As workers return to the office, many auditors find themselves visiting client sites for the first time. Given the two-year in-person hiatus we’ve all just been through, even first-year seniors don’t know how to approach audit room protocols. So here are some key rules you should follow in the audit room whenever you do go back:
Rule #1: Answer personal calls AFTER you are all the way out of the room.
I learned this rule the hard way. One time my wife called me at work. I picked up the phone as I stood up.
“Is the partner in there with you?” she asked.
“YOUR SON NEEDS A FATHER!!!!!!”
Yeah, the entire team heard it before I made it out the door. Awkward.
Rule #2: Pour snacks—don’t stick your hand down into a shared bag/jar.
You might be OK doing this at home, but the rest of the team just saw you come back from the bathroom. Nobody knows if you did a good job washing your hands (or if you washed them at all). Where possible, individually packaged snacks are preferred.
Rule #3: If you are going to eat your lunch or dinner in the audit room, no foul odors, please.
Putting eight people in a conference room built for four usually smells bad enough without any food. No need to add insult to injury by voluntarily bringing additional odors into the room.
Microwaved broccoli, leftover Asian takeout from the night before, and any kind of fish are the biggest offenders and should be banned at the outset of any audit, but if the audit room is super-cramped, you should consider prohibiting meals in the room at all (stick to prepacked snacks and go to the client breakroom at mealtimes).
Rule #4: No angry keyboards.
The job is stressful enough. Angry keys are the audit room version of sending an email in ALL CAPS and is one of the fastest ways to raise the overall blood pressure of the team. In addition, angry keys are extremely annoying and distracting. If you are a senior or a manager, you are scaring your staff. No matter who you are, you risk the entire team assuming something is going very wrong in your life.
Rule #5: If you are going to rant about how much you hate the client, shut the door before you start.
You never know who is right outside in the hallway. At one particularly bad client, our team ranted constantly about everything. We sat on the other end of the building from the finance department, so we didn’t give shutting the door a second thought. A couple of the client employees in other departments who sat right outside our room started recording and reporting us to the CFO. The recordings were played back to us at the audit close meeting in front of our engagement partner. One person on our team was fired; the rest of us were reprimanded sharply. Suffice it to say, we lost the client.
Rule #6: Only one earbud, please.
This is the most hotly debated audit room rule. Some people, particularly staff, want both earbuds in so they can get “in the zone” and hammer out all the work they have without additional distraction. However, partners, managers, and some seniors may strongly disagree and demand the single earbud because the primary reason you are all working in the same room is to collaborate, learn, and transfer knowledge. You really do need to be able to hear what is going on in the room. If people are being annoying sharing stories about their weekend escapades, let the team know you are “going under” for a bit.
Another suggestion is the “power hour” where the whole team commits to hunkering down and getting through work for a solid hour without distraction. No emails. No pinging. All questions/discussions can wait until the power hour is over.
An audit room is a challenging enough environment already. No need to make things worse by not using common sense and sticking to treating your team with common courtesy and respect. Happy auditing!
About the author:
C.P. Aiden is a former Big 4 assurance senior manager who bounced between public accounting and industry three times during the past 15-plus years. After leaving public accounting for good, he wrote and self-published an office comedy series, “Waive Further Review,” about a first-year audit engagement and subsequent financial statement restatement that pokes fun at the work, life, and culture inside today’s largest public accounting firms.