So you’ve leased a new office, or are refurbishing your own, and now you have to think about the office design and fit out. But what’s all this about mistakes?
Here’s the skinny … fits outs can be hazardous to the health if you are not prepared for what lies ahead. We’re guessing that you’ve never coordinated a commercial office fit out or relocation before. How in the name of Kardashian can you know what to expect? The volume of detail you have to attend to is mind-boggling. Most people learn as they go by making costly mistakes. Ouch.
We can’t tell you all the risks associated with an office refurbishment in London because….well, we’d be here all day. But, since we’re all about sharing the pain education, here are the four major areas where the most expensive mistakes are made. Read, learn, and promise us you’ll sleep well tonight.
1. Thinking that one building is much the same as the next
We’ve been in the office design and fit out game long enough to know that two ‘identical’ offices right next to each other are never exactly the same. That’s because you’re taking on whatever works the landlord has done to get the property ready for leasing – and there’s no standard definition of what these works should look like. If a landlord has cut corners, you might find that the building doesn’t have the tech capacity to support your people, or the M&E has a life expectancy of a hamster.
You can easily avoid this problem by doing some pretty rigorous surveys before you sign a lease. Ideally, you’ll want to get a mechanical and electrical survey (looking at the building’s services), a building survey (looking at the fabric of the building), and a power/data distribution survey (looking at IT and telecoms).
You can use these surveys to sort out one short-listed property from another and identify defects and cost issues that you can negotiate with the landlord – much like when buying a house.
2. Forgetting about the landlord
If you’re leasing your office then we’re sorry, but it’s not your property. It belongs to the landlord, and he’s going to have final say about what your commercial office fit out looks like.
Now, in the rainbow world of our daydreams, the landlord would take one look at our stellar drawings and say, “Blimey, CCWS. You’ve knocked this fit out out of the park. The Man from Delmonte, he say yes!”
Back in the real world, the conversation goes more like this:
“Give us the specifications, drawings, structural calculations, works programme, method statements, risk assessments, insurances, CDM notices and building regs permissions and we’ll tell you what we think.” (Translation: we’ll send you a letter in six weeks and it will probably request even more pointless information.)
“Assuming we give permission, we’ll have our solicitor prepare a licence for alterations containing all the usual house rules.” (Translation: we’re not going to let you work during normal business hours or use the lifts for bringing in building materials. We don’t care if that extends the work program or pushes up the project price.)
“Negotiating the licence will take a couple of months ….” (Translation: It’s not our problem that you’re trying to synchronise the works program with stripping out the premises you’re vacating, getting subcontractors on site, delivery of furniture etc. We’ll deal with the licence when we’re good and ready.)
“And by the way our fee will be……” (Open your cheque book and cry.)
Like we said, don’t forget about the landlord. Start negotiations early so there’s plenty of time in the program for delays. Choose a negotiation-friendly contractor who is skilled at ironing out the creases!
3: Blowing the budget
Lots of things can increase office design and fit out costs, like choosing deluxe designer chairs over a more cost-effective model, or changing your mind a little too often. But the thing that pushes up costs the most is not having the right contract in place.
One issue to watch here is provisional sums. These are estimated costs for items that your contractor can’t price up yet, like the price of countertops in a bathroom if you haven’t decided what kind of marble you want. Provisional sums aren’t included in the lump sum contract, and the amount is added only when the work is carried out.
In other words, a fixed-price contract with provisional sums isn’t a fixed price contract at all. It’s an estimate! And you could end up paying way more than you anticipated when the extra costs are added. Big Freddie Krueger nightmare.
The best way around this problem is to use an industry-certified contract that’s tailored to your office refurbishment in London. And make sure you read it so you understand your exposure! Reputable commercial office fit out companies will be really transparent about provisional sums so you know exactly where you stand.
4: Assuming that all fit-out contractors are the same
There are a bunch of lust-haves in office design, like a fully stocked bar and ultra-cool cocoon media pods. And then there are the must-haves, like hiring the right fit out partner. Unfortunately, this business is full of people who promise the earth and deliver very little.
The starting point for selecting the right contractor is to make sure you’re comparing apples with apples. Does your fit out partner offer specialise in office refurbishment in London? Fitting out a country pub is one specialist area of construction, big city office design and fit out is another. Do they offer expertise in all the key disciplines – workplace consultancy, pre-lease surveys, design, project management, furniture supply, finance, landlord negotiation, post contract support? Have they handled projects of your size before?
Most importantly, do they talk to you like a human being? Are you getting what you see? Are the people you meet during the selection process the same people you will work with throughout, and not just front men? Are they passionate? Will they do whatever it takes to deliver the brief on time and within budget?
Commercial fit out takes months and there are always bumps along the way. But a good fit out company totally has your back. Get this bit right, and the rest will fall into place.
Want more sanity-saving tips for slashing the risk of your commercial office fit out? Download our FREE step-by-step guide to the risks of employing a traditional design and build firm to manage your office refurbishment here.