Author: Sarah Dodd

Innovative. Bold. Unique! How Auto Trader’s new office supports agile working

Auto Trader first adopted agile ways of working in 2008. The following year it launched its mobile website, developing iPad and Android apps a couple of years after that. By 2013, the final edition of its printed magazine was published, and Auto Trader became a fully digital business. It’s now the biggest motoring digital marketplace in the UK, with over 11 million unique visitors a month.

It wanted an office to support all this so, in 2014, 600 staff working across 5 different locations moved to a state-of-the-art new office in Manchester.

The move would help the company – which had fallen into the trap of working in silos – collaborate more effectively. Existing offices were old and run down (customers were rarely invited there); the biggest site had 3 buildings across 7 floors and working across them was difficult.

Auto Trader wanted its new office to:

  • be fitted out with agile in mind
  • have a good image to support recruitment (unlike previous sites)
  • provide a flexible working space (e.g. for different types and sizes of meetings)

The move was planned quickly and took place within 9 months (often, projects like this can take a couple of years). One person – a senior project manager – had full-time responsibility. Auto Trader wanted to make sure staff felt listened to, so there was a lot of consultation and opportunities for people to get involved. This included:

  • checking mobile phone coverage at the new location to make sure it met people’s needs
  • involving representatives from each team in planning the move
  • equipment trials in a mock office at old locations
  • giving each team the chance to spend a week in the mock office, testing layout, furniture etc. – and then letting people vote on what they liked best
  • moving to hot desking, with directors losing their offices

Some people decided to leave rather than relocate, but the percentage was much lower than expected because of the way the move had been managed: staff felt involved and valued.

Claremont Group Interiors were chosen from an initial shortlist of 7 office outfitters that tendered for the project. They managed the design and fitting of the 60,000 sq ft new office over a 16-week period.

The new office includes hot desking spaces, informal breakout areas, walls that can be written on and ‘war rooms’ for bringing teams together to ‘swarm’ on big problems. Touchscreen media has also been used, and some walls are decorated with graphics from the iconic Haynes manuals, which can be coloured in.

Meeting rooms are named after vehicles:

Meeting rooms are named after vehicles:

The 6th floor of the building is a flexible space used for hosting events (it’s so far been used for hackathons, science fairs, all-staff broadcasts, brown bags and dealer days, as well as various meetups – and can be configured in different ways).

But perhaps the most eye-catching element is a series of 6 iconic vehicles that were chosen to represent different decades in Auto Trader’s 38-year history. Before these were craned into the building, staff were given the chance to drive the vehicles around the old offices as a tribute. Then the engines were removed and the vehicles were coated with special paint allowing them to be written on making them adaptable meeting spaces – both inside and out. 

One of the specially craned-in vehicles

One of the specially craned-in vehicles

The Manchester office design also helped inform the design of the new London office, which is next to Kings Cross station. It’s easy to get to from Manchester, and staff regularly spend time at both locations.

Work friendships have now sprung up across the organisation – teams socialise much more than they did before, and departments are less siloed. There are user research labs where teams can test new product versions, and observe the people using them. Dealers are regularly invited to the office now, too.

The benefits of the move are easy to see: it’s increased the amount of collaboration and interaction between different parts of the company and emphasised that Auto Trader can do things at pace – and in new and different ways.