Audit rooms come in all shapes and sizes—usually small, often windowless, sometimes with chairs you can actually sit on, and almost always as far away from the finance/accounting department as possible. After eight years in public accounting, I have loads of unforgettable audit room experiences. Here are just a few.
The hostile work environment
This audit room was literally on the opposite end of the building from the finance department and next to the very loud and obnoxious marketing department. Typical.
Yes, the fire code probably would have limited the room to three, maybe four, people, but we stuffed eight auditors in there. Typical.
None of the chairs were the right height for the rickety table or two small desks in the room, all of the chairs sunk to the bottom anytime anyone sat in them, and one staff ultimately decided it would be better to flip a garbage can over and sit on that instead. Typical.
We soon discovered we could somehow hear everything said in the room next door which housed three business process consultants. Every day, all day long, we heard the team lead ripping her two staff to pieces—berating them for any little thing she thought they’d done wrong. It made for a hostile work environment just sitting on the other side of the wall listening to this. Within a week, both her staff quit.
Soon after her staff quit, she came knocking on our door and politely asked if she could have a word. She then proceeded to accuse us of listening in on her meetings and stealing her work to present to the client as our ideas for process improvements. When we told her we thought she was crazy, she stormed down to the CFO’s office and demanded a different room. Instead of a new room, she was shown the door. I will never forget hearing her yelling and screaming all the way to the parking lot!
The construction trailer
I love the outdoors, fresh air, cool breeze, nature, and the feeling of life outside an office. However, one audit room, if you can call it that, was not really a room at all. It was a construction trailer 100 yards away from the main building. The client was located in the mountains and the audit happened in February and March. The trailer had one small space heater, and we soon figured out why the client’s kick-off memo instructed us to dress warm and wear layers. For the entire audit, the temperature inside the trailer did not go above 43 degrees Fahrenheit.
In addition to our fingers almost falling off trying to work on our laptops all day, we soon discovered we were not alone in the trailer—our audit snacks were quickly devoured by mice. Anytime we needed to meet with the client, we had to bundle up (even more) and slosh through the snow-covered field between the office and the trailer. After two days, our manager literally drove more than 50 miles to the nearest Walmart and bought a couple sets of snowshoes to avoid sinking into the one to two feet of snow whenever we walked across the field. No surprise—the entire team left the firm as soon as the audit ended.
I remember arriving at a fracking company’s office, which was really a large warehouse, in rural Utah for an audit. The CFO happily announced that we would be in the boardroom.
The boardroom had a large table with eight chairs around it. The far end of the room had two windows that were about six inches tall and three feet wide—about what you’d think of as prison windows. The only other light came from two fluorescent light fixtures that dangled from the ceiling. One of the cords that held the lights was fraying badly and looked like it could break at any moment. The light connected to that cord flickered slightly every few seconds, all day long. Two mounted elk heads creepily stared at us from the near wall for the three weeks we were there. One of the elk’s eyes seemed to follow you wherever you were in the room, and we often wondered if the client had a camera inside watching us.
There was also a bathroom attached to the boardroom. There was no ventilation fan. The door frame was much taller than it needed to be, and the door hung with a full six-inch gap between the bottom of the door and the floor. We made a rule that no one would use that bathroom. Instead, we would trek across the warehouse full of fracking explosives to the bathrooms by the main entrance. However, a week later when our senior manager came out to review our work, he ate something bad for lunch and rushed in. Turns out the tile plus the gap at the bottom of the door projected every sound from the bathroom into the boardroom. We heard everything for 20 minutes straight and we lived in the smell for the next two days. If only I could un-hear or un-smell that experience, but it’s forever burned into my mind.
As unique as these experiences were, I wouldn’t say they represent outliers for audit rooms. Please feel free to add your own experiences in the comments below.
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.