Explaining the Differences: Office Fit Out vs. Office Refurbishment
When thinking about improving your office, you have many options. From a cutting-edge fit out to a quick and simple reconfiguration, the array of possibilities is almost endless.
Every year, we meet with dozens of companies about their workspace needs. And for many of them, one of the most crucial questions is confusing: what’s the difference between office fit out and office refurbishment? And even more importantly: which is right for me?
In this article, we will explain the various types of office fit out and office refurbishment, as well as the key differences between them. And finally, we’ll explain how you can choose which is right for you.
What is Office Fit Out?
Office fit out is the process of making an interior space usable for its occupants. Typically carried out when a company relocates or opens a new office, it takes the space from a bare building to a ready to use environment.
It’s important to know, however, that within this, there are varying types of office fit out, and they can look very different from each other. Some companies will only offer one or two types of these, while others are able to deliver the whole package. The different types of office fit out are as follows:
Shell & Core
Shell and core fit out involves taking the building’s main structure up to a bare-bones space. This comprises of internal structural works like concrete floors and lift cores. At this stage, basic electrical, plumbing and air conditioning supplies to each floor are installed ready for the next stage.
This is completed by the landlord or developer when the building is first constructed, and any alterations in later years are very difficult. In multi-tenant buildings, this also includes the fit out of communal areas like the ground floor reception and other common facilities.
Cat A Fit Out
Category A fit out is the installation of essential utilities within a workspace, such as raised access flooring, suspended ceilings, and lighting. Core spaces including lift lobbies and toilets are often included in this phase. Other than this, it will be completely empty.
Cat A fit out is almost always completed by the landlord before the space is leased, so many spaces you visit will be fitted out to this level. This still means there is a lot of work to do before staff can move in, but all the basic services are in place and ready for the tenant to become involved.
Cat B Fit Out
Often what many people mean when they talk about office fit out, the Category B stage is taking a Cat A area up to the stage where your staff can walk in and start to work. This stage is very varied depending on your needs, so is often your responsibility to arrange the design and delivery.
Your Cat B fit out will involve electrical and air conditioning adaptions, partitioning, flooring, decoration, kitchen areas, and of course furniture. Many companies also install unique design features at this stage that help to create an inspiring and on-brand environment for their staff.
What is Office Refurbishment?
While fit out takes a blank, new space and makes it ready to use, office refurbishment uses what is already there to adapt to the changing needs of your company. This is typically carried out by companies following a lease renewal or a change in their workspace needs.
Like office fit out, however, there are varying degrees of office refurbishment. These do not follow on from each other like fit out, but rather are different options, depending on how much your office needs to change.
Strip Out & Fit Out
Strip out & fit out involves stripping your existing office back to its Cat A state, and then installing an entirely new workspace. This means that as well as the full scope of a Cat B fit out, every element of your existing workspace - partitioning, flooring, decoration, kitchen areas, furniture, etc. – will need to be removed and disposed of first.
This is the most comprehensive form of office refurbishment. While it may be the same floor in the same building, your new office will be almost unrecognisable- a completely new workspace, but in the same location.
Rather different in approach from either Cat B or full refurbishment, mid-touch refurb looks to combine elements already existing in your space with new components to suit the changing needs of your business. The scope of the works varies a lot depending on the amount of change but typically will include the strip out and re-installation of certain areas or elements throughout the space.
Mid touch refurb is a lot less disruptive and complex than full strip out & fit out because a reasonable amount of your office will stay the same (or similar). However, key areas of your office that are worn out, unsuitable, or under-used are replaced with facilities that are more relevant to your present and future needs.
The least significant form of office refurbishment is reconfiguration. If components have become outdated, certain parts of your office (e.g., flooring or decor) may need to be replaced. If the size of your team has changed, some areas (e.g., desking or meeting suites) may need to be adapted.
Most reconfiguration works involve replacing high wear elements like carpet or decoration. Another common reconfiguration is relaxation areas, such as breakout areas or teapoints. Rather than look to transform your environment, reconfiguration resolves minor or specific issues in a low-key way.
The Main Differences
So, office fit out is taking a building from a concrete shell to a functioning workspace. Office refurbishment, on the other hand, is adapting a space already in use to suit the changing needs of your business. But what are the key differences that will decide which is right for your business?
The main difference between the 2 options is the scope. While the scope and extent of office fit out is fairly consistent, office refurbishments vary hugely depending on the state of the existing space and the extent of the change required.
The key areas of a Cat B office fit out are:
- Signage & Graphics
- Tea Points
- Power & Data
- Fire Safety
- Air Conditioning
Most office fit outs will involve all these areas. Some, such as ceilings, lighting and air conditioning will normally be the reconfiguration of what is already in the space. Others, like signage and furniture, will be installed entirely by the client. While the extent of each will vary according to the space and the design, because all Cat A spaces are very similar the extent of these works is relatively consistent.
The scope of an office refurbishment, however, varies enormously from one project to the next. Because every office is different and every company also has different requirements, a refurbishment may involve any combination of the above elements. A full strip out and fit out will normally involve all of them, while a reconfiguration may only involve 1 or 2.
Refurbishments will often require the adaption of existing services, rather than replacing them. For instance, changing the layout of partitioning to include more collaboration areas will likely require adaptations to the lighting, power & data, and HVAC.
However, refurbishments can be carefully planned in order to minimise changes to the mechanical and electrical services. These services changes tend to be expensive and have no visual impact on the space. On the other hand, visual elements are more impactful and can transform the look and feel of your existing office.
Common areas for office refurbishment are:
- Signage & Graphics
- Tea Points
While changes to other areas may be needed, they can be kept to a minimum to minimise costs and disruption to your business. When considering what the scope of your office refurbishment would include, don’t forget that seemingly small changes can require costly alterations to other areas of your office, so careful planning is crucial.
The design approaches of refurbishment and fit out could hardly be more different. While both start by asking the question “what do you need in your finishes space”, the similarities end there. An office fit out design takes the blank-canvas mentality. As the space is empty, the constraints are far fewer. The design created is a visionary workspace for the company, which is then worked down to fit within constraints such as size, timeframe, and of course budget.
An office refurbishment, meanwhile, takes a “don’t fix what isn’t broken” approach. By analysing what is working well within your existing space, and what needs replacing or upgrading, you can ensure you are getting the best possible use out of your existing office.
When it comes to the costs of a potential project, office fit out is again more consistent. Dependent on the scope and specification, most office fit outs will range from £40 to £85 per square foot. This means that for a 5,000sq/ft space, a basic fit out would cost around £200,000. A cutting-edge space, on the other hand, could cost £425,000 or more.
For more information on office fit out costs, check out our downloadable guide.
For refurbishments, not only will the extent of the work affect your costs, but the condition of your office and the building itself will have a big impact too. If the building requires extensive remedial works or alterations to meet safety regulations, large costs can be incurred with no visible change.
Reconfigurations to existing services, especially air conditioning and sprinkler works can be very expensive. However, through careful design and planning, you can minimise or eliminate these changes and focus on the areas that can have the greatest impact, such as branding and furniture.
Arguably, the biggest barrier to an office fit out or refurbishment is not cost but the potential disruption caused- which can cost far more than the project itself. At Zentura, we focus on careful planning and proactive project management in order to minimise unwanted disruption. This means you and your people can focus on your company.
Some disruption is inevitable, and depending on the purpose of your project this may be desirable. If you want to transform your culture and way of working, the disruption should be embraced. If, on the other hand, you want to reconfigure part of your office to give your staff somewhere to focus, disruption should be minimised.
During a fit out, the disruption to the company will be minimal. Aside from the team immediately involved, your people will have little or no day-to-day participation. Once the fit out is complete, however, there will be significant (and unavoidable) disruption as your business moves from your current office to the new one. You need to be careful to monitor this and minimise unwanted and unproductive disruption.
In office refurbishment, the disruption to your wider team comes at a different stage: during the project itself. The works can be phased so that parts of your office can continue to operate as normal, while the works are done in the rest of the office. Some of your staff could work from home temporarily to accommodate phasing. Alternatively, your whole team could work remotely for the duration of the project. In full strip out and fit out projects, you may even need to relocate to a temporary office while the works are completed. As with office fit out, careful planning and open communication are essential to minimise the disruption to your staff and company, helping to make your project a success.
While it isn't as visible as other elements, sustainability is nonetheless a crucial aspect of your project. In many cases, refurbishment is the more sustainable option, as it involves reusing some or most of your existing features, and can be supplemented with environmentally-conscious new items. However, if your old building is very inefficient, or located far away from where many of your employees live, then a fit out could be more sustainable.
Modern buildings are often much more efficient and sustainable to run. In addition to this, an office fit out can take advantage of the latest innovation in sustainability to source recycled and responsible workspace features. There are also various sustainability certifications available for office projects, including BREEAM and WELL ratings, that prove the environmentally conscious nature of your new workspace.
Which Do I Need?
If you’re trying to decide whether an office fit out or a refurbishment is more suitable for you, the first question to ask is simple: why? Why are we doing this? What are we trying to achieve? There are dozens of different reasons why you might be needing to improve your workspace, and once you have a clear vision and mission for the project, you can then make your decision based on this.
If you need to adapt to a hybrid working model, the end result will look very different than if you need to accommodate more workstations due to growth. By clearly defining your vision and goals, you have a far higher chance of achieving your desired outcomes.
Having created clear goals, and identified the issues that are currently preventing you from reaching those goals, the next stage is to assess whether your goals are more achievable in your existing space or an all-new location.
If you simply don’t have enough space anymore, then no refurbishment will meet your goals. If there is anything wrong with the existing space that you can’t resolve, then a new location quickly becomes your best option. If on the other hand, your office has plenty of potential, then moving your entire office may be unnecessary. You can only make these decisions once you have defined what you are trying to achieve, and what is wrong with your existing space.
While very different in scope, design approach, and costs, both office fit out and office refurbishment have the same goal: make your space better at meeting the needs of your staff and your company. Neither is “the best”. It depends on your goals and requirements as to which is more appropriate for you. Now you understand what each is, the differences between them, and how to decide which is best for you, you can get started!
At Zentura, we have extensive experience in the design and delivery of office fit out and office refurbishment, from fit outs for financial firms to refurbishments for PR agencies. To get started, get in touch with one of our experienced workplace experts today.