Should I hold office hours?

Person working in busy office.

Most are familiar with office hours as a college/university thing. These are times at which professors and TAs make themselves available to students. They do so to clarify matters, provide guidance, and suggest further reading (and because they’re contractually obligated to). Typically, these sessions run on a schedule that’s listed in the class syllabus.

Lately, though, office hours are spreading beyond the classroom—because we all need to keep learning. So, we see AMAs, webcasts, and speed sessions at conferences—through which smart folks offer to lend a hand. Why do they do this? My hunch is that most just want to pay forward what they’ve learned.

Considering holding office hours? Following are a few reasons you might like to. I’ll start with the most practical (and perhaps selfish) ones.

Better manage requests

If your day is anything like mine, you’re bombarded with calls. I sometimes find difficulty in discerning which are worth my attention. I used to spend a lot of time contemplating what to do with these, but I now have a better way.

For any unclear requests, I just say “sure,” and direct these folks to my Officehours profile. Doing so allows me to respond on my schedule, and get that email out of my inbox. Plus, doing this contains our conversation. Officehours sessions only last 10 minutes. So, if the request is a dud, I’m in and out quickly.

Organize time in blocks

For all the praise we give those who multitask, few do it well. As an antidote to this, some of us block out times for specific activities. Doing so affords an opportunity to focus—even if it’s only fleeting.

Officehours allows you to set recurring sessions. So, pick a window that works for you. (I offer 30 minutes every Thursday morning.) Then, set it and forget it. We’ll get in touch if someone requests a session.

It’s great to help others, but no one wants to deal with ongoing interruptions. Scheduled office hours reduce the number of intrusions you have, when working on tasks that require focus.

Showcase your expertise

I think most people (especially freelancers) fail to understand the sales process. Most go out asking others to buy their services—when they should instead show how they can help. But, this is challenging, when you don’t know what a prospective client needs.

That’s the beauty of office hours: people bring their problems to you. Sometimes these problems are ones they need ongoing assistance with. So, make yourself available, and genuinely try to help folks make sense of these situations. And when it’s time to hire someone for a contract, these people are more likely to call on you.

“Aha!” you say, “but aren’t a lot of people on Officehours students? Why would they buy my services?” Truth be told—most won’t. But, give them a few years. Bright people who ask questions move up quickly. If you help them now, they might just remember you when they’re working at large corporations (and in need of help).

Access untapped information

Odds are someone out there wants to tell you something, but lacks an easy way to do this. So, you’re missing out on information that might help you or your organization. Maybe your UX has a flaw. Perhaps your pricing plans are poorly structured. Or, could be that you’ve unwittingly offended a customer.

People like to talk to those in charge. If you give them an easy (and manageable for you) way to reach out, you’ll access useful feedback. Setting weekly office hours opens this door. You might receive ideas, feature requests, complaints, or just general feedback. These can all prove informative and useful.

Keep in mind that you don’t need to have an answer for every question asked. Plus, some calls might not be fruitful. However, by making yourself available, you show that you’re listening—and that you care about what your users/customers think.

Make new connections

Successful people exhibit initiative. They don’t think they know everything; instead, they ask questions and find out. I like folks who pursue opportunities, and make their own opportunities happen. You probably do, too.

By holding office hours, you make yourself available to those sorts of people. The connections you establish, just by being available, might surprise you. New hires, partners, and even friends can be had, when you’re open to a brief conversation.

In the digital world, most tend to think “one to many,” instead of “one to one.” This is an ineffective viewpoint. My best opportunities come from personal interactions. Holding office hours is a great way to make these happen.

Find happiness

The most important reason I have for holding office hours? They afford me an opportunity to help others. We all remember a time when we were stuck. Heck, for me it was two hours ago. Having someone great lend a hand can be a huge gift—and I like giving gifts, when I can.

This reminds me of an old Chinese proverb: “If you want happiness for an hour, take a nap. If you want happiness for a day, go fishing. If you want happiness for a month, get married. If you want happiness for a year, inherit a fortune. If you want happiness for a lifetime, help others.”

Keep learning

Many see themselves as experts—or wish they were. This is a mistake. Instead, we should all aspire to be lifelong learners. (Given how much the world is changing, I feel as though there’s no other rational way to progress.)

So, don’t make the mistake of joining Officehours and just waiting for others to ask you for sessions. Think about the areas in which you could grow. Then, take the initiative to find an advisor who can help you learn something new. Doing so is less intimidating than it might initially seem.

So, what are you waiting for? Create your Officehours profile, and add some sessions. It’s a great community, and I think you’ll get a lot out of it.