Office fit-outs are carried out to tight deadlines and to tough client requirements. Barbour Index and Scott Brownrigg suggest how specifiers can ensure they deliver their brief

Office fit-outs may not happen for some time after the base building is completed and they are often done for a tenant rather than the office developer. The situation will usually be that the base building, or shell and core, contains fully completed escape stairs and toilets, and possibly the entrance area. Services plant and safety systems are also installed but terminate where they leave the core. The office space is left unfinished.

1. Selecting the type of fit out

Fit-outs are normally defined as either category A or category B. Category A is usually taken to include all basic office elements including floors, internal walls and ceilings. It also includes fitted heating, ventilation and fully operational lighting, as well as electrical and IT wiring within the floor cavity to the floor terminals. Quite often carpet is not fitted but its cost is included in the fit-out in the form of an allowance made by the developer to the tenant.

Category B fit-out is where the end occupier has the interior fitted to their exact requirements. This is likely to be to an enhanced specification including the ceiling, floor finishes, partitioning and additional lighting. It is also likely to contain special areas for staff facilities or functions. Departmental variations may be installed, such as local reception areas and security systems. Enhanced services will take the form of fully connected workstations and higher levels of IT communications and support.

2. Taking the initial steps

The specifier should be clear about the terms of any lease, and a pre-commencement survey, team meeting and sign off of the completed shell and core must be carried out. This is to ensure the base build has not fallen short in any way and that the fit-out does not take on any additional works. All parties should agree its results prior to fit-out starting on site.

Obtaining a full brief and clearly understanding it is fundamental because of the short timescale of most fit-outs. It’s important to confirm the fit-out requirements with the client and keep the clients up to speed while the scheme is being detailed and procured so they are aware of progress and any changes that have to be made. In the race to stick to the programme it’s easy to forget the impact of changes in finishes and fittings on end users.

Ensure the fit-out offers future flexibility by clearly understanding the client’s brief and foreseeable business activities. Understanding the potential changes can ensure that flexibility, especially with partitions, services and finishes can save time and money in the future.

Regulations are quite often over looked. A check on fire precautions, disabled access, ventilation and any issues that may trigger action under the Disabled Discrimination Act (DDA) should be undertaken as a minimum.

3. Migration planning

Migration planning is fundamental in any successful fit-out. From the start of detailed design work, ensure that an understanding of people movements is developed. Complex fit-outs may require people to move more than once. Ensure that briefings are held to keep everyone informed and issue move packs well in advance. It is better to introduce more than one phase to simplify moves rather than have a complex operation that has a high probability of going wrong. Ensure there are contingencies as most clients want a minimum of downtime in any move. Services, particularly IT and transport, can unravel at the vital moment so investing a small amount of money and effort in this area will always be worthwhile.

4. Avoiding mess

Elements that create mess should be minimised. Avoid excessively dusty and wet trades altogether. Most fit-outs will start from a relatively clean and tidy site so careful consideration of materials and systems, including as much prefabrication as possible, will improve quality, reduce programme time and cut waste.

5. Fit-out for refurbished buildings

For fit-outs in refurbished buildings, in addition to the points above, care is needed to establish the credentials of the existing building. A survey of condition must be undertaken, including an asbestos survey if this does not already exist. You should build in larger contingency funds as there will always be unknown problems, and rapid resolution will incur additional cost.

6. Signing off at completion

It is essential to sign off the completed fit-out before the space is occupied. Ensure that detailed records are obtained of all finishes before the people move in as damage invariably occurs despite everybody’s best endeavours.