AAT moves to Canary Wharf to meet net zero target

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AAT announces a major shake-up in which it will switch offices and adopt hybrid working to  boost sustainability – for staff and the environment.

AAT announced this week that in spring 2022, AAT staff would leave their present building in Aldersgate Street for spanking new offices at 30 Churchill Place, Canary Wharf.

The move will be much more than a relocation: it will usher in a new era of hybrid working for AAT’s 220-strong workforce and herald a major step in reducing its carbon footprint and towards the legal goal of net zero.

It comes as accounting bodies have been called on to reach net zero greenhouse gas emissions as soon as possible and encourage their members to take similar steps by providing training, support and leadership.

Jannine Edgar, Chief Operating Officer, comments:

“We are excited about this major move to improve AAT’s environmental footprint and create a new working culture that will take the experience of employees and our customers to the next level.”

“When Covid arrived, there was a high level of concern that we would not be able to work from home. But actually, we found the opposite to be the case. That started us thinking we don’t need the 25,000 sq ft of space we have at Aldersgate, and that in turn led us to start asking: how do our people want to work going forward?

Carbon footprint

AAT’s ambition to reduce its carbon footprint has played an important part in the new workplace strategy.

Occupancy of the space at Aldersgate Street was below 70% pre-pandemic, and moving from a 25,000 sq ft space to just under 11,000 sq ft represents a major downsizing of the physical footprint, with the energy savings that entails. “It’s a reduction of just under two floors,” says AAT’s HSE and Facilities manager Mark McGrath.

The new building – 30 Churchill Place – will be a serviced space managed by WeWork, meaning the building is both designed and furnished. The potential advantage of partnering with a property specialist is that they can focus on achieving best in class throughout the building. AAT will occupy the tenth floor.

So how does Churchill Place measure up? Well, it is rated ‘Excellent’ by BREEAM – the Building Research Establishment’s Environmental Assessment Method – which is one of the world’s leading sustainability schemes for buildings. That places it among the top 10% of new non-domestic buildings in the UK on a broad range of measures including energy, waste, health & wellbeing, materials, pollution and land use.

McGrath adds: “The building is also accredited with LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) which means, for example, that we are supplied with sustainable finishes as part of our floor space.  WeWork uses a variety of ethical supply chains, Renewable Green Electricity is sourced and a smart BMS system to supply efficient HVAC (Heating /Ventilation /Air Conditioning) for the building.

“Everything from water to electricity will be carefully managed to monitor usage even down to the rubbish being composted. The furniture has been sustainably sourced too. Thought is going into every aspect.”

Further improvements

AAT achieved carbon neutrality in 2021 (meaning and greenhouse gas emissions from its activities are balanced by measures to remove carbon elsewhere). However, like all businesses, it needs to make further progress towards the tougher target of net zero (whereby a  business no longer emits any greenhouse gases). AAT aims to reach net zero by 2030.

“Our focus in the years to come is going to be: reduce, reduce, reduce. We asked ourselves, could a landlord help achieve that strategy? And the answer was yes.”

Although it is too early to forecast the improvement in numbers, not least because measurements for all organisations were significantly skewed by people working at home during the pandemic, he predicts: “If you look at Aldersgate versus Churchill Place, there will be a big improvement in the coming year. Aldersgate had an EPC rating of D, and that was not likely  to improve.”

Sustainable employment

Adopting a more sustainable footprint as part of the move to hybrid working has wider implications for AAT.

HR Director Olivia Hill points out: “Sustainability will be higher up our agenda in terms of what we promote when we’re looking to recruit new staff, because we do think it’s becoming more and more important, certainly to the younger generation, but actually to most generations now.”

AAT consulted employees when making its decision to move to a new style of hybrid working. Regular staff surveys showed that this was the clear preference for a majority of AAT employees.

New business culture

The rapid move to a new office and a new way of working has been born out of the cultural change programme underway at AAT. Launched last November, this change initiative was designed to increase AAT’s agility and effectiveness in a more volatile world.

Edgar explains: “When I came on board three years ago, we weren’t delivering projects on time and they were often over-budget. So it was really important for us to have more focus, address some of the inefficiencies and get teams working better together.”

The culture change programme identified five behaviours – pace, accountability, challenge, decisiveness and passion – as being important to delivering that. “We talked a lot to staff to get their feedback, and they said wanted more wellbeing, but they also wanted to see more collaborative working,” she adds.

The office move – and the shift to hybrid working – is designed to deliver that. The space AAT is moving to is the 10th floor of WeWork’s flexible workspace building at Churchill Place in Canary Wharf, and it has been carefully chosen with the new working model in mind.

There will be far more collaborative space in Churchill Place, including a reception with an open-plan café-style area and no less than 13 meeting rooms fully equipped with video-conferencing facilities at their disposal.

Working arrangements

Staff will generally be expected to spend one day in the office with the people from their division of AAT, and at least one other day around cross-functional projects and business needs.

There will be desks for around 90 people to come to the office each day using a booking system, but some employees may want to come in every day.

Edgar says it is important that people plan their work to ensure that time spent in the office is used well:

“We’re saying: don’t come into the office and sit on a zoom call; plan face-to-face meetings where you can.

“My expectation is that the desks will often be pretty empty because people will be in the meeting spaces and collabarative areas. But actually, that’s okay because we’re already starting to see ideas around new efficiencies, new projects, new growth opportunities, just by people having those conversations.”

There will also be significant benefits to the office move in terms of wellbeing; in addition to in-house features such as foosball and pool tables, host WeWork offers a programme of activities including breakfast, yoga, fitness, cooking and Spanish lessons, and there’s a much wider choice of services from shopping to gym membership available in Canary Wharf.

As Olivia Hill puts it: “Our current office is very much just an office, and that’s how it feels. Whereas I think this will be a place that people actually enjoy going to.”

AAT Comment offers news and opinion on the world of business and finance from the Association of Accounting Technicians.

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