College professors got it right. They only work when students are there, they’re bulletproof (aka “tenured”), and they get to hang out on college campuses all day.
Not only that, but they have a handy-dandy, built-in boundary setter for problematic students and colleagues. It’s called office hours. If you’ve spent time in a higher learning environment, you know that professors will set a few hours per day when they’re available. After that? You’re on your own. Catch them when the syllabus says to or you are, as they say, “out of luck.”
Office hours for professors also provide a helpful service for students, too. You can talk through a questionable grade, find out more about the given subject or just stop in and say “hello.” In the lives of hurried teachers and students everywhere, office hours are a gift.
I’m not a professor. But I have an office. Sometimes I like to get out of that office, but still want to be available. Predicament? Hardly!
Enter: Online Office Hours
I took a nod from the professor playbook (is there such a thing?) and started experimenting with the idea of online office hours. Online office hours function much like their offline counterpart: Give people a time when you will be available in a certain space. In my case, the office wasn’t a physical room, but a web address.
“We’re onto something,” I thought.
Truth be told, I got the idea from Behance CEO and author of Making Ideas Happen, Scott Belsky. As a reader and a fan of Scott’s, his online office gave me the ability to ask questions I had about the book he wrote, how he runs his company and how he structures his day. The beauty of it all is that he actually responded.
Talk about a “wow!” moment.
“Wow” from the perspective that I admire Scott, but also from the potential of the whole idea. What would this look like if I held online office hours like this? We could talk about the topics that interest me and if people have questions or want to stop in and say ‘hello!’, they can.
My Office Hours
So I started rolling with the idea and the results have been astounding. From 2-4 p.m. CST on Wednesdays, people can stop by office.justin.am and ask any question they want, anonymously if they’d prefer.
I get questions on blogging and social media (“Should an organization respond to tweets?”), difficult pastoral situations (“What are your thoughts on the three Iowa Supreme Court Justices who were ousted in yesterday’s election?”), and the occasional curveball (“Are you wearing a sweater vest today?”).
Some questions make me laugh. Some make me think. Others make me research my position on issues more thoroughly. Either way, it’s engaging with people and I appreciate that. I think they do, too.
This idea certainly has been a time-saver. If I get an e-mail asking a question that I think other people might have, I ask the sender if they’d be willing to post it to my online office. In all but one occasion, the sender was more than happy to oblige.
But having my online office has allowed me to connect with the people of my church and the readers of my blogs in a way that e-mail and responding to comments can’t. Leveraging technology to build and extend relationships is one of the primary reasons I wanted to have an “office.” So far, it’s working.
Your Office Hours
It can work for your church, too. Strolling into the pastor’s office is unlikely for the random unchurched person, but asking a question online is much easier, safer, simpler. It’s a way to reach out and it’s a way to learn. If you’re a pastor, blogger, author, CEO, heck—any position where you work with people, I’d encourage you to give an online office a shot. Break out of the standard mold of thinking and try it.
You can sign up for free at http://formspring.me and then customize it with a URL if you wish. Otherwise you can send people directly to your Formspring page. It’s easy.
If you decide to start your online office, look me up. Feel free to stop by my place on Wednesday afternoons, too. I’ll be there, chatting and sipping a cup of coffee or two. Come and say, “Hi.” In the meantime, I’m going to be researching ways to get tenured.