Case Study: AA Insurance

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When the lease on AA Insurance’s old Auckland office in Albert Street was due for renewal, the company took the chance to be innovative with its new workplace design.

Moving into brand new premises in Freeman’s Bay was an opportunity to rethink the way business units within AA Insurance worked and interacted.

“We had pretty much outgrown our old building,’ says Malama Caskie, Property and Facilities Manager, AA Insurance . “We’d been unable to do anything innovative with our current workspace other than replace some furniture. It was time for a change and to spread our wings.”

The company engaged Stack Interiors to design the top three floors of its new home in the seven-level Sale Street building—stipulating SmartSpace as the main furniture supplier. SmartSpace had worked with AA Insurance previously on a trial fit-out for its HR team. With the success of that project, and SmartSpace’s good working relationship with Stack, AA Insurance expected a seamless process. That’s exactly what they got.

“We saw it as an opportunity to do something different,” says Malama. “We wanted to create an environment that was collaborative, light and airy, with furniture to fit the purpose. Nothing way over the top, but a really nice, professional feel. And it has worked wonders for our staff engagement.”

That was evident in the May 2018 Best Places to Work survey, in which AA Insurance participates annually. This year, engagement scores had improved significantly from the previous year

“We had really positive feedback around the environment that we’ve created, through the design and our furniture choices,” says Malama.

SmartSpace Managing Director, James Dodunksi, puts that down to the smart people in charge of the project for the insurer, and SmartSpace’s ability to interpret the company’s vision to achieve the optimal work environment.

“Malama was very grassroots, not silly, and cut to the chase really quickly,” says James. “It’s really good when you’re dealing with smart people because it makes the project simple.

“From early on it was decided to put a mix of agile and fixed solutions in the new offices. Not everyone’s the same. Some people want to walk around with laptops, and noise doesn’t worry them. Some people like to be fenced off. We provided solutions for both,” he says.

“Our clients talk about what matters to them, what I call “the fluffy stuff” - how to engage staff, how to make staff feel valued and feel alive at work. We know how to break that down into practicalities. We listen to everything the client wants, then talk about how to translate that fluffy stuff into a physical environment.”

For AA Insurance, that included working with what the company already had in the way of office furniture, then innovating to maximise the floor space and the workplace goals. That included components like bar tables and stools, couches designed for meeting spaces, a chill-out zone, and the Miss Pak which is a modern take on the wing chair that gives workers more privacy.

“We wanted to be able to give people a nice place to work,” continues Malama. “It matches who we are as a culture.  We have managers who work on mobiles and laptops and they like to be agile. But we also have a contact centre and our telephony isn’t agile. So, we needed to cater to both working styles. SmartSpace was able to do that.

“The old offices were quite boring, and quite beige. Now we’ve been able to incorporate our brand colours. It’s been very tastefully done; Stack and SmartSpace really did a great job.”

Part of what made the project work so well was the level of engagement between SmartSpace and AA Insurance staff prior to the move. A meeting room was set up with a mock locker bank to introduce staff to the new electronic lockers that would be installed in two floors of the new building. A new desk and chair were placed in the room as well, along with a mood board of pictures of other furniture items that SmartSpace would provide.

“Staff could see what we were going to be doing and it grew their interest and excitement for the move,“ she says.

The Smartalock locker system has been a particular hit with staff. Developed with Agile Workplace and owned by SmartSpace and IT company Cloudstore, the electronic system replaces padlocks and keys with a building swipe card, mobile phone or pin number. It enables staff to keep all their desk items with them in a specially-designed caddy - rather than cluttering up desk space - then store it away in a reserved secure locker when they leave the office.

“Each morning staff get their caddy from their locker, find a desk and at the end of the day pack up and put the caddy back in their locker,’ says Malama. “It works really well.”

Throughout the project, what mattered most to AA Insurance was the ability to work directly with SmartSpace to collaborate on its office furniture solutions.

“We have a really good culture at AA Insurance,” she says. “We are one big family. That’s how we like to work with our suppliers as well. We like them to be on the same page as us. What we wanted to do for our staff was the driving factor.

“Having that relationship with SmartSpace made it seamless. They knew what we wanted and it worked out really well.  Everyone was kept in the loop during the project  and worked together for a fantastic result.  Stack, SmartSpace and our project team just made it happen.”