Balancing Collaboration and Privacy Accounting in an Open Office

By Mimi Liu

When we talk about the nature of introverts, the hasty interpretation that registers is a being of a reserved, anti-social complexion. In the workplace, accountants are often stereotyped to be this way. We’re the ones that come in at 8AM and don’t lift our heads till 5 or 6PM – taking advantage of every minute we have in the day to crunch numbers and generate proposals.

Throughout my career in the accounting and finance world, it’s been a daily struggle to take time for socializing around the office. The fear of disclosing sensitive information or carrying an extra 1 and dealing with hours of recalculation has burdened me into supporting the stereotypical introverted accountant that everybody considers is uninterested and removed from the office social patterns. After 15 years in the profession, I accepted it as a requisite for the job.

As my career excelled into the 21st century, I was offered a position at Rising Realty Partners as a Senior Vice President of Operations & Controller. I was thrilled, yet unaware that a company was about to put me to the accountant’s ultimate test: exposing my social butterfly-esq qualities by taking my precious office and throwing me into a communal setting. Everything was now foreign: the natural light sourced from a sun I didn’t know was existent during work hours, the unlimited mobility posed by a tech forward 5x5 Telecom, the fashion-forward furniture and high ceilings, even the computer software. My job as I knew it was essentially beautified, however as a penny processing ‘accountaholic’, I was swimming in unthreaded waters and my primary concern was work efficiency.

The threat of disturbance contagiously spreads through the accounting world prompting most of us to inheritably reject the simple idea of an open office. It’s been 3 years since I’ve had the security of walls surrounding my desk and I’ve found that the openness I thought would set me back, launched me far forward into the next part of my career. It’s our space-wide familiarity that fuels the love of honesty and communication in the workplace. It keeps us updated on company visions and business plans which increases office fluidity and teamwork.

To provide a concession, yes, at times it’s a challenge to maintain a level of privacy in an office that promotes exposure, but to counter, we are fully stocked with conference rooms and small meeting rooms along with the ability to work remotely from home. We’ve also implemented a policy that if you have your headphones in or if you have a ‘Do Not Disturb’ sign up on your computer, colleagues will understand that they must wait to get their question answered or concern addressed. These accommodations offer me privacy when I need it.

Because Rising pushed me into the danger zone of stretched personal boundaries, I now know everyone in the office on a personal and friendly level. It goes past office talk and into weekend plans and lunch dates. I enjoy coming to work in an entirely different way - I’m no longer an introvert.