VINLAND, Wis. — Reclaimed wood walls and cafe-style collaborative working areas are part of a $7 million renovation giving some employees at J. J. Keller & Associates near Neenah new working spaces.

The project is not only an update and enhancement to one of the buildings on the campus. It's also part of the company's retention and attraction efforts.

"We're growing 8 to 10 percent a year and we needed additional space, but we wanted space that's going to attract and retain associates," Amy Sabourin, Keller's vice present of human resources and associate services, said to the Green Bay Press-Gazette. "We ended up in this new space probably removing 50 workstations to add collaboration, and that was important."

J. J. Keller specializes in safety and regulatory products, including electronic logs for the trucking industry, and consulting services.

Work on the renovation — covering 65,000 square feet and two stories of the 48-year-old Vinland Building — got underway in 2017 and wrapped up at the end of last year. Concrete walls of two buildings within the orignial building came down and former warehouse areas were transformed into open office space, now populated by work stations.

The project included the addition of a 200-foot-long skylight and several collaborative work areas featuring high-top tables and booths, creating a feel like a cafe or coffee shop. Sit-stand desks are also offered to the 250 employees using the upgraded space.

Collaboration is seen as a driver of innovation, Sabourin said.

"We didn't have any of the collaborative space. It was work offices and workstations," she said. "It's open and inviting, yet they're able to concentrate and do their work."

J.J. Keller worked with Keller, Inc. — an unrelated business — on the design and renovation.

Workers and workspaces have, and are changing, as are the expectations of employees.

Ian Griffiths, president of Berners-Schober, a Green Bay architecture, engineering and design firm, said businesses are looking at providing revamped workspaces with more daylight, co-working areas, amenities and ergonomically sound work environments, particularly as the labor market has tightened.

"I think there's an expectation from employees that their work environment is going to be conducive, professional and more tailored to the employee than it ever used to be," he said.

The business is not connected with the J.J. Keller project.

Does workplace design make a difference?

"I think there's a better chance at recruiting and retention," Griffiths said. "As the number of employees in the workforce gets tighter and tighter, everyone is trying to retain the ones they have. A lot of it comes down to not only the work environment, but also how you treat people."

Work on Keller's "innovation center" is ongoing, and renovation and expansion of additional spaces are planned. Technology solutions continue to be an important part of business located in the renovated areas.

J. J. Keller has 1,425 employees and is continuing to grow its workforce in areas like sales and consulting. Like other businesses around the state and nation, it's searching for people with computer and information technology skills.

That's jobs like software developers and architects and people versed in quality assurance.

Sabourin anticipates the workplace will continue to evolve with a focus on employees.

"It's being flexible and not being too rules driven and constructive," she said. "Engaged associates are going to be more innovative associates."

An AP Member Exchange shared by the Green Bay Press-Gazette.