The case for being accessible

photo-88Over at Fast Company this week I had a post on “The Compelling Case for Being More Accessible.” I mentioned a comment from an entrepreneur who discussed regional differences in accessibility. She found that in Silicon Valley, it was pretty easy to get meetings with people based on a pitch. In Philadelphia, not so much — you needed to be introduced by someone who knew the person you were trying to reach. 

I know there are vast differences in accessibility everywhere, but the comment got me thinking about how available we choose to make ourselves to people outside our inner circle. Over at Grumpy Rumblings of the Formerly Un-Tenured, NicoleandMaggie made a list of things you shouldn’t do if you want tenure, and one of them was be too accessible to students. One prof had her door open all the time, but got poor marks for accessibility, because people got mad when she wasn’t there. Over at Modern Mrs. Darcy, Anne did a post recently about wanting to see more female faces on stage at conferences. The organizer of one told her he’d tried, but got turned down a lot. I’m sure there’s a case that he could have tried harder (people often say yes when they know you and owe you) but people are busy. It takes time to be accessible.

And, of course, time has an opportunity cost. We only have 168 hours a week, and it’s impossible to do work-related activities for all of them, or even for more than 60 of them on a regular basis. Being open to the world too much takes time away from things like…getting tenure. One study of CEO time use found that meetings with insiders were correlated with strong firm sales in a way that meetings with outsiders were not. We have limited time and attention and focusing on the things right in front of you has a certain efficiency to it.

But on the other hand, there’s a lot of random and wonderful stuff in the world, and it’s not all right there in front of you. I think there are ways to preserve accessibility without losing control of your time. The professorial concept of office hours is a good one. You create pockets of time when you’re fully accessible, and other times when you’re not. Someone with more of a corporate type job could designate a slot during the week (Friday afternoons?) for meetings and phone calls with outsiders. He or she could set a time to respond to emails with random things that come over the transom. You can have a quota of random things you say yes to (conference appearances and the like) over the year. There’s a budget, and if you use it up, that’s fine, but at least you know exactly how much time is going into it.

I’ve always had my email address available via this website because I find that the benefits of being easy to find massively outweigh the downsides. I get all kinds of media requests because I’m easy to find. I figure we all need a lot of luck in life, but fortune is a fickle and lazy creature. If opportunity has to look too hard to find you, she might just go looking somewhere else.

How accessible are you?

5 thoughts on “The case for being accessible

  1. I’m a lecturer @ a highly ranked R1. During exam and paper writing season (~3-4 weeks/semester), I expand my office hours to accommodate the increased demand. Students appreciate this, but I still maintain control over when meetings occur. Students know that they can always make appointments, but I attempt to make appts. cluster around office hours (normal or expanded) unless a student has a really good reason.

  2. On a related note, I’d be interested in hearing about how well it works to limit accessibility within an office. I find it very difficult to deal with continuous interruptions during the day — a secretary about an expense report; an associate delivering research results, etc. Any thoughts on a closed door policy, for example from 8-10:30 in which you turn off email, turn off the phone, and close your office door? I don’t want to be a grouch, but the constant interruptions make me feel frazzled.

    1. @Kathy- I like the idea of closed door times. I think if you make a point of being very accessible at other points, sometimes a closed door is OK. You can also choose times that are less pointed for people (e.g. come in a little early). At one publication where I worked, someone would hang a “Reporter on deadline” sign on her door when she was in crunch mode.

      But yes, this is a little different from the question of availability to outsiders — we may be too accessible to the inner circle, and not enough accessible to people outside…

    2. I saw this occasionally at my corporate job – people would either work from home in the mornings so they could work without interruptions or they’d put up a sign on their closed door requesting “email only”, meaning they’d check it when they were able. I also had several friends who would “hide” in a conference room, or find an empty office in another building so they could work incognito. Usually this was when they had to write a lot of code, or a large document, but some people did this on a weekly basis just to get more done.

  3. One of the things that drove me batty was the rise of Instant Messaging at work. I didn’t have a ton of people dropping by or calling, but would get multiple pings a day from colleagues. The system automatically signed us in so we had to actively log out if we didn’t want to be accessible that way. I never did find a great solution for that.

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