Peter Cardy: The perils of moving into an open-plan office

Sector veteran Peter Cardy offers answers to your workplace dilemmas.

Peter Cardy

Q We moved to new offices and have gone open plan. There are no fixed desks now: we can use any work station. It’s very nice and modern and airy, but I’m not happy. First, I miss having my own work space with my pictures and odds and ends. Second, the chief executive moves around from desk to desk every day and I feel really uneasy when he picks one next to me. It stops me getting on with my work. What should I do?

A In my experience it takes most people six to eight weeks to adjust to open-plan working, to stop worrying about being overheard and overlooked. However, I can see that your chief executive is a problem. In time, he will probably start to use one particular work station, which would solve your problem. In the meanwhile, be studiously polite, answer all his questions and, since he wants to know what his colleagues think, tell him your honest opinion about the new arrangements.

Q I had a drink with a good friend who is a senior manager in a larger charity. After a few glasses she told me something about her charity’s plans, which will dominate our sector and would affect us quite severely. I feel compromised. Do I reveal what I know to my boss or the chair of trustees, or is it unethical to pass it on to my colleagues?

A How are you going to feel if your organisation is engulfed or annihilated when you could have done something to prevent it?

A The harsh fact is that as soon as it’s known you’re departing, you will become a lame duck. Your colleagues will quickly start to think about the future without you. However honourable you think they are, behind the scenes they will be jockeying for position and influence. Subtly but quickly, your power will go down the plughole. The longer it’s publicly known you’re going, the more opportunity for mischief. Better to put your effort into organising a well-managed interregnum and go three months after your announcement.

Q A regular grant giver has asked for our governance document for the first time. We’re only small and I don’t think we have one. I’m in a panic. What should I do?

A What is meant by governance varies, but it essentially means what an organisation’s aims are, who runs it, where they get their authority from and to whom they are accountable. Relax, but get what you already have together, put it all into one document and do a bit more writing to connect it all. You already have the constitution that deals with the first couple of points and states the powers of the board and members. Your managers also have job descriptions and are accountable to the board, and the board is accountable to the Charity Commission. That should be enough.

Q Since we lost our core grant we have had to shed a lot of jobs. Our senior management team is shrinking but so far my job has remained. I feel great loyalty to the charity and its mission, but I worry constantly about the future and my young family. I’ve had a couple of approaches from head hunters, though I haven’t felt very enthused about either job. Should I stay or go?

A You know your job is at risk so it would be decent of you to stay and perhaps help to wind up the organisation, or maybe even consolidate your position in a smaller team. But to be brutal, when the chips are down the charity is unlikely to be equally loyal to you: that’s not what charities are for. And don’t forget, your departure would save a chunk of the salary bill. The only guarantee if the charity survives is turbulence for several years and you might be vulnerable again in future. You have to choose between loyalty and the endless stress at work and worry about your family. Keep talking to the head hunters.

Send your questions to

Have you registered with us yet?

Register now to enjoy more articles and free email bulletins

Already registered?
Sign in
RSS Feed

Third Sector Insight

Sponsored webcasts, surveys and expert reports from Third Sector partners

Third Sector Logo

Get our bulletins. Read more articles. Join a growing community of Third Sector professionals

Register now