comes up, but you want to give your team transparency and reassurance.
If there's a hot topic circulating or you get consistent questions you'd like to address, schedule a post-all-hands open office hours session. Open office hours give your teams space to air their questions or concerns in a way that doesn't constantly pull you away from other work.
This format is perfect for discussing juicy news mentioned in your all-hands meetings, like an upcoming product launch. Use this time to give teams clarification, address concerns, and allow them to share ideas without extending your all-hands meetings.
Schedule company-wide open office hours so everyone can be a part of the conversation when it matters most. If you're leading a large department, schedule a few different time slots, so everyone can get their questions answered over a few short sessions.
Onboarding inevitably brings on a flurry of information for new team members.
When you add remote work into the mix, onboarding is even more challenging. Don’t leave everything to your human resources team, though—you can also offer new hires guidance by hosting onboarding office hours.
Invite new hires to chat with you and get questions answered. The best part? You get to know new team members with casual face time, just like you would in the office.
We recommend waiting until you have an average of five new hires at a time across your department to host this style of open office hours. Not only do you avoid answering the same questions over and over for each new team member, but new teammates will benefit from getting to know each other while they hang out with you.
Office hours don't always have to be a 1:many setup, either—consider asking your leadership team to casually hang out in a Remotion room together during certain hours of a new hire's first few weeks.
When you have extra time to connect
Office hours don't always need a scheduled time. Make room for camaraderie-building by hosting a casual, get-to-know-me chat when you've got some free time between meetings. Send out a quick Slack announcement and jump in your open office hours room where team members can join.
Treat them like coworking sessions—team members can hop in and work alongside you while you chat or answer questions. This easy access also gives your team extra bonding time and support and makes communication a part of your culture.
Use video open office hours to create a culture of access
When you’re hosting remote office hours, you can hold your open office hours from anywhere, and you’re instantly accessible to teammates all over the world. All you need is a video tool to create your virtual office!
While video chat platforms like Zoom are an option, they don’t do a great job of making room for the casual hop-in / hop-out collaboration of office life. On the other hand, with platforms like Remotion, open office hours work the same as they do in person.
Simply create a room and let your team come in and out as they please. Team members can jump in as they’re available or show up for a planned team session anytime they need feedback or simply want to talk.
With open office hours, team members don’t have to wonder when (or how) they should get in touch, and they never feel left out of the conversation—regardless of where they are.
The case for virtual coworking: build a connected remote culture.
Regularly coworking with your hybrid or remote team can help you build the social cohesion that makes work feel less like work.
Here are the biggest reasons we think coworking is an effective way to create a close-knit remote culture:
1. It fosters casual conversations.
Building a connected remote culture is all about fostering 1:1 or small group organic conversations. Virtual coworking makes space for those conversations. When you spend time together outside of agenda-driven meetings, spontaneous chats naturally occur, as they would in an office.
2. It's more inclusive than scheduled social events.
It can be draining for introverts to have to participate in scheduled, purely social conversations. Coworking allows the team to spend time together and occasionally chat without having to constantly be "on," making it more inclusive for introverts and extroverts alike.
3. It's easy to say yes to.
Purely social events are important, but if your team is busy or on a tight deadline, it's tough to find the time for social chats without it feeling like an obligation. Coworking is much easier to get your team onboard with because it doesn't take time away from getting work done.
4. It improves remote collaboration.
Coworking can lead to unblocking and shorter feedback loops. Quick questions get answered easily and in the moment, without a having to schedule a meeting or go back-and-forth in messages.
5. It's scalable.
Coworking works for teams of all sizes and is a great way to scale your remote culture as your team grows. It's helpful to create opportunities for teammates from different functions to get to know one another.
6. It creates shared momentum.
The feeling of togetherness is motivating!
Get started with virtual coworking: choose the type most aligned with your priorities.
It takes intentionality to make virtual coworking feel natural and energizing enough to stick—it's not as simple as leaving a Zoom call open all day.
Here are a few of the ways we've set coworking up for our team. We recommend choosing one to start with. If it works, make it routine and experiment with other types from there.
Try independent coworking.
Try project-based coworking.
Best practices for virtual coworking.
Keep group sizes small.
Limit your coworking sessions to 4-6 people to keep things from getting distracting and help make introverted teammates comfortable chatting.
Signal boost coworking.
Set a norm of letting the entire team know when you're hopping into a coworking room or session.
Make it routine.
Once you've figured out what kind of coworking works for your team, make it a regular, opt-in event. Set up a recurring calendar event to do it at the same time each week to maximize the impact.
Set expectations ahead of time.
When you're first introducing coworking to your team, share what you're imagining in your calendar invite and at the top of each session to get everyone on the same page. For example:
Let's try virtual coworking! We'll work independently on our own projects with our cameras off, but we'll share space and listen to music together — like we might work side-by-side at the office.
Listen to music together.
Play music while you work to create a shared environment and add a little bit of personality to your coworking session.
Set up Coworking Rooms in Remotion.
Most of the above is doable with any video chat app, but much easier with Remotion—which we designed with a lightweight, smooth coworking experience in mind. Easily set up Remotion rooms that your teammates can hop into for different styles of coworking.