We work in an environment where we have enclosed offices. Our office doors have small windows in them so it's possible to see when someone is in the office, and it's also possible to see who's knocking and to indicate they can enter.

The question is, what expectation should there be when I have my door closed (perhaps because of noise in the hall or because I'm on the speakerphone) and my boss sees I'm available and in my office? There are basically three different "levels" of etiquette I can think of:

  • Should I expect my boss to knock and wait for an answer before entering?
  • Should they knock and then enter without waiting?
  • Should he/she be able to open the door and walk in with no notification?

I ask because I have worked in places where there is little respect given to the privacy of employees, but some employers feel that privacy should not be an expectation if you are on the premises of your employer.

  • 1
    I imagine this depends on locale. I would expect anyone to knock, and then open the door a crack to make sure you heard (and to better hear your response).
    – Telastyn
    Feb 28, 2014 at 15:34
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    Just do it Captain Picard style, and shout "ENTER!" Feb 28, 2014 at 15:43
  • Interesting question. And I think this question of "what should I expect" will get different answers than "I'm the boss, but is it OK to just enter or should I wait?" In other words, what should happen and what should you expect to happen are likely to be different.
    – rbwhitaker
    Feb 28, 2014 at 17:09
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    Why do people downvote anything and everything on this site? It makes me not want to come here. Don't just downvote because you "don't like" the question or answer. Please explain why.
    – trpt4him
    Feb 28, 2014 at 18:55
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    Hey @trpt4him, I went ahead and put this on hold. We're getting too many answers based on pure opinion and what they expect, not what's reasonable to expect. In general, a question like this is better if you're looking for solutions to problems. For instance, "How can I create a culture where privacy in the workplace is respected?" would be a question that would involve expertise to answer, not just unsubstantiated claims. Feel free to edit. Hope this helps clarify.
    – jmort253
    Mar 2, 2014 at 18:41

4 Answers 4


From my perspective, if your door is regularly closed, it's not perceived as a privacy tool, but more a work condition control (e.g. sound level) Conversely, if it's closed infrequently, others should respect that, knock, then wait for your response before entering.

I think privacy isn't something to expect in most workplaces. Generally, privacy relates to something personal, in which most companies expect you to handle on your own time. (Unless you're a nursing mother, etc.)

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    privacy relates to something personal, in which most companies expect you to handle on your own time - Incorrect. Perhaps you are in the middle of an important phone or Skype conversation with a (potential) client, or holding a meeting with a client, and someone barging in to the room would be embarrassing and make you look unprofessional.
    – Superbest
    Feb 28, 2014 at 20:39

To answer directly from information from my personal experience, with regards to programming shops: Programmers should be able to control interruptions, otherwise there is a chance that something important will be forgotten and a bug introduced in code. No one in their right mind would barge in on guys in the middle of holding slabs of drywall up and securing them, but that's essentially what's happening when someone barges in and presumes they can talk to a programmer. The programmer is probably "holding" many details about the system, and the act of barging in and talking is like tossing items at her/him to catch. However, this is just my personal experience.

Here is how to quantitatively find the answer to the question with real data for programmers in a large company: Run experiments with programmer groups all across the company and use one policy or another, then examine bug reports and repository data to determine which one results in fewer bugs. Google or Microsoft needs to do this, if they haven't already.


In the case of my boss, No.

He works on the theory of "its my place I am going where I like."

that being said my boss owns the company so I think he thinks he is entitled to go where ever he likes. Oh and he is a pain in the bum.

Think of it this way: Your boss is in charge. My office always has the door closed because of the noise. I think most bosses go where they please. That being said if he comes in and sees me on the phone he leaves again.

I guess most bosses work on "if you have nothing to hide"

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    Hey Marriott, here's a suggestion: Would you be able to address this "in general"? It sounds like this answer is localized to your experience, but should it be like this everywhere just because it's like that in your workplace? Hope this helps.
    – jmort253
    Mar 1, 2014 at 6:03

Yes, if that is your wish, then your boss should respect that. Your boss might be the one who pay you and give you orders, but they are not really obliged to simply burst in to anyone's office just like that.

Even if he\she can see you trough the window, and it might seem you are available, that might still not be the case. You could be writing an important mail, a mail where the content needs to be accurate. You can argue that a knock on the door will disturb the "flow" of mind at that point, and while this would be up to each individual, at least having the chance of finishing that one detail before letting people start a conversation, might help keep the peace of mind.

I know for a fact, working in closed office too, that the difference between one who knocks, and one who just burst in, is quite different. Those who knock are polite and quite when allowed to enter, and those who burst in usually don't give a damn if you are busy. Even if I am obviously in the phone!

You have the right of peace and quiet when working in an office like you do, your boss should know that. While privacy is generally not something you need or can expect at work, peace when working and general respect from your coworkers is. This is, in the end, more a matter of respect.

  • "if that is your wish, then your boss should respect that" - is this just your opinion? If you can back it up somehow, consider editing the post into better shape
    – gnat
    Feb 28, 2014 at 16:32
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    It's common sense to respect a persons wish.
    – Sharain
    Feb 28, 2014 at 17:04
  • hmmm either this is not so, or companies practicing open door policy aren't aware of common sense
    – gnat
    Feb 28, 2014 at 17:57
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    As I read it, that policy count towards management or leaders of a group. Usually I've seen those who are open to confrontation at any time leave their door somewhat open, while those who prefer a more "private" work space will leave it closed. Regardless, open door policy or not, it should not count towards throwing away what is essentially respect! Barging your way into someones office without knocking or approval is plain rude. How hard is it to knock on a door and wait a moment for response?
    – Sharain
    Feb 28, 2014 at 18:20
  • the way you explain it sounds like you believe it's common sense to respect a persons wish only if that person is a subordinate, do I understand correctly?
    – gnat
    Feb 28, 2014 at 18:41

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