Fewer interruptions at your agency? Launch internal Office Hours.

Want fewer interruptions by your employees? Create internal “Office Hours” at your agency!

An agency owner asked me for help—he was overwhelmed by email at work. He felt like he needed to respond to emails immediately, or fall hopelessly behind. During our two-hour coaching call, he was worried that 100 new emails had come in.

I recommended my concept of internal “Office Hours” as a way to help fix this. I’ve seen internal Office Hours help many of my clients—along with things like “heads down” time (where your team doesn’t interrupt you).

Tired of working late most nights? Try internal Office Hours and send me your results. In my experience, it can reduce your internal email volume by 30-50% once you and the team fully adapt.

Let’s look at how you’d roll it out to the team, including details to consider.

[EMAIL TEMPLATE] Launching internal Office Hours

Here’s a suggested email template to introduce the team to the concept of internal Office Hours. Feel free to edit where needed.

SUBJECT: Get faster signoffs: My new internal Office Hours

Hi team! I know I’ve been hard to track down. I’m trying to a new approach to help you get the signoffs you need with a concept called internal “Office Hours.”

Do you remember in college you could go to your professors with questions during their Office Hours? It’s a little like that—and it’s designed to reduce my internal email workload while also getting you answers faster. Here’s how my Office Hours will work:

  1. Every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, I’ll be in the kitchen from 3:30-4:30pm.
  2. Come by (in person) with questions, signoff needs, and anything else where you need my help.
  3. I’ve scheduled this timeslot so that if you need to send things externally (e.g., by EOD), you’ll be able to act on my advice/decision.
  4. If you need advice, please bring as much of a solution (instead of a problem) as you can. My goal is to do 3-5 minutes per signoff; if we need significantly more, I’ll recommend you come back with more details or schedule a separate meeting.
  5. I won’t have my laptop/phone out (bring your laptop if you need me to review something) so that I can give you my undivided attention.
  6. My assistant, <Name>, will sit-in on the Office Hours to help me work through actionables. I’ll also meet with <Name> afterwards, to help get things assigned out as needed.
  7. Sometimes, I’ll recommend that you make the decision—especially when it’s something you can evaluate better than I based on your role.

We’ll start <two weeks from now> and do a one-month trial. Depending on how the meetings go, I may change the schedule to add or subtract days. But let’s see how it goes—my goal is to make things less crazy during a crazy time.

If you need something from me and you haven’t heard back, stop by my Office Hours; I can probably share the answer there sooner than via email, so you can move forward faster. My goal is to cut my internal email volume by 30-50%.

Let me know what questions you have about the new internal Office Hours concept. Thanks!

<Agency Owner Name>

You’ll want to customize that template to sound like you, of course!

Ready for your internal Office Hours?

Implementation Notes

Doing the Office Hours without your phone or laptop may be painful at first, but it’s important to show your team you’re focused on them while you’re there. Seeing is believing.

I recommend bringing a magazine or book. Be aware you may feel some technology withdrawal symptoms. (If you find no one’s coming much at first, you might try bringing your laptop, but close it immediately when someone shows up.)

Concerned about more emails coming in while you’re in Office Hours? It’s going to happen. But if you follow the schedule above (3:30-4:30pm, plus a delegation meeting with your assistant from 4:30-5:00pm), you’ll have 5:00-5:30pm or 5:00-6:00pm to reply to any truly urgent emails. (And if you find you really need more time, you can always move Office Hours an hour earlier.)

Still dealing with too many emails? Check out my advice on handling a flood of emails, from helping an agency owner who was getting 200+ emails a day.

You might also consider tools like Slack—but ultimately, this is about re-training your team about how you need them to communicate. That’s true regardless of the tool.

Question: How many internal emails do you get each day?

Image credit: Electric switch by Mitchell Haindfield via Creative Commons

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