One of the communal work spaces in Idexx's new, $35 million Synergy Center in Westbrook.

One of the communal work spaces in Idexx’s new, $35 million Synergy Center

Idexx Laboratories held a ribbon-cutting ceremony on Friday to introduce the public to its new $35 million Synergy Center in Westbrook, one of three office buildings that make up its “World Campus.” The new office was designed with the open-office concept embraced by high-tech companies in Silicon Valley.

The Synergy Center, which contains 280 employees, including its executive leadership team, does not have individual offices. That’s right. Jonathan Ayers, CEO of a company with 6,000 employees worldwide (2,100 in Maine) a $6.9 billion market cap, does not have his own office. He has a desk with no walls in an area of the building with other members of the company’s executive management team. There are conference rooms and “chat rooms” that employees can reserve for confidential conversations or group meetings. There are also conference tables in the open for anyone to use. But the idea of accessibility and interaction trumps the traditional privacy of the corner office, according to Betsy Richards, manager of public relations at Idexx.

“(The executive leadership team) naturally became comfortable sitting out in the open, and the major reason they did was there was more interactions with employees,” Richards said. “People could see them and stopped thinking they were in a glass house, and because they can see them, they feel they can interact and talk with them.”

Many employees in the Synergy Center have completely given up assigned work stations and use their company-issued laptop and smartphone to work from wherever they want, whether that’s out on the patio next to the vegetable garden (Idexx had AT&T install an on-site cell tower to provide stellar coverage) or tucked into a high-backed chair in a communal space in front of floor-to-ceiling windows. Richards, who still has a workstation but uses it only 20 percent of the time, said the goal is to eventually have 85 percent of the 280 people who work in the Synergy Center to be mobile.

The open concept is designed to improve employee collaboration and “to foster the cross-pollination of ideas,” according to a news release from the company.

Richards said it’s about creating an environment that promotes employee interaction, as well as giving employees the flexibility to manage their work day however they like.

“We hire great employees,” Richards said. “We know they’re going to perform and all we ask of them is to deliver on their goals and do it in a high quality and on-time way. What we’ve learned is the stronger the connection to the company, the more successful we are in creating new ideas and innovating.”

While it was new to many of us on the tour, Idexx employees have been using the building since September. I asked Giovani Twigge, Idexx’s chief human resources officer, if there’s any way to measure the productivity of its employees since moving in or whether only anecdotal evidence suggests it has.

“Anecdotal doesn’t fly with Idexx. Idexx is a numbers-driven company,” Twigge said. “Johnathan Ayers, our CEO, says, ‘if you can’t measure it, you cant manage it.'”

Twigge said employees complete annual surveys on engagement and the work environment, and those surveys over time should provide a way to measure employee performance in the new space.

After the ribbon-cutting ceremony and a short tour, guests were welcome to check out the company’s cafeteria and sample the food. I caught CEO Jonathan Ayers eating a lobster roll and asked him if the productivity of Idexx’s employees will be measurable in the new space. He mentioned the annual surveys, but in the end, said the results will speak for themselves.

“Ultimately in terms of productivity, it all goes into the magic sauce, if you will, and if we’re successful in the marketplace and growing our revenues and people are feeling good about it, we know it’s probably an ingredient to the sauce, right?” he said.

Jean Maginnis, executive director of the Maine Center for Creativity, chimed in to add that the space and the concept it promotes is also all about recruitment, and not just for Idexx. When creative people want to move to Maine and ask her what companies to consider for jobs, she points them to Idexx.

“You are recruiting the workforce of 2020,” she said. “What you’re doing is recruiting for Maine.”

Twigge echoed the recruitment potential of the new space, which also includes a very large and full-service fitness center and a walk-in health care clinic managed by Intermed.

“Before this was known as One Idexx Drive. It was just a number,” Twigge said. “We rely heavily on information technology people, which means younger and younger people, and when they are looking for a place to work and they want a space like this, there’s more than that. They want the wellness activities and One Idexx and a number doesn’t resonate with them. So we needed to give it a personality. So we came up with World Campus. ‘Campus’ seems to resonate with a younger workforce.”

When I was talking to Ayers he mentioned that an investor had taken a tour of the Synergy Center and called the space “Google-esque.” I don’t disagree. Being inside the office, one could easily imagine being in the heart of Silicon Valley. But it’s in Westbrook, Maine. How cool.