You can tell a lot about power and hierarchy in an organisation by who goes to see whom. If you stay put and other people come to see you in your office, the chances are, you are the more powerful and the more senior in the pecking order. If other people have to come to see you, then you can play other power games with them, like making them stand around outside your office until you are free. I’m reminded of CJ, Reggie Perrin’s pompous boss, who used this little rhyme in response to a knock at his office door:
One, two, three, four, make them sweat outside the door.
Five, six, seven, eight, it always pays to make them wait.
Nine, ten, eleven, twelve, COME!
We learn the importance of offices in the hierarchy when we are at school. At my school, after every period, the teachers would stay put and the pupils would move from room to room for lessons in different subjects. Keeping the kids where they were and having the teachers move around would have created far less disruption. OK, some lessons had to be done in specific places like science labs but for the majority of classroom based work, it didn’t matter which room we were in. But leaving the pupils in one room while the teachers moved round would have undermined the school’s power relationships so, as far as I know, it was never considered.
Perhaps the attachment to territory and the symbolic significance of having their subordinates come to them accounts for the reluctance of so many managers to get out of their offices. Although the importance of ‘management by walking about‘ has, for years, been stressed in numerous business articles and there is good evidence that the visibility of senior executives improves morale, getting managers to come out of their offices and go to see their staff can be like trying to prize whelks out of their shells.
There is, I suspect, still a sense that, if you want to be seen as important, they should come to you rather than you go to them.