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My work situation is such that there's an extreme lack of privacy. There's almost no offices with doors in the building, my direct report sits in the same large room with everyone on my team. There's a single meeting room in the building, which of course could be required by someone else at any time -- there's no posted schedule for using the room. So having a private conversation with my boss is rather difficult. Because coworkers are sitting right by his desk too, if I ask for a private conversation in the conference room, they'll know that there's something private I want to discuss, which honestly makes me a bit uncomfortable.

Also, the employees are spread between two buildings in the same complex, which means that going off the clock, and stepping outside to take a private phonecall that has to be done during work hours may not be private either, as other employees are frequently outside going between the buildings, or walking their dogs for that matter, since many of the employees bring their dogs to work. I know some deal with this by going off the clock, then going in their car to take private phonecalls, but I do not drive to work.

I understand that under normal circumstances, you shouldn't really expect work to be private, but of course there's situations like the ones I've described where you need to have private work conversations, or you cannot possibly take personal private phonecalls at any time other than during work hours (but of course going off the clock for it). How do you deal with lack of privacy in these situations?

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    Yes, these open workspaces are quite popular among employers right now, even though several studies show that they reduce worker productivity. – Robert Harvey Jan 23 '15 at 17:37
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To deal with private conversations with your boss - presumably your coworkers aren't constantly looking over your shoulder, so you ought to be able to request a private meeting by discreetly sending an email. My office has an open floor plan as well, so if I want to ask my boss something that isn't time-sensitive, I'll just send an email even though I can see him sitting across from me so that it doesn't distract anyone. If that's not an option, suggest to your boss that he schedule one on one time with each of his employees each week, so that it isn't considered unusual when you go off to talk with him then and you can tell him whatever you need to privately.

In terms of your cell phone, if you really must be somewhere where no one can hear you, you may just have to bite the bullet and walk somewhere close by that's secluded (an alley or something). However, I think people will hear less than you think if you just go to a relatively unused hallway and talk very quietly. I realize this is sort of non-advice, but without knowing the floorplan of your building it's difficult to say exactly where you can go that will give you privacy.

In the long run, it may be worth bringing these concerns up with your boss (preferably at the one on one meetings I suggested) and see what they think. It's possible other coworkers will share your concerns if asked privately, and maybe management can look into the issue.

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    Normally I would request private conversations by email, but my boss is absolutely terrible about answering email. He reads it, but then doesn't actually do anything in response. Generally though this is what I've been trying to do. Thanks for the advice. – Kai Jan 23 '15 at 17:41
  • @Kai You can use an instant messaging program if you have or send him an e-mail and then follow with something like, "Did you see that I e-mail I just sent you?" – Eric Jan 23 '15 at 19:01
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    Email, IM, a post-it note tacked on his computer's display, or just walk over and say "hey, can we chat in private for 15 minutes?" If your manager is completely unresponsive to your attempts to communicate with him, it may be time to discuss with HR or the person he reports to. – alroc Jan 23 '15 at 19:49
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    There can be thousands of reasons to talk in private, your coworkers may notice, but I highly doubt they'd judge – Jon Story Jan 23 '15 at 21:25

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