How to Avoid the Top 5 Problems of Occupied Office Refurbishment

Occupied Office Refurbishment

For many companies, planning an office refurbishment is daunting. The biggest challenge companies face is minimising the short-term disruption that an office project brings. While the long-term gains make it worth it, managing the interference can be a massive challenge.

This is why many companies decide to do a refurbishment in the first place – it's quicker and much less disruptive than uprooting your entire team and taking them to a new building. While a temporary relocation during the project can appeal, it comes with even more disruption than a fit out - you have to move your people twice!

So if you’re wondering if you can somehow stay in your office and renovate it at the same time, the answer is yes. With careful planning, the works can be phased so that one half of the office is refurbished while you use the other half, and then vice versa.

At Zentura, we have had extensive experience over the last 3 decades in office refurbishments, from light-touch renovations to full strip out and fit out projects. And for most of these, the client never had to move out!

However, this approach is not without its drawbacks. Having your staff working right next to a building site can cause several headaches. It's not the right solution for every company, but it’s for you to decide if the reduced disruption outweighs the negatives. Read on to find out the top 5 problems that you might have with your occupied office refurbishment, and how to manage them.

1) Disruption

Minimising disruption is probably the main reason you are considering remaining in your office during your refurbishment project. This saves the massive disruption that comes with relocating your entire staff and office - whether temporarily during the works or permanently.

While the installation of new items, such as furniture, isn’t often a problem, the adaption of existing systems has a serious risk. If a problem with the power were to occur while it was being reconfigured for the new layout, it could mean your people are completely unable to work. This is why especially disruptive works, such as systems adaptions, should be carried out outside of normal working hours.

Construction can also be very noisy, and office refurbishment is no different. Power tools could be very distracting for your staff. Even relatively quiet tasks could impact the productivity of your staff. Dust is also another hazard, as your operating office would be very close to the works.

To minimise these problems, ensure there is adequate separation between the areas where the works are carried out and your operating office. Temporary partitioning is helpful as this not only creates a complete separation between the 2 areas but also reduces noise levels. The most disruptive of works should be done outside of your working hours so that your people can be as productive as possible.

2) Health & Safety

The greatest drawback of an occupied office refurbishment is the health and safety risks. Your people will be working close to a construction site. If the site protection is not adequate your people could come to serious harm.

Keeping everyone safe in this situation is an absolute priority. It is key to ensure the site is fully cordoned off, and every area outside of this is safe for your people. A detailed Health & Safety plan is even more important than usual. This will detail how to deliver the project safely and quickly while protecting both your people and the construction team.

In addition to this, briefing your people on what is happening is crucial to ensure everyone stays safe and your project is a success. The most important way to keep everyone safe is to make sure the construction site is cordoned off, and that your people can’t access it.

3) Increased Costs

Carrying out works in occupied spaces comes with increased risks, which is reflected in the costs. Using noise and dust suppression systems will make the work slower as well as more costly. Some of the works may also need to be done out-of-hours which comes with increased labour costs.

Phasing is a necessary part of occupied office renovation. Works are carried out in one half of the space while the other half is used as an office, and then vice versa. This increases costs because it takes longer to complete. Specialist contractors will also have to come on site in 2 phases, which increases site management costs.

Changes to the design during the construction happen on every project, but in occupied projects, it’s essential to keep these to a minimum. This will mean the project will be faster and simpler, reducing the disruption to your people during the project.

While all these elements will increase costs, it's important to compare this to the cost of relocating temporarily while the works are carried out. This is not only the cost of the temporary office rent and the relocation itself, but the lost productivity as your staff cope with all the change.

4) Delays

Unforeseen circumstances arise in every workspace project. In office refurbishments, this risk is particularly high because many of these buildings are older. With staff on site, these delays can be problematic, because there is little room for error in the programme.

Contingency planning will help you to deal promptly with any issues as they arise, preventing costly delays and disruption. It is wise to ensure you have a contingency fund available if any problems arise that are not covered by the scope. Rather than facing the often slow and complex budget approval process, you can get such issues fixed quickly.

5) Density Issues

While not directly related to the project itself, staff density could cause problems during your project. Staff will likely be working in less space than usual, which could create compliance and health & safety concerns. These conditions may also lead to a loss of productivity.

It is highly unlikely you would be able to have all your staff in the office for the duration of your project, even if you wanted to. It may be worth seeing if some teams can work remotely, either full or part-time. This will reduce congestion concerns. You could even turn your remaining office into a meeting and collaboration suite, and have all of your people work from home or co-working spaces during the project. Managing these staff density issues will help your people stay productive and focused during your project.

Planning Your Occupied Office Refurbishment

Planning is the key to a successful project. This becomes even more important when your people are remaining in part of your office during the refurbishment. By carefully mapping out every detail of your project, you can work around these 5 most common issues and keep on track much easier- making your project a success.

There are 7 key steps when planning your office refurbishment, and they are especially important if your people are going to remain in the space:

Project Mission

When considering a project, it’s tempting to start thinking about design ideas and features. The best place to start, however, is why. There can be a multitude of reasons for an office refurbishment, from accommodating recent staff growth to promoting collaboration between departments. An office fit out may be more suitable for your needs than a refurbishment. By getting your team aligned on the purpose of the project, you can work towards a common goal.


Budgeting is a crucial part of any office project, as money is almost always the biggest constraint. Refurbishments are difficult to budget for, as so much depends on the state of the building and how much the services need adapting. However, by understanding the factors that affect the cost of an office project, and how it differs from fit-out, you can get a rough idea of your budget and scope.

Contractor Selection

Once you have an approximate budget, the next step is to find your perfect office refurbishment partner. It's always a good idea to speak to at least 2 or 3 different companies, so you can get different ideas for your project. It's not all about the price though. You need a contractor that will commit to a fixed and transparent cost, has all the necessary qualifications, and has expertise in occupied office refurbishment.


Your contractor selection process will probably involve some concept designs, but once you’ve made your decision on which company to go ahead with, the full detailed design can begin. This needs to include everything, from lighting relocation drawings to schedules detailing all the fabrics and finishes in your space. Once this stage is complete, your refurbishment partner will be able to finalise the cost of your project.

Landlord Approval

We recommend that you speak to your landlord about a potential project in the early stages before you reach out to contractors. They may have plans for the building or certain design requirements you need to conform to. However, it is at this stage that you will present your full plan to the landlord, and they can give their written approval in the form of an LTA (License to Alter).

Project Programming

Working with your office refurbishment partner to create a detailed programme of works is even more important than usual. Your staff will be on site during the works, so you need to know what is going on when, and what works will be out of hours. This will enable both you and your contractor to plan ahead and minimise disruption.

Contingency Planning

However carefully you plan your project, unforeseen circumstances are inevitable during your project. There are literally hundreds of things that could go wrong, from a national plasterboard shortage to the lift breaking down. All of these elements can cause delays and cost increases. Ensuring you have a contingency plan to deal with these circumstances will make your project much less stressful.

Planning Your Occupied Office Refurbishment

If you need to improve your office but it’s not practical to move out, and occupied office refurbishment can be a great solution. You save the hassle of having to relocate your entire team to a new location, save costs compared to a fit out, and have all the benefits of a great new office.

If you need to strip your office back to shell and core and then rebuild it from there, an occupied refurbishment may not be possible for you. But if you want to carry out a mid-touch renovation or light-touch reconfiguration without having to move offices or send your staff home, it can be a great option.

Amid the great resignation and the changing world of work, staff priorities and the way they work has changed. Making sure your workspace is fit for purpose is essential for your team to thrive in the months and years ahead.

So now you know what some of the biggest problems with an occupied office refurbishment are, and how you can avoid or minimise them. You are now ready to get started! If you’ve already decided what you are looking to achieve and a rough budget, we’d love to hear about your plans and how we can help.

Whether it’s a light-touch refresh or a complete redesign, we have the track record to deliver your office refurbishment project with minimal disruption to your business. Book a call with one of our occupied office refurbishment experts today.