Acuity’s Even Better Place to Work

Sheri Murphy discusses the complete overhaul of Acuity’s Sheboygan, Wisconsin, headquarters—intended to drive employee engagement, foster collaboration, and prepare the company for future growth

Created by artist Robert Kuster, the Seven Sisters sculptures hanging in Acuity’s headquarters are between 12 to 15 feet in diameter each and together contain more than 14,000 hand-blown glass tendrils. Photos: Sheila Barabad

Sheri Murphy has seen the insurance company Acuity evolve for 27 years. When she first started, people came in, did their work, and went home. Now, in the 18th year of a new management team and culture, she sees that employees are finding a deeper meaning in their work.

Murphy works as the company’s vice president of services and administration, and when she was tasked with a major expansion of the company’s headquarters, she made sure the reworked facility reflected the attitude of its employees. She saw the need for a multifaceted space that reflected a dynamic and collaborative team.

It all started in 2004 with a massive addition to Acuity’s existing headquarters. She worked with Eppstein Uhen Architects when planning the structure, and that initial experience catapulted Murphy into Acuity’s current project, a multitier expansion at a cost of more than $150 million, which increases the building to more than 1 million square feet—not including parking structures. This project started almost four years ago and has been as multifaceted as the company itself.

In 2014, Murphy’s team started by putting up stand-alone structures and additions to the headquarters, building a redundant data center, constructing a parking lot, and erecting the world’s tallest pole—upon which visitors can see the American flag. As of press time, the entire project was slated for completion in mid-2017, and the East Element is just one of many forays into Acuity’s sense of collaboration and creativity.

Within the East Element is a 2,000-seat auditorium called “Theater in the Round.” Murphy hopes it will foster a communicative culture and serve as a functional space for the company’s quarterly town hall meetings. The theater has a stage in the center, so audience members surround the speaker on all sides. No seat is more than 70 feet away from the speaker. There are also display panels inside the auditorium and a Jumbotron above the stage, which allows everyone to see what’s happening on the round stage. The segment also includes a new office wing, another parking structure, and a training complex on the west side of the building.

The company’s training complex will contain 17 rooms featuring tiered spaces and movable walls—the largest training room can house up to 900 people. With Acuity’s addition of 700 people in the past five years, this space will enable effective training of its relatively young staff.

Sheri Murphy VP, Services & Administration
Sheri Murphy, VP, Services & Administration

“Many of our employees tend to be fairly new college grads,” Murphy says. “They are new to the business, and we pride ourselves on training them from the ground up to be experts in our industry. We invest a lot of time in them upfront and every year on an ongoing basis.” In other words, spaces such as the training complex are not only useful, but necessary.

Perhaps one of the more unique elements of the project is that there aren’t break rooms spread out around campus. Acuity’s headquarters will only have workspaces and collaborative areas. These collaborative spaces comprise the heart of the campus, where the auditorium, training complex, dining area, and a 45-foot rock-climbing wall reside. Murphy says her main task has been finding a way to artfully combine work and play. She found one way through a major expansion of Acuity’s exercise facility, which will add 16,000 square feet to the existing 10,000-square-foot space. The expansion, which will accommodate current and future employee growth, will also feature aerobic, spin bike, and massage rooms.

One of the most playful features of the updated headquarters is a 65-foot Ferris wheel called the Charity Wheel. A smaller Ferris wheel was part of a gala in 2013 that raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for a local neonatal intensive care facility. The event had a circus theme, and Acuity set up the wheel in the event space. Today, the new wheel is a reminder of the company’s lighthearted attitude.

“The wheel is an iconic element that crosses generations and envelops whimsy with purpose,” Murphy says. The Charity Wheel is at the heart of the campus, which continues to host major fundraising charitable events, spelling bees, and youth development seminars. Local law enforcement has also used the space as a training facility. Acuity has even opened its doors recently for a local SWAT team drill. It’s one of the many opportunities the company takes advantage of in order to use its facility to give back to the community.

First and foremost, however, Acuity is a place to work, and Murphy says she hopes the revitalized headquarters gives employees the environment and tools they need to do an amazing job for the company’s customers.