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Open Minded

Can an open-plan office unleash productivity in your company?

15Dec

At least since the days of Bob Cratchit and his “dismal little cell,” finance staffers have been accustomed to working in adverse environments. Indeed, their ability to do so is practically a point of pride — comfort is for wimps. Some have been conditioned by stints at accounting firms, carrying out engagements in cramped client offices. Many labor cheek by jowl in rows of cubicles, yet are able to shut out distractions and focus on their spreadsheets with the concentration of a yogi.

A growing number of companies, however, are freeing finance and other workers from their cubes. In the name of collaboration, productivity, and — yes — employee satisfaction, they are creating open-plan offices, airy and light filled, outfitted with comfortable seating and advanced technology. As contributing editor Alix Stuart reports in our cover story (“Office Space”), some offices are so open and flexible that employees can work practically anywhere they choose. CFOs say the new spaces not only are producing the desired results, they are also giving their companies a recruiting edge. Still, experts caution that making open-plan offices work as intended requires a good deal of change management, not just a change of furniture.

Some businesses are also giving their employees a choice in the realm of health care, by using private health-insurance exchanges (see “Healthy Choices”). These online portals make it easy for individuals to compare and choose from an array of health-benefit packages, offered by one or more insurance carriers. For companies, the advantages include more-predictable costs and lower administrative burdens. The Affordable Care Act calls for federal and state health-insurance exchanges to come online in 2014, but companies don’t have to wait until then to benefit from an exchange.

Elsewhere in the issue, we interview finance chief Judy Bruner of flash-memory company SanDisk (“The Future of Flash”). Bruner was recently named a Silicon Valley CFO of the Year by a California business journal, but her career might have turned out differently had it not been for the persistence of SanDisk’s former CEO, who kept offering her the job after she first turned him down. As both the CEO and Bruner knew, it pays to keep an open mind.

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