Company Accountant in Construction Industry

Confidentiality / Seating arrangements

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Hi all

I have worked for a construction company for 20 years and been the company accountant for 15 years with my own office and 5 others who i manage but they sit outside in an open plan space. 
 

The company have decided to potentially make all teams/departments open plan and this includes turning my office and a few others such as HR/Marketing into 'meeting rooms and breakout zones'. This doesnt sit well with me. I feel its a demotion and that i need quietness and confidentially to do my job. I would meet with insurance companies, bank managers, hold apprasials and meetings in my offixe office and this would mean going to a 'meeting room' instead. 
 

any thoughts for those who are open plan and how i can word this professionally to the Board Of  Directors as to why i am against same? 
 

Thank you
 

Replies (25)

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By Cylhia66
07th Nov 2023 06:32

I would say that confidentiality is your main concern. You should definitely have a separate office. You can't take the risk of anyone being able to see what is on your screen or hearing certain things you need to discuss.

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By bettybobbymeggie
07th Nov 2023 07:56

I'm a bit surprised you still have an exclusive office but perhaps I am out of touch. I haven't worked in an office for 15 years but at that time management sat with us riff-raff and appraisals/bonus meetings took place in meeting rooms. That was Canary Wharf and in the city where space was at a premium and therefore necessitated a more efficient use of space. Perhaps it is different outside of the larger cities.

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VAT
By Jason Croke
07th Nov 2023 08:11

All our Partners sit out in general population, make their clients calls and whatever no problem, if they are meeting a client or staff/confidential then they use one of the many meeting rooms we have. I prefer somewhere quiet for calls, so I take a room, make my call and then back to my desk.

That's why modern offices have those eggs and pods, little corners and comfy couches, and little meeting rooms for 2 people where you can find some privacy to make a call.

I can appreciate how you might think losing an office is a demotion, but your value and worth are not measured by the size of your office but by the breadth of experience you bring to the role and whether you have an office or not should make little difference to your performance.

Heck, with working from home, who even needs an office?

It's a bit like the crazy idea that if you wear a shirt and tie to work you somehow are instantly a better employee and yet you'll struggle to find a Partner or employee in a professional firm nowadays who aren't dressing down every day.

Value you, not the inanimate objects you work in.

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By Leywood
07th Nov 2023 08:32

If you need quiet, get a pair of Bose headphones. Block out everything. Including the fire alarm, it’s the only downside.

I’ve worked in both types of situations. Both work. It’s just a matter of getting used to it.

Why you would see it as a demotion is a bit 1970s.

I’m sure I’m your position you don’t need telling how to approach the board, if you must.

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By McCue1954
07th Nov 2023 08:46

Thanks so much for the replies so far.
I live in a remote part of the country therefore it would take time to adjust and its a mindset that its a demotion as here those with offices are management. On many occasions i have to close my door due to the noise from the other staff. I don't need to know what they are having for dinner or what programmes they are watching that evening when i'm busy :)

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By Roland195
07th Nov 2023 09:57

You clearly assign more importance to your office than the company realise, perhaps due to your view of it's necessity confirming your place in the company hierarchy (damn it Jim, I'm accountant not a psychologist).

Not to be too cynical but I bet the board of directors would be far more willing to let you continue in your own office rather than increase your pay or job title accordingly.

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By paul.benny
07th Nov 2023 10:37

It is very much the way of the world for fewer people to have offices. And there are some positives:
- Confidentially is enhanced by meeting external parties in dedicated meeting rooms: in your office, they can see the papers you have around, the notes on you whiteboard, etc.
- Likewise, appraisals are on more neutral ground rather than people being summoned to the headmaster's office

There is relatively little that's truly confidential within the company: payroll, most notably, and anything else that might affect individuals (eg possible restructuring).

This move will very much change the relationship with your team. If your style is to keep your door closed, hold yourself apart and eschew social chat, this will be a big change for both you and your team. You may find that you need to change your style a little.

There may be upsides - you may get a better sense of what's going on in the team and it may make you more approachable.

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paddle steamer
By DJKL
07th Nov 2023 13:01

I have fairly recently moved from my own office for over20 years to a more open plan space (group of property companies), however these days there is usually only me here and if my colleague does come in there is little I might say on the phone that I would not wish him to hear

I may decide to in house staff next year (in which case we will take on one or two admin staff) but again little that is that private and two meeting rooms to go to if privacy needed.

Certainly not sure about the status thing, I always found my own room a little lonely and with 38 years in harness I calculate 28 have been in my own room and 10 in shared space; I think I prefer the shared space.

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By Southwestbeancounter
07th Nov 2023 14:54

I feel your 'pain'.

I worked for a construction company a couple of days a week a few years ago and initially I was in a quiet room with a couple of other people which was fine but then they decided it would be nice for me to move out into the open plan reception/office with the girls!

Whilst the sentiment was nice, as everyone could be sociable etc, it was really difficult to focus especially as customers would wander in whilst the receptionist was on lunch etc so I often got the tricky stuff done at the end of the day when they'd all gone home!

It was partly the confidentiality but for me even more the fact that I couldn't concentrate fully on the accounts etc with all the hubbub going on!

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By Tereha_K
08th Nov 2023 10:03

I understand what you mean about seeing it as a demotion, up until a few weeks ago everyone worked in the open plan section of our office, and the head of dept had her own office - however now we have a clear desk / hot desking policy, which means no more offices, and she now sits with the rest of us, scrambling for a desk each morning.
I really dislike working in an open plan office, as I am very sensitive to noise and there are a lot of loud talkers and people that think it's OK to stand right behind you have a full-blown 30 min meeting. To get around it, I work from home more often and I have bought noise cancelling headphones. On days when it's just too much to handle, I book a meeting room for the entire day in another part of the building and work in there.
As more companies have hybrid working arrangements, the need for an office and a permanent desk that you only use a few days per week becomes redundant and quite costly. So this is the new normal I'm afraid.

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By Springfield
08th Nov 2023 10:11

If this goes ahead then I would have thought that the most important thing in the new layout is to insist that you desk is situated in a position where nobody can walk up behind you and see what's on your computer screen.

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Replying to Springfield:
paddle steamer
By DJKL
08th Nov 2023 10:26

Second most important- closeness to the coffee machine would be my most important.

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Replying to DJKL:
By Democratus
08th Nov 2023 11:24

3rd most important after closeness to tea/coffee and of course - farthest away from the toilets!

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By pandora
08th Nov 2023 10:47

A few years ago, out of necessity we had to move temporarily to serviced offices and I went from an office (just for me, I deal with Accounts, Payroll and Admin) to an open plan room where about 10 of us moved in (including the MD!), I chose a corner so people could not see too much of my screen and also bought a privacy screen for my computer, so even side ways they could not read anything. However, it was a challenge and in a serviced office environment an extra cost to book a room for making confidential calls. Another issue was when suppliers or anyone else wanted to speak to me they would call the landline and then if the conversation was to be confidential you would have to call them back from your mobile from a more private place! There was a lot of time wasting. It was also very hard to concentrate when you have loud salespeople around you and myself I am very loud on the phone - so everyone could hear what I had to say! We luckily went back to our own unit and I got my own office back, but interestingly enough, my productivity increased furthermore when during Covid I worked from home, and I have now stayed at home, no more disturbance from anyone wanting a chat or wanting you to do something they could do themselves....! It sounds unsociable but personnaly less chance of making a mistake! You could always have a chat with your management that you are not against change however you have concerned about XYZ (confidentiality, productivity....), give them concrete examples... and I do agree, nowadays I don't think you should see it as a demotion. All the best.

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By coops456
08th Nov 2023 11:47

Some very interesting and thoughtful responses here.

An office was certainly a status symbol in the old days, and in smaller companies this may have continued but it's no longer the case in the corporate world.
When my large bank employer moved sites in 2008, we went to a hotdesking model because it was calculated that average occupancy was less than 70%. No doubt this percentage has plummeted since Covid.

I think you have to get on board with the reality of modern offices and - crucially - the management style that goes with that. Yes you have to switch off to the chaff about last night's football or Eastenders (earbuds/headphones are your friend when needing to concentrate), but equally you will get to know your team on a more human level. This will enhance your working relationships and may well lead to improved productivity.

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By C Graham
08th Nov 2023 12:02

Make sure you get a desk where you have screen privacy. That has been the most important thing for us. So back to the wall or a corner desk. And noise cancelling headphones are useful though uncomfortable if wearing for too long. Just look annoyed when anyone comes up to your desk then you'll be left alone.

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By prseymour
08th Nov 2023 13:20

Welcome to the 21st century! Doesn't matter where you are based, you have not come up with a valid reason to retain your comfort blanket. If you complain I would see you as a dinosaur and your office and desk would become free shortly after our chat.
As I am over 60 I can be regarded as a dinosaur too, but not died out yet. Embrace the change.

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By birdman
08th Nov 2023 13:48

Does any of your work involve processing payments to the Directors - salaries, dividends, reimbursement/benefits in kind? Maybe say you're worried about others seeing that kind of info, or hearing you discussing it on the phone, and you wanted to check they'd be OK with that...

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Replying to birdman:
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By C Graham
08th Nov 2023 13:57

why would you be discussing it on the phone - you'd just meet with the directors if they had time otherwise email them. Most things are recorded in email or on software so I hardly think anyone would have opportunity to listen to a phone call.

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By McCue1954
08th Nov 2023 14:19

Thanks again for your further replies. Thankfully Board of Directors have advised it was a draft 1 and they see the need for me to remain in my office!
Yes i deal with payroll, auditors, insurers etc and as for the 'human element', i walk with my team every lunchtime so i'm not distance from them and we are all fairly friendly :) I just feel theres a place and a time to discuss last nights TV and dinner :)

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By SBS33
08th Nov 2023 14:24

I have a lot of sympathy with you in terms of needing to shut out the noise of people around you, as they can really wreck your concentration!

I mostly work from home but when I do go to the office I don't have a designated desk, so I at least try to get a seat with my back to a wall so no one can see my screen. But the main issue is how much people can chat when the MD isn't there! Last time I was there three people talked for at least 30 minutes about one of their dogs and dog breeds.... Certainly in this case an open plan office isn't great for productivity!

And not everyone likes to wear headphones at work!

If I were in your situation I would base my reasoning on the fact that a lot of your work is confidential and you also benefit from a quiet work space to stop distractions when you need to concentrate on higher-level accounts work.

Best of luck!

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By I'msorryIhaven'taclue
08th Nov 2023 14:31

I find it disconcerting to have a Teams call with somebody in an open-plan office. Loose lips sink ships!

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Replying to I'msorryIhaven'taclue:
paddle steamer
By DJKL
08th Nov 2023 15:32

Something like myself, my wife, my daughter and her other half all "watching" football on tv together but they are all having a "conversation" via their mobiles and I am the only one actually watching the TV. (Not being much of a mobile phone user)

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Replying to I'msorryIhaven'taclue:
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By Mr_awol
09th Nov 2023 10:32

I have been surprised by the number of times a client has requested a Zoom etc for tax planning and they pop up in the local Costa coffee, airport lounge, or other random public space.

At least one of them i think is doing it for vanity - sat there talking normally for all the boring bits then repeating my words several times in a very raised voice when they think it is something impressive - such as "how can my Corporation Tax bill be £200k? I cant believe i have a £200k tax bill. I know we have had a good year but surely that's too high. When do i need to pay this £200k in tax?" repeat the word tax and the number £200k as many times as possible just in case anyone missed it the first seven times.

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Replying to Mr_awol:
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By C Graham
09th Nov 2023 10:44

Hopefully you can help him/her reduce his/her profits by increasing your fees before he/she boards the flight to Antigua.

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