AAA’s California Headquarters Embrace an “American Road Trip” Theme

AAA’s new California headquarters aim to attract and retain millennials with a fresh, collaborative design and a unique “American Road Trip” theme. 

HGA recently completed the interior design for the American Automobile Association’s (AAA) Northern California Nevada Utah (NCNU) headquarters. The offices, based in Walnut Creek, California, embrace an “American Road Trip” theme.

One of AAA’s goals in the redesign was to construct a more efficient layout to house all of their employees and to create a freshened identity for their headquarters. AAA’s wanted the headquarters to attract a younger clientele and workforce, while also retaining the employees they currently have.
“During the programming phase, we learned AAA has an amazing retention rate, however, many of the employees move between departments as they develop in their careers and as the company evolves,” says Melissa Pesci, principal and vice president at HGA. “Therefore, it was important for all of the workstations to be the same, but offer enough flexibility to cater to employees’ varied work styles.”
The reception area of AAA's Northern California Nevada Utah new offices. Image courtesy of HGA.

The reception area of AAA’s Northern California Nevada Utah new offices. Image courtesy of HGA.

When was the project completed? 

March 2017

How much space?

50,000 square feet (approximately 65,000 RSF)

Was this new or renovated space?

Renovated

SF per person?   

178 PSF per person

The new headquarters incorporate branding elements like tire tread into the design. Image courtesy of HGA.

The new headquarters incorporate branding elements like tire tread into the design. Image courtesy of HGA.

How many employees?

365

What is average daily population? 

350; some employees are contract.

Is there a mobile work or work from home policy?

No, it’s on a case-by-case basis.

Describe workspace types.

Much of the space is open plan with a limited number of offices. There are two types of workstations, the full-time employee and the temporary/contract employees, which has a version with significantly less storage. The workstations were created to be flexible across work styles and allow for collaboration as well as visual privacy between users. During the programming phase, we learned AAA has an amazing retention rate, however, many of the employees move between departments as they develop in their careers and as the company evolves. Therefore, it was important for all of the workstations to be the same, but offer enough flexibility to cater to employees’ varied work styles. Additional individual offices were implemented to provide more meeting space options rather than just workstations and conference rooms.

New workstations allow for varied heights and work styles. Image courtesy of HGA.

New workstations allow for varied heights and work styles. Image courtesy of HGA.

What kind of meeting spaces are provided? 

There is a variety of meeting spaces, including enclosed meeting rooms and conference rooms in addition to meeting pods. Meeting space is provided at standing height, table height lounge height as well as mobile stadium seating.

What other kind of support space or amenity spaces are provided? 

A conference center is available on the fourth floor and the break room is provided on the first floor to encourage the different business units to mix. A small version of a branch retail space is also available on the first floor. On every floor, a break area is provided as well as lounge space to harbor a sense of community.

Has the project achieved any special certifications?  

No, primarily because the accreditation is costly and AAA would prefer that those funds were spent on the actual upgrades in the space. HGA did work with AAA to incorporate both LEED and WELL materials/processes into the project.

The break rooms incorporate 1970s rest-stop design. Image courtesy of HGA.

The break rooms incorporate 1970’s rest-stop design. Image courtesy of HGA.

What is the project’s location and proximity to public transportation and/or other amenities? 

The project is steps away from BART in Walnut Creek.

Was the C-suite involved in the project planning and design process? If so, how?

Yes, the head of HR was very involved and worked with the balance of the C-suite to deliver quick decision making.

What kind of programming or visioning activities were used?

AAA wanted to change the way they thought about their office, so HGA spent a lot of time doing programming and visioning in order to engage everyone. HGA started by soliciting everyone at AAA for images of things they’d like to have in the workplace. From there, we met with the head of each department to discuss how each department operates. HGA spent time making observations and conducting interviews as well as an initial visioning session with a design committee that represented people from all across AAA. A concept and three palettes were established and the palettes went out to a vote across the company and the palette with the most votes was used. Also, HGA worked with two furniture vendors to create furniture mock-ups, which were tested by everyone who had interest. The was a vote on the favorite and HGA used that along with the comments received during mock-up to make modifications for the final system installed.

The branding extends to AAA NCNU's conference room. Image courtesy of HGA.

The branding extends to AAA NCNU’s conference room. Image courtesy of HGA.

Were any pre-planning surveys conducted to get employee input?

HGA engaged the entire AAA staff throughout the design process. Every employee in AAA’s NCNU office was able to vote on the palette for the new space as well as the selection of the new workstation standard that was used. The color palette selected was fresh, bright colors that match the yellow AAA trucks. We spent a significant amount of time upfront with AAA to find out what was working really well and what things could be improved. AAA had previously established a work environment that was incredibly supportive of focused work, but in an effort to attract a millennial workforce as well as better support and inspire the current employees, AAA wanted a space that was more balanced between offering this focused space in addition to a variety of dynamic collaboration spaces.

Because this was such a large move, AAA did location/commute mapping. They learned that a move to Walnut Creek would reduce the overall commute time for the employee population.

Were there any other kind of employee engagement activities?

In addition to the engagement discussed previously, there were also a series of boards posted in the café to keep everyone updated on the progress and let them know how to solicit feedback.

Elements like license plates in the break room further AAA's NCNU brand. Image courtesy of HGA.

Elements like license plates in the break room further AAA’s NCNU brand. Image courtesy of HGA.

Were any change-management initiatives employed?

This was a large move, due to the location change and the shift in the work style layout, so it was important to both AAA and HGA to keep the entire employee population engaged. We spent a significant amount of time upfront with AAA to find out what was working really well and what things could be improved. AAA had previously established a work environment that was incredibly supportive of focused work, but in an effort to attract a millennial workforce as well as better support and inspire the current employees, AAA wanted a space that was more balanced between offering this focused space in addition to a variety of dynamic collaboration spaces.

Were there any special or unusual construction materials or techniques employed in the project?

We wanted to warm the space up by using wood, but it was a bit outside of our budget, so we wrapped elements in a wood veneer wall covering instead, to mimic the look of solid wood elements.

What products or service solutions are making the biggest impact in your space?

The Knoll workstations were able to provide a solution that accommodates both focused work and collaboration. The workstation itself offers flexibility as it is height adjustable, has multiple lounge spaces and storage options.

One of the seating areas in AAA's NCNU headquarters. Image courtesy of HGA.

One of the seating areas in AAA’s NCNU headquarters. Image courtesy of HGA.

What kind of branding elements were incorporated into the design?

HGA integrated the AAA brand in the design by incorporating the theme of the “American road trip.” The new design contains specific elements that emulate the sense of camaraderie, excitement, and exploration when embarking on an adventure. For example, the boardroom features a wood treatment that resembles tire tracks and a table with vintage hubcaps; headlight light fixtures can be found in the conference room; meeting nooks are inspired by 1970’s rest areas. The three “A’s” in “AAA” can be found in the design of three break rooms that incorporate the A-frame highway rest-stop design and across the hall a wall is decorated with vintage license plates from every state. Office artwork also supports the theme, with commissioned photography made into window film featuring the unique environments of the Northern California, Nevada and Utah regions. To create the sensation of peering through a car window, the window film in the office is activated by natural light throughout the space and by employees as they collaborate within the rooms or pass by.

What is the most unique feature of the new space? 

The collaboration booths that line the hallway to the break room. They are based on the west coast roadside rest areas of the 70’s and also evoke the AAA logo. The booths activate a windowless hallway and create a sense of depth through the life-size commissioned photography applied to the back of the booths.

What kind of technology products were used?

Technology is incorporated throughout the space, from collaborative screens in conference rooms and open space and even rolling units to help employees work through real-time issues as a team.

The new headquarters embrace an adventurous, road-trip theme. Image courtesy of HGA.

The new headquarters embrace an adventurous, road-trip theme. Image courtesy of HGA.

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