Online Office Hours

Online Office Hours

January 26, 2011 by

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 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 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.

Post By:

Justin Wise

Justin Wise lives in West Des Moines, Iowa, with his wife and son. He likes coffee, reading, running and blogging.
Read more posts by | Want to write for us?

10 Responses to “Online Office Hours”

  • John Saddington
    January 26, 2011

    not sure it’s for everybody. I’ve thought about it but man… i’m too busy right now. :)

     | Permalink
    • Justin Wise
      January 27, 2011

      You’re always busy! ;)

      Truthfully, this idea is not dissimilar to the weekly live broadcast you do over at TentBlogger. Same concept, different form.

      Connect with your audience, right?

       | Permalink
  • Vince
    January 26, 2011

    Office hours FTW!

    I do a similar thing but with a little more focus. I live stream from my office once a week and talk about the message topic from Sunday and take questions and feedback from the people watching live. I usually have a guest or two on also.

    I’m thinking about doing something a little more open forum style.

     | Permalink
    • Justin Wise
      January 27, 2011

      That’s what I’m saying, man!

      I like that take … What’s the response like normally?

      Vince. The Innovator. Dot com.

       | Permalink
  • Alan Meyers
    January 26, 2011

    I am a college professor. In my syllabus after listing my office hours I always put the words “Frequently in the office at other times and easily available by appointment.”

     | Permalink
    • Justin Wise
      January 27, 2011

      Oh wow. A real live college prof!

      Do you put that disclaimer there to intentionally send the message that you are easily available? My guess is you want students to know that they can get a hold of you when they need to, yes?

      PS – Are you tenured? ;)

       | Permalink
  • Christine
    January 27, 2011

    I love this idea. It reminds me of a ministry begun at my husband’s hometown church in which a guy just showed up at a bar every week at the same time and was available for religion talk. All sorts of people came out of the woodwork to sit down with a stranger who was “in the know” and talk about God.

    What I like about this is that the conversations start with the questions people have, not the answers you can give. It also reaches people where they are–frankly, behind a computer. Not everybody works like that, but enough do that it’s important to be available via the web as well as phone and IRL. Efforts like this tell the younger generations that they are wanted.

    I don’t know if our senior pastor will do this but I will probably mention it a bunch of times to my husband, who’s an associate pastor at our church.

     | Permalink
  • Lon
    January 31, 2011

    wow… online office hours… i thought i was quite web savvy… but never even considered this. great use of formspring!

     | Permalink
  • Richard Jones
    February 15, 2011

    I am strictly a local church person, don’t have any other enterprises going. People know my cell number, the church office number, my email, and my facebook page (and probably my twitter name). When I am (it seems to me) so readily accessible already, do I need to add another piece? Or (in my case) would it end up becoming more of a fence to keep people from contacting me? Would I be giving the impression (like our concept of the college prof): “THIS is when I am available (and NOT other times)”? And for your church folks, do you keep regular physical office hours?

     | Permalink
  • Leslie Thomas
    August 10, 2011

    On of those senior citizens aka baby boomers who set the world aflame with the current financial difficulties ,

    How do people have time for all this multitude of technology and still accomplish anything?
    Been at this for over 8 years and the more complicated it gets the more stressed I feel. Is it necessary to have it ALL? I love this website and I truly believe that church marketing sucks!
    I once did 4 newsletter each month – I’ve farmed three of them out and now only do my church newsletter and it has become a full time job on a volunteer basis. As communications chair for our church I’m boggled by all that needs supervision all the time. I’ve delegated some of it… but must still see to it that we don’t offend or upset anyone with all the technology we use. I long for the quieter days of yesteryear…

     | Permalink