The way that desks and chairs are arranged in a professor’s office send subtle signals. If you use your desk to block your doorway with a confrontational barrier like they do at, say, a police station, well then you’re not only being uninviting, you’re also responsible for all those nervous tics the students make when they do come talk to you. Think of the angles of the furniture: are they more “open” than “closed”? Do they invite conversation and informality, or do they put too many barriers between you and the student. While it’s true that you may not want to be completely open and intimite with your students — like, say, sitting beside them on a big puffy couch — you might find that rearranging the furniture liberates some of the angst students have when they come to your office. So will little details like having family pictures on the desk, putting art on the walls that reflects your personality, having knick nacks or other things that students can look at when they want to avoid eye contact, or conversation pieces to get the shy ones talking…etc., etc. Be professional, yet open. —Mike Arnzen —Tips for Office Hours (Pedablogue)
A good collection of musings on office hours.
I’ve always arranged my office so that there isn’t a barrier (such as a desk or bookcase) between me and the door, so that students who stop by won’t feel they are imposing.
I generally work with the office door open. I will shut the door partway or completely in order to signal various degrees of isolation that I desire. When I really want to concentrate, of course, I take a stack of papers or a book and I find a quiet corner on campus.