Melissa Meixner-Schlewitz leaves her pet pug Norm at home before work each day, but the canine’s wrinkly smiling face is one of the first things she sees when walking into offices at IDEXX.
A photo of her dog is one of more than 50 pets of IDEXX employees that the company is now using as artwork to adorn the hallways of its recently revamped Eau Claire building in the Gateway West Industrial Park.
“I love that he’s the first one everyone sees when they walk in,” said Meixner-Schlewitz, an education and support trainer for IDEXX.
She was enthusiastic to volunteer her two best photos of Norm to be enlarged and printed onto canvas as part of the company’s effort to make the office building more “personalized” and “homey.” Prior to the recently completed renovation, the building’s interior looked like what most would picture as an office — plain walls, a drab break room and employees stashed away in cubicles.
“It was nice, but it was more like your typical business environment,” Meixner-Schlewitz said.
A remodeling project that started last summer and wrapped up in January had employee engagement as a high priority when freshening up the rooms and corridors of the 20-year-old office building at 2536 Alpine Road.
“This is just to make them feel appreciated,” said Eric Fliegel, IDEXX’s director of customer experience for its veterinary software and services division.
IDEXX hired Fliegel, who has been a leader in technical support departments at other large companies, in mid-2017 to lead the Eau Claire site.
He’d noticed few employees would gather in the break room, which was on one end of the building, and opted to eat at their desks instead.
“We had people spread all over the building,” Fliegel said. “It was just quiet.”
He wanted to build a sense of community among the employees and see them really relax on the breaks between helping IDEXX customers with technical support issues.
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In February 2018, Fliegel got corporate’s approval to renovate the building with improvements ranging from new lighting fixtures to relocating and expanding break areas.
The centerpiece of the project is Clearwater Cafe — a centrally-located break room that has the vibe of Panera Bread or Starbucks.
Two deluxe massage chairs stand in front of a giant image of Eau Claire showing the Chippewa River, downtown and UW-Eau Claire taken by local photographer Mike Howard.
On another wall, an electric fireplace warms another seating area. As noon nears during this Tuesday visit to the building, employees from Johnny’s Italian Steakhouse put out fresh vegetables and lots of fixins for a deluxe salad bar. The eatery brings in food three times a week for IDEXX employees to buy at a low price. During warm weather IDEXX invites food trucks to its offices for workers to buy lunch from.
Previously a row of cardio machines, the fitness center has been expanded and equipped with a full assortment of weights, additional machines and a stretching area. Employees can get in a brief workout on breaks, or they can do their full fitness routine before or after shifts and use the new locker rooms to shower and change clothes.
Changes to a large room full of cubicles with workers chatting on the phone had more subtle changes, which were done around the July 4 holiday.
“We didn’t do anything dramatic,” Fliegel said. “We changed the feel.”
All desks were replaced with adjustable ones so employees could sit or stand. Standard downward-facing office fixtures were swapped out for indirect ones that emit a softer light and can be dimmed.
Building support columns were repainted in a comforting blue, which Fliegel likened to the color of the ocean.
Carpeting throughout the building, which developed white streaks in winter months from people tracking road salt in on their shoes, was replaced with attractive, lower-maintenance, high-end vinyl tiling.
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Aaron White, economic development manager for the Eau Claire city government, got to tour the company’s revamped offices earlier this year.
“IDEXX did a great job of incorporating employee-friendly amenities into their renovation,” White said in an email.
He noted that is becoming a greater consideration in businesses, especially as they compete for workers in a tight labor market.
“There is a trend in business to really transform workspaces into more comfortable, employee-friendly environments,” White said. “This helps companies with both recruitment of new employees and retention of existing staff.”
Local human resources workers attest to the importance of a positive physical working environment.
Brook Richartz, human resources manager for the 2615 N. Clairemont Ave. location of Festival Foods, said that a good, safe work environment has links to productivity as well.
Caring for employees’ physical workspace helps make their jobs become easier and assuage their worries, leaving them able to focus on the task at hand, she said.
At the Festival Foods store, that ranges from proper mats for cashiers to stand on during their shifts to different days with food and activities in the store’s break room.
“By giving them the tools they need, a safe place to work as well as a place they want to hang out at — those things are just the start of showing that you care about the associate,” Richartz said in an email.
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Aside from the many pet pictures adorning corridors in IDEXX, other once-bare walls also got an infusion of artwork.
A large mural — a copy of one from another IDEXX office in Europe — on a hallway wall shows a horse, a cat, a dog and a cow. On closer inspection, the mural is actually a mosaic made of many smaller pictures of animals.
Instead of standard drywall for some rooms, there are glass walls with a large frosted design with animal pawprints — both providing some privacy, but also a playful hint at the company’s business. Some of the acoustic ceiling tiles in the break room have pawprint designs in them as well.
Incorporating animals into the decor not only gave some life to formerly bare walls, but also gives a nod to the company’s stock-in-trade. The global company provides veterinary services and supplies for both the agricultural sector and companion animals — pets.
A wall-sized map of the world in the visitor’s entrance shows that the Eau Claire office is one of many locations the company has across the globe.
The company has more than 100 locations across the globe, including more than 70 laboratories that process samples sent in for testing by veterinarians. The company does business in more than 175 countries.
IDEXX is headquartered in Westbrook, Maine, which is the company’s largest location. Some existing spaces at that campus have recently been modernized, according to the company.
More than 8,000 people work for the company.
Eau Claire’s site provides customer and technical support for the company’s software business, which was created through acquisition of a locally-grown company.
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IDEXX bought Advanced Veterinary Systems, which had one time been located in the Sky Park Industrial Center on Eau Claire’s southwest side, in the late 1990s. The company moved into the Alpine Road location when the building opened in early 1999. Currently there are 225 employees that work there.
With that employee count, IDEXX is one of the top 20 private-sector employers in the Eau Claire area, according to a fact sheet from the Eau Claire Area Economic Development Corp.
The investment in the working environment signals IDEXX’s commitment to Eau Claire, which recently re-upped its lease for the Alpine Road building for another decade.
“We are excited that IDEXX has chosen to reinvest in their Eau Claire location, and we look forward to working with them in the future,” White said.
He noted that the company’s renovation project adds to the local tax base, and jobs in the building pay well and diversify the city’s employment sectors.
IDEXX’s renovation was the eighth-largest building project in the industrial sector last year in Eau Claire, according to a city report of building permits issued during 2018.
Fliegel credits Theresa Brackett from IDEXX’s facilities team with designing the remodeling project and general contractor Durand Builders for carrying it out.
One sign of success in the working environment improvements that Fliegel points to is that his latest hires have all been from current employee referrals. He takes that as a telling sign the redesign got something right.
In addition to improving employee engagement, another goal of the renovation project was to reduce IDEXX’s footprint inside the Alpine Road building. It had occupied about 70,000 square feet, which included a warehouse and distribution area that saw less use over the years, and wanted to get down to about 50,000 square feet.
The project also included a new sign above the main entrance to IDEXX and adding some decorative trim to the building.