Undertaking any type of office fit-out is generally costly and disruptive events, so it naturally makes sense to appoint the best company you can to implement the project.
If the right company is chosen the fit-out project should be planned, organised, budgeted and managed correctly, resulting in the seamless occupation of your new or refurbished office space.
If you get it wrong then it could easily lead to a poor design solution with no thought for expansion or future alterations, delays in completion, budget overruns and total disruption to your day to day business.
So how do you work through the maze of smoke and mirrors in the office design and fit-out market?
Well firstly you need to have your wits about you. We also suggest you read the information below and request our free “The Complete Guide To Selecting A Fit-Out Specialist”.
As someone once said, planning an office fit-out is like staging a wedding or a war, you need contingencies and contingencies for your contingencies.
So if you are contemplating an office fit-out project, spare a moment to read our material, it could make the difference between a triumph and a disaster!
Select an office fit-out partner with all the skills in-house
Undertake full due diligence – don’t leave any stone unturned
Nothing demonstrates a company’s credentials better than a proven track record. Your fit-out partner should be able to demonstrate its credentials with reference to completed projects (preferably in your industry sector), reference sites and case studies.
You should visit a completed project, preferably on your own, so that you can ask the occupiers the right questions. This will also give you the opportunity to pick up design ideas for your own fit-out project.
A good fit-out partner with a proven and established (financially sound) business should be able to offer you contacts with clients for whom they have completed more than one fit-out. This is a clear indication of the fit-out partner’s ability.
Alternatively, and at a minimum, they should show you a trail of referrals and case studies from totally satisfied, one-time only clients.
It’s equally wise to ask your commercial property agent for their opinion as they are likely to have had previous experience with most fit-out companies. However, do be wary whether they have a hidden agenda or are being paid an introductory commission by the fit-out companies they put forward. Also be wary if the agent is particularly dismissive of a company you believe to be a fit-out market leader. If you smell a rat, you are probably right!
The fit-out industry is notoriously full of start-ups and fly-by-nights, so be sure to check how many years they’ve been trading and their track record. Scrutinise their financials and make visits to their offices, completed projects and projects currently being built. You really can’t be too careful.
Check out the team and know who you’ll really be working with
We’ve all seen a flock of geese flying in V formation, but have you ever stopped to wonder why they do it? Well the simple answer is teamwork. By supporting each other and creating uplift they are an amazing 70% more efficient.
When one of the team is struggling you’ll see a stronger team member break away in support to lead the struggler back into the formation. Clearly there are lessons for us to learn.
Applying this model to your fit-out project will undoubtedly generate similar efficiencies. A strong fit-out company should put forward a project team that has a proven history of working together, managed by a strong team leader. The inter relationships between the sales, pre-contracts, design and construction teams are fundamental to the smooth delivery of your project.
Make sure that you meet the key team members at the pre-appointment stage and satisfy yourself that they operate as a unified team.
It’s imperative that you are working with a cohesive team that adds value to your own project team. Fundamentally it’s vital that everyone gets on with each other. After all you’re likely to be working together for several months.
You should also confirm that the people you meet during the sales process are the team that will see your project through to its conclusion, and not merely front men who talk a good story.
If you don’t like the people you meet, then best advice is to ask to meet other people from the same company, or to look elsewhere.
Whilst the fit-out company itself it is important, a truly supportive and motivated team is essential.
Commission surveys and get an accurate budget and programme as early as possible
It’s very difficult to assess the competence of people or a company when you are dealing in an area outside of your own skill set.
As we’ve already mentioned, the technical elements of the budget will often account for over 60 % of the project, so it’s clearly essential that your fit-out partner retains the required technical skills in-house.
Your fit-out partner should be keen to assist you in providing detailed technical surveys and reports of your short listed options.
These will typically include a Mechanical and Electrical survey, a thorough review of the other building services, and a measured survey to ensure all the critical dimensions are known.
They should also consider any specialist assessments such as I.T, lifts, telecoms and environmental issues, such as an asbestos survey, which may have significant implications for the project, both in terms of costs and programme.
Your fit-out partner should be prepared to do this work for the various buildings that you shortlist and assist you in making the final building choice. This should be so even if they are in a competitive situation.
A good quality and well resourced fit-out company should be able to quickly assess these aspects, present their findings, and report cost and programme implications.
If they do not have the technical expertise in-house, they may not pick these important issues up at the outset, which could cost you dearly at the end.
Check out their in-house resources and key sub-contractors
One thing is knowing what resources are required for the project, but it’s another actually having them on-board. The fit-out project team goes well beyond the handful of people who actually attend the selection presentation.
For example, the workplace design team alone should include designers, architects, CAD technicians, 3D modellers, space planners, detailers and, of course, their managers.
You should seek to establish that your fit-out partner employs all of these key people rather than simply buying in the services on an ad-hoc basis. This applies throughout the project team.
Typically sub-contractors employed by your fit-out partner will carry out the physical construction of the project. You shouldn’t underestimate their value. Their quality is a direct reflection of your fit-out partner and their joint ability to deliver. You should ensure that your fit-out partner has checked their credentials thoroughly, including insurances, their financial position and their Health and Safety record, as well as their quality control procedures and track record.
So when it comes to your fit-out partner’s sub-contractors they should not compromise on the quality of external personnel needed to support your project. They should call on the best.
Check them out by getting out there
One way to gain peace of mind and confidence in your fit-out partner is to take up references and read endorsements.
But the real answer is to get out and visit projects. This should include fit-out projects those that have just been finished and those that have been occupied for a while to see how they are handed over and how well they perform in the longer term.
You should also go the extra mile and ask to see sites under construction. This will enable you to check Health and Safety management and confirm how on-time delivery of projects and zero snagging are actually achieved.
The way a fit-out site under construction is managed will give you a true insight into the quality of the fit-out company.
At a minimum all visitors should be formally greeted by the site manager and taken through a thorough site induction process. PPE (Personal Protection Equipment) should also be issued if the construction phase is active.
There are a number of other things to look out for. For example, if you’re allowed site access without having been briefed on Health and Safety matters, or if you can hear radios blaring, see workmen smoking, drinking, and generally mucking around, and the site is generally messy then it’s time to look elsewhere for your fit-out partner.
It’s also a good idea to ask to visit a completed project on your own, so that you can ask those questions that might otherwise be difficult to ask.
Open book or open wallet?
The way in which your fit-out partner approaches the sales process is a fundamental indicator of their real attitude to the project. There shouldn’t be any room for cheap sales tactics in circumstances where you’re committing to major capital expenditure.
If your fit-out partner is steering you away from taking independent professional advice, or if they are offering to “open up” their books for you so that you can see their profit, then you should be truly alarmed.
At their worst fit-out companies offering “open book” will be taking huge retrospective discounts and kick-backs from sub-contractors, which you will not be informed of. Quite simply, it is impossible to run a business on the type of margins some companies show when trying to entice a client to go open book.
At the end of the day it is impossible for you to establish the true profit that your fit-out partner will make on your project, so it makes sense to review the costs in detail to establish value for money.
Once you’ve made the appointment keep a close watch on the project costs. You should not allow any additional works to be carried out without your written authorisation. The last thing you want is a messy final account negotiation at the end of the contract.
Watch out for spiralling project costs. Many fit-out contractors will be working hard to drive up the contract sum with a long list of project variations and extras. Often these are deliberately omitted from the initial presentation. They are also often over-priced!
The best approach is to try and agree everything up front and to then insist on a fully detailed, fixed price contract.
Know who will be building your fit-out
When it comes to the construction of your fit-out project there is no substitute for experience and accountability.
You should be looking for three layers of accountability in this area, which you should check out before you appoint your fit-out partner.
An experienced Contracts Director who has full accountability and is visual throughout the project
A dedicated Project Manager who becomes your daily contact
A dedicated Site Manager who runs the site 24/7 managing the programme and works
Ideally, all of the above professionals should be directly employed by your fit-out partner and not be sub-contracted.
The foundation of this phase is the fit-out project programme; a critical path analysis to ensure full achievement and timeframe commitment. This should be presented to you in the pre-appointment stage, setting out each phase of the project and, most importantly, the completion and handover dates.
This should be backed up by a robust contract, which should offer performance guarantees. Your fit-out partner should run you through the various forms of contract, ranging from its own short-form to a full JCT standard form of contract.
A commercial organisation should be fanatical about control and commitment of cost and programme, guaranteeing delivery on time.
Unfortunately, the fit-out industry has a huge amount of jargon. We don’t like mystery and below is our fit-out industry jargon buster.
Adjudication: A statutory procedure by which any party to a construction contract has a right to have a dispute decided by an adjudication
Ancillary space: Separate office areas such as meeting rooms, storage areas, photocopy and print facilities that are assigned or near to specific departments or work groups
Approved list: A list of service providers and / or contractors that have satisfied selection criteria by the client or project manager
Arbitration: The hearing and determination of a dispute by an impartial referee agreed to by both parties
As-built drawings: Accurate plan layout drawings and construction details reflecting the completed project
Atrium: A glazed area within the building or between buildings to provide external light
Benchmarking: Measurement of services or costs of a proposal against an established and approved alternative source
Bespoke procurement: A tailored and project specific approach to procurement as an alternative to pure traditional options for buying fit-out
Best practice: The most effective and desirable method of carrying out a function or process derived from an approved body of authority
Block plan: A simple drawn plan of the workspace depicting allocated space and basic boundaries of groups and departments
Bolthole: Quiet areas within the office
Borrowed light: Light within an area, which has an original source in another room or area and not directly from an external natural light
Breakout space: Informal social and meeting areas in the office
Building control: A statutory service provided by local government or approved independent entities to ensure that building work complies with Building Regulations
Building shell: The permanent external structure and internal core areas of a building
Cat A: Also referred to as a developer’s fit-out, this describes an office fitted-out to include services,suspended ceilings and floors but no other divisions or enhancements
Cat B: This refers to internal office works carried out by a tenant to sub-divide the space with partitioning and enhancements such as furniture and fittings
CDM: The abbreviation for “Construction (Design and Management) Regulations 2007”, which is the legislation aimed at improving the Health and Safety throughout a construction project
CDM Co-ordinator: In accordance with the Construction (Design and Management) Regulations 2007, a CDM Co-ordinator must be appointed by the client on applicable projects to advise the client on Health and Safety issues during the design and planning phases of the construction work
Ceiling void: The gap between the dropped (suspended) ceiling and the structural floor above
Cellular office: Separate internal offices for individuals or groups of people
Cellularisation: The creation of cellular offices within a scheme
Certificate of practical completion: The certificate issued by the employer’s agent at the point when the space is fit for occupation and the construction works have been largely completed against contractual obligations
CGI: A computer generated image
Churn: This describes the movement of staff within a floor area or building outside the realms of a major move or relocation
Circulation space: The area in a building used as corridors, staircases, etc.
Cluster: A multiple group of desks or workstations
Collateral warranty: A contractual method of extending the benefit of the contractor’s or architect’s obligations to a third party, such as a tenant or new owner of the building
Comfort cooling: System that can cool the air in a building
Common areas / parts: Stairs, lifts, toilets and corridors that are shared with other occupiers
Construction management contract: A mode of procurement where a single allocated body manages numerous separate contracts with trade contractors
Contract documents: The documents making up the contractual agreement between the contractor and the client;made up of drawings, specifications, costs and contract conditions
Contract programme: A detailed graphic document depicting duration of key tasks and completion dates against them
Core: A vertical element within a building shell that houses the stairs, lifts, WC’s and risers
COSHH: Government regulations that control the use of hazardous materials on site (Control of Substances Hazardous to Health regulations)
Cost breakdown / cost plan: A report setting out an analysis of the project costs
Cost consultant: A third party consultant hired by the client to scrutinise and approve costs
Curtain wall: External glass or aluminium wall structure, which has no support function for a building
Dayworks: Contracted work, which is costed day by day as opposed to a pre-agreed price for completion of a project or part thereof
DDA – Disabled Discrimination Act: The law regulating fair access to services, including buildings, for people with disabilities. This has now been replaced with the EA (Equalities Act 2010) although most people still refer to it as DDA.
Defects Liability Period: The period of time specified in the contract in which the contractor is required to rectify defects to the contract works
Depth of space: The distance measured between a building perimeter and the central core
Design brief: A schedule of requirements for the office established through interviews with the Client including personnel head count, key adjacencies and future expansion plans
Design and build contract: A form of construction contract where the contractor has responsibility for designing and thebuilding works
Design workshop: A brainstorm between a range of disciplines, including the client, to discuss and develop design issues
Detailed design: The development of the initial design to a level sufficient to commence contract works
Developer’s fit-out / specification: An office fitted-out to include services, ceilings and floors, but no other divisions or enhancements – often referred to as Cat A
Drop-in: A space in an office, which is small and accessible used by visitors or personnel that are only partially office based
Dry risers: Vertical mains fitted into suitable positions, such as staircase enclosures, with outlet values for fire hoses
EA: Short for employer’s agent, which is a role within a standard building contract where an individual acts on behalf of the client
Electrical layout: A plan showing the position of lights, wall sockets and floor boxes
Elevation: A drawing of a vertical surface or wall to show design or technical detailing
Environmental control: The control and regulation of the lighting, fresh air, humidity and temperature in a building
Extension of time: Additional time allowed in a formal contract against a defined delay with just cause
Fabric: The physical components of a building
Façade: The elevation of a building that faces onto the street
Fan-coil unit: A unit, which provides the function of cooling and/or heating air as part of an air-conditioning system
Fenestration: The style or arrangement of the window elements in a building
Fingerplate: A protective plate above or below a door handle to avoid wear and tear on the door itself
Finishes schedule: A written report detailing colours and materials to be used on the project
Fit factor: A contingency factor used when estimating space requirements to take into consideration variables in shape and efficiency of varying building footprints
Flexible working: Any working pattern adapted to suit an individual’s need, such as flexitime, part-time, job-sharing or working from home
Floor box: A terminal recessed into the floor with sockets for power, data and telephone
Floor plate: The arrangement of any single floor plan in an office building
Footprint: The total area that a building occupies. Also used to describe the space taken up by an operator’s workstation
GA: Short for general arrangement describing the plan that shows the main physical layout of a scheme or floor plan
GEA – Gross external area: This is the gross area of a building inclusive of the external walls
GIA – Gross internal area: This is the gross internal area of a building measured to the insides of the external walls
Handover: The formal point at which the completed project and operating and maintenance manualsare delivered to the client
Home office / home working: Describes staff working partly or full time from home
Honed: Describes a smooth finish to a material but not polished
Hot desking: Describes an environment where workers occupy workstations on a first come, first served basis and have no fixed position
Hoteling: Where a reservation can be made for a workstation for a specific time period
Hub: An office area designed for social or casual integration
HVAC: Heating, ventilation and air-conditioning
Initial layout: The first attempt to produce a plan layout of an office depicting desk and office positions
Isometric: A 3-dimensional representation of a scheme drawing
Joint Contracts Tribunal (“JCT”): An independent body of industry experts that produces standard forms of building contracts
Joint Names Insurance: An “all-risks” insurance policy to cover against any physical loss or damage to work executed and site materials, taken out in the joint names of the client and the contractor
Letter of intent: A letter from the client confirming that a contract is about to be entered into, subject to certain conditions
Life cycle costs: A term describing the costs associated with owning and using a building over a fixed timespan
Lintel: A support beam bridging an opening usually above a door, window or wall opening
Liquidated and ascertained damages: An estimate of the financial loss that a client would suffer should the contractor delay completion of his contractual obligations. Also known as LAD’s.
Lux: A unit of illumination level
M&E Services: The mechanical and electrical systems including heating, ventilation, air-conditioning, lifts,power and lighting
M&E Survey: A detailed report on the building’s mechanical and electrical services
Making good: Correction of defects or existing finishes following new works
Measured survey: A dimensional check to ascertain a building’s detailed measurements
Mezzanine: An additional storey between two other storeys of a building
Mock up: Describes real life physical construction of part of a scheme or a furniture element for a Client’s evaluation purposes
Mullions: The vertical strip that divides windows or parts of a window, doors or screens
Novated: This describes a contractual responsibility being passed on to someone else most commonly applied to the design element of works
NUA – net usable area: This describes the net internal area less primary circulation space
Occupational density: The net internal area available per person for a given number of people
Operable wall: A sliding/folding wall that is commonly used as a flexible division to create a smaller or larger room
Package: An element of work carried out by a sub-contractor
Part L / Part M: Elements of Building Regulations covering the conservation of fuel and power (Part L) and the access to and use of buildings (Part M)
PC sum: Where a specialist service or item is known but the final specification is to be agreed, the contractor will include a notional Prime Cost of materials in addition to the labour element.Usually used for finishes items i.e. carpet
Perimeter trunking: A trunking system that runs inside the outer walls of an open plan office
Phasing: The division of a project into separate stages
Plan: A drawing produced to a reduced scale representing the footprint or floor-plate of a building
Planning supervisor: Co-ordinates the Health and Safety aspects of the project design and initial planning and ensures that the Health and Safety File is prepared. Terminology recently replaced with CDM co-ordinator.
Plenum: The space between a building’s real ceiling and the suspended ceiling, which is often used as an air duct for heating and air conditioning. Often used to describe a box filled with pressure
Practical completion: The date when the client or his representative certifies that works are complete in accordance with the contract
Pre-commissioning: Tests carried out on the building’s services before commencement of the project works
Pre-let: The letting of a building prior to the completion of construction works
Principal contractor: Takes responsibility for, and develops, the Health and Safety plan and co-ordinates the activities of all contractors to ensure they comply with Health and Safety regulations
Primary circulation: Describes the main routes of movement needed to navigate a floor allowing for access to core areas and fire escapes
Procurement route: The type of contract chosen for a project (e.g. Design and Build, Management, Traditional etc.)
Professional Indemnity Insurance: Liability insurance that covers professionals (designers, architects, lawyers, etc.) in the event that a third party claims to have suffered a loss as a result of professional negligence
Project champion: A senior member of the client’s team who will take overall responsibility for the project
Project Manager: A designated individual or company that is responsible for the co-ordination of all aspects of the project
Provisional sum: Where a specialist service or item cannot be fully described in the specification, the contractor is required to include an estimate as a provisional sum. The provisional sum is deducted fromthe contract sum and only added in when the actual cost of the service or item can be determined
QA – Quality Assurance: A process used to measure and maintain designated standards for various elements of the works
QS – Quantity Surveyor: A professionally qualified person or practice who manages the specification and cost for a project
Raised floor: A secondary floor creating a void to run services such as data cabling, power and water
Reinstatement: Works on behalf of the outgoing tenant on expiry of a lease
Retention: A percentage of the contractor’s money held back by the client until the end of the defects liability period
Riser: A vertical pipe space or duct
Satellite office: Smaller regional or local office used by employees living nearby
Scope of works: A report detailing all the work that needs to be done
Section: An imaginary view of a building showing a vertical slice through it
Secondary circulation: An allowance of space for circulation between work groups and desks over and above the allowance for primary circulation
Secondary distribution: A term used to describe cable and trunking routes once they leave the main building risers
Service cores / service risers: The vertical enclosed routes through the building for distribution of building services
Shell: The structure of a building, including the frame, structural floors and roof, excluding any services or finishes
Shell and core: A building where all internal finishes and services are left out for the tenant to specify and install
Snag: A defect
Snagging list: A list of minor works and defects outstanding that require completion by the contractor
Space audit / analysis: The process of gathering and analysing information about an organisation for the preparation of the accommodation strategy
Space standard: Agreed spatial allocations within an organisation for specific workstations, offices or ancillary areas
Specification: A detailed document setting out a description of the materials and products to be used on the project
Stacking plan: A plan of all floors to be occupied by a tenant organised to show the basic space allocation for departments and ancillary areas
Stand up meeting area: Meeting areas created with no chairs or tables but with a leaning post or raised counter
Stripping-out: The removal of existing internal finishes and fixtures from the building, prior to commencement of the project
Substantial completion: The term used for practical completion in ICE standard form contracts
Support zone: Areas in an office building shared by the whole organisation, such as IT rooms, catering facilities, library, meeting, training and conference rooms – also includes building logisticssuch as post, waste, stores and deliveries
Suspended ceiling: A ceiling that is not part of the structure of a building, usually made from metal grids hung on wires, into which metal or mineral fibre tiles are laid
Sustainability: Taking steps towards minimising the negative impacts of the project on the environment
Systems: The organisation’s information and technology systems
Take-off: The process of listing and analysing all the items of labour and materials that will be needed for a particular part of the work
Teleworking: Work based from an office centre remote from the main office or from home where workers can access technology and support services
Tenant efficiency: The percentage of the net useable area over the total net internal area
Tenant’s fit-out: The work a tenant carries out to their specific requirements (see Cat B)
Touchdown zone: An area in the office for visitors, consultants or mobile staff allowing phone and network access for laptops
Turnkey: A term used to describe a design and build contract where the contractor undertakes to complete all elements of the fit-out
TUS – time utilisation study: This is an exercise in assessing the areas of a workplace in terms of the level of intensity with which it is used against the total space occupied
UPS – uninterrupted power supply: A device that provides battery back-up when the electrical power supply fails
Variation / variation order: A written instruction given to the contractor changing or varying the contract
VAV: Variable air volume – a common type of air-conditioning
Void: A space in a floor, wall or ceiling for running cables and pipes e.g. floor void, ceiling void
Virtual office: Describes an ‘office’ which exists anywhere where phone and IT technology can support it
Zen room: An area free of technology designed to be used for quiet time and researchBACK TO Our Services