Office fit out is the process of making an interior space suitable for occupation. The specifics of a fit out project are almost always bespoke to the unique needs of an individual business. Even within a single project, there can be different fit out processes for different parts of a development, floors of a building, or even sides of a room.

When do I need a fit out?

When businesses lease new office space, they are usually provided with an empty space, lacking any furniture or amenities, and only basic finishes on walls and floors. In these cases, a fit out is essential to make the space ready to move in and fit their needs and brand.

Deloitte bean bags in office fit out

Fit out for Deloitte, London

Can I fit out an existing office?

For businesses already occupying offices, there are also compelling reasons why they would undergo a fit out in their existing space:

Better space utilisation

Many businesses have reevaluated their office layout in the wake of the pandemic, with collaboration areas and breakout rooms replacing rows of desks and cubicles. A more efficient layout can improve staff productivity and make the office a more desirable location to work at.

Better internal impressions

Staff retention rates will improve if businesses show that they care enough to provide an office space that their people enjoy working at, which is increasingly important as people now move between companies more frequently than they used to. If a company is struggling to convince staff to stop working from home, improving the office can be used to persuade them to come back.

Better external impressions

A business’ office plays a big part in how it’s viewed by customers and suppliers during business meetings, as well as for prospective staff during job interviews. The impression the office gives will be a key differentiator for external parties when deciding whether to engage with a business.

To keep up with the modern world

Technology is always advancing, and new tech requires new infrastructure such as dedicated cables, outlets and areas. Older buildings are not always equipped for the easy installation of new technology, and a fit out can solve that problem. Expectations for standard office facilities have evolved over time, with showers, gyms and other wellbeing installations increasingly seen as standard by staff.

Plants and natural light in office fit out
Feature wooden spiral staircase in stylish office

Royal College of Physicians fit out in Liverpool

What are the types of office fit out?

There are two types of fit out - Cat A and Cat B – with the distinction between them being the extent of the work completed.

Cat A fit out projects are mostly undertaken on the behalf of landlords who want to make their spaces suitable to be leased out. At the start of a Cat A fit out, the interior space is usually what’s known as ‘shell and core’, with sheer concrete floors and walls, no amenities and no fittings.

During Cat A, simple finishes such as raised floors and suspended ceilings are installed, as well as basic lighting and electrical services. The final product should provide a blank canvas for tenants to make the space suitable for their needs.

Cat B fit out takes the empty Cat A space and makes it fit for purpose for the tenant so they can move in and start using it. The incoming tenant works with architects, designers, project managers, mechanical and electrical specialists and contractors to plan, create and construct a finished office. When the tenancy ends, a lease will usually specify that the space be returned its original Cat A state. This is known as dilapidations.

See the below space transform from Cat A to Cat B

Cally Yard cat b fit out
Cally Yard cat a fit out

Cat A and Cat B comparison at Cally Yard, London

What's included in an office fit out?

In theory, a fit out can include anything a client wants – be that a games room, meditation room or a fully functional bar. The office is an extension of their brand so it’s important that they have an environment that suitably reflects their culture.

A fit out can cover everything from flooring, ceilings, lighting, tea points, company branding, desking/furniture, air-conditioning, comms rooms, to staircases and walls, and everything in between. Technology is now an integral part of any fit out, including but not limited to; meeting room booking systems, desk-booking apps, audio visual set ups and security systems.

In addition to the above, there are a number of regulatory requirements and standards to consider; health & safety, fire, air-conditioning and electrical standards to name just a few. Before a space can be occupied, it requires certification from a building control body.

Many clients are also incorporating well-being, diversity and inclusion, environmental and carbon reduction initiatives that align with their own organisational goals.

Walker Morris reception fit out

Stylish reception fit out for Walker Morris in Leeds

The actual design and construction process involves a number of steps and stages, with the common stages used in the construction industry set out in the RIBA Plan of Work:

Stage 0: Strategic definition

Before any technical or practical details are considered, it’s vital to determine how the client's requirements can be met from a strategic point of view. This involves undertaking site appraisals and surveys, as well as assessing the potential project’s risks and cost. This information is compiled into a business case with ideas on how to best fulfil the client’s requirements.

Stage 1: Preparation and briefing

The contents of the business case from stage 0 are looked at from a technical and practical point of view to create a project brief. Specific site information is collected and feasibility studies are undertaken to ensure that the project brief can actually be achieved. The plan is then adapted to suit the size, budget and procurement limits determined in this stage.

Stage 2: Concept design

Through design reviews and strategic engineering, an architectural concept is created, which contains an initial cost plan and design programme for the project. Design reviews are undertaken between the design team and stakeholders from the client’s side to ensure the project is moving in the right direction.

Stage 3: Spatial coordination

The architectural concept agreed in the previous stage is tested though design studies, engineering analyses and cost exercises to ensure that the plan is spatially coordinated. Suppliers and subcontractors are consulted to avoid major changes further into the process.

Stage 4: Technical design

In this stage, all design information required for the completion of the project is finalised. The design programme is confirmed, with the initial procurement strategy and cost plan updated for the final plan. Specialist subcontractors, such as acoustic engineers, are contacted and prepped for work, with the phases of construction for the project set out.

Stage 5: Manufacturing and construction

The work set out in the construction programme begins. This often takes place at the same time as the technical design work of the previous stage. Prior to starting, responsibility is determined for areas where any site queries occur whilst site work is taking place to minimise resolution time. At the end of this stage, a practical completion certificate is issued, which officially states that the site is ready for handover.

Stage 6: Handover

When the project is finished the site is handed over to the client to take up occupancy and there is an aftercare period sometimes referred to as a ‘soft landing’, usually up to 12 months after the handover date, where any defects will be rectified. For example, tightening any fixtures that have become loose. Increasingly, this period is being extended to 24 or 36 months so that the building management system can be refined for any extreme events, such as heat waves or heavy snow. The constructors and contractors will seek feedback from the client, and a final certificate will be issued, determining that the project is complete.

Stage 7: Use

Use starts alongside handover, and covers the period from when the client moves in up to the eventual end of the lease or the building’s life. The contractor will normally seek feedback from the client to ensure that everything is working as agreed and required.

Who is involved in a fit out?

Throughout the fit out process, a wide range of people will be involved from across several disciplines.

In the pre-construction phase, those typically involved will be designers, architects, quantity surveyors, project managers and fit out specialists, who the client will seek out to gain advice on how to achieve their desired results.

For the construction stage, expert subcontractors will be brought in and managed by the main fit out contractor. This could include joiners, decorators, electricians, furniture specialists, acoustical engineers and AV technicians. The main fit out contractor would have the contacts and experience to choose and manage the best subcontractors who are reliable and high quality.

Getting all parties aligned and working towards the same goal is critical for any fit out, and clear communication is vital to maximise coordination. Having the client, consultants, main contractor, landlord and all the subcontractors on the same page makes the process run smoother.

Overbury fitting out window shades

On site for an Overbury fit out project

How sustainable is fit out?

The sustainability of a fit out project is determined by the design, the materials chosen, the waste generated and the carbon output of all the processes to deliver the project. The best way to lower embodied carbon from a project is to design out waste and embrace the circular economy in the design.

The main sustainability area that fit out companies are responsible for is waste. The aim is to reuse as many materials as possible, and recycle where that’s not possible; it’s common for over 90% of all waste to be recycled from a fit out project. Fit out companies can also make suggestions to designers on where aspects could be made more sustainable, such as sourcing furnishings from local manufacturers rather than ones from overseas.

Low carbon fit out projects are now the norm, as companies set their own net zero targets and see their properties as an opportunity to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Biophilic design in fit out for Interface, Birmingham

What determines a successful fit out?

Each client will have their own way of determining whether a fit out was successful, but four widely used factors are:

  1. Did the final project meet the client’s needs?
  2. Was the project finished on time?
  3. Was the project on budget?
  4. Was the project Perfectly Delivered?

A great fit out has a much deeper impact than just making the office more aesthetically pleasing. For organisations of all types, it can be a space that fosters collaboration, productivity and wellbeing, leading to a boost in overall business performance and acting as a physical embodiment of company culture.