What’s the difference between office fit out and office refurbishment?

What’s the difference between office fit out and office refurbishment?

Improving your office can seem like a large and daunting project, but the key is to plan it out in detail before getting started. One of the most important aspects you’ll need to decide on is choosing whether to undertake an office refurbishment or office fit out – but what’s the difference?

Although the terms office fit out and office refurbishment are often used interchangeably, there are actually some key differences between the two. By discussing these differences in more detail below, we hope to help you decide which one is right for your workplace.

Office fit out vs office refurbishment

To put it simply, an office fit out is the process of turning the bare ‘shell’ of a commercial space into a functional and habitable workplace, whereas an office refurbishment is about transforming and revamping an office space that’s currently being used. While office fit outs often occur during the property development process or just after you’ve acquired the space, office refurbishments are usually needed further down the line. For example, your office may be starting to look a bit worn and tired, or you may need to adapt your office to fit the changing needs or aims of your business.

Let’s take a closer look at both office fit outs and office refurbishments below:

What is an office fit out?

An office fit out is usually needed with newly built offices that have to be transformed from a blank slate into a usable space. Alternatively, you may opt for a fit out instead of a refurbishment if you need to change more than the appearance and design of your office. For example, you may want to change all of the lighting, interior walls and heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) systems in your office space. 

In addition, there are different types of office fit outs depending on your needs. Depending on the state of the space to begin with and where you want to end up, there are four main categories to choose from:

1. Shell and core

The first category is a shell and core office fit out. This gives you the bare bones of an office space, so it’s not a suitable option for those who want to get an office ready for people to start working in. Instead, shell and core fit outs are more popular among property developers and landlords, who sometimes prefer to offer a blank, neutral space to potential buyers.

This type of office fit out starts with a newly completed office building, including a fully completed exterior but a bare interior featuring the metal or concrete frame from the construction. During the shell and core fit out process, this space is taken to a level of basic habitability by adding structural elements like lift shafts, concrete floors and cladding. Electrical, plumbing and HVAC systems will also be installed to a basic level at this stage, and communal areas like lobbies will also be established.

2. Category A

A Category A fit out will take your office space to a level of finish where you could theoretically start to move in. All of the basic features will be complete so that the space is fully habitable and functional, but it will be a totally blank state. Category A fit outs are popular with landlords who want to offer a complete yet neutral office space on the rental market.

Unlike a shell and core fit out, a Category A fit out involves the installation of all the features your office space will need, such as toilets, lighting, air conditioning, raised access flooring, interior walls, suspended ceilings, fire alarms and more. Since there won’t be any furniture or design elements yet, a Category A fit out gives you the freedom to fully design the space according to your needs and preferences, without worrying about basic utilities.

3. Category B

A Category B fit out takes your office to the stage where employees could immediately move in. This means that in addition to all basic utilities being completed, you’ll also add kitchen areas, meeting rooms, fixtures, IT infrastructure, design features, office furniture and your company branding. 

Since Category B fit outs involve the addition of unique design features and branding, they’ll naturally be very adaptable to your business’s needs and personal style. This is very appealing to business owners, which is why Category B office fit outs are the most common type.

Working with an experienced office fit out company will help you bring your exact vision to life. Here at Diamond Interiors, we visit your current space and guide you through a thorough office planning process to truly understand your brand, workplace dynamics and design vision. You’ll also be involved in every step of the fit out process to ensure you’re happy with all of the fittings and changes. For more information, take a look at our previous office design projects to see what we can do for you. 

4. Category A+

A less common office fit out category is the Category A+ fit out. As the name suggests, Category A+ fit outs sit between a Category A and Category B fit out, which means you’ll get more than a basic office but won’t benefit from a fully personalised and completed workspace. For example, you may have basic IT infrastructure, kitchen areas and some office furniture, but the space will lack the personalised branding and unique design features you can get from a full Category B fit out.

Category A+ fit outs are popular among landlords who want to offer more than a blank space but still want to keep things fairly neutral to appeal to a wider audience, especially for shorter term leases. Similarly, these office fit outs are popular among business owners who want a space they can immediately move into, with just a few finishing touches to add.

What is an office refurbishment?

Whereas an office fit out is usually needed when you first acquire your office space, an office refurbishment often occurs further down the line when your space is looking a bit more worn. An office refurbishment may also be necessary when the needs of your business change, or when your current resources aren’t adequate for the current size of your organisation.

Therefore, an office refurbishment is more about updating and refreshing your office space, rather than completely overhauling it. However, just like with office fit outs, there are different levels of office refurbishment, ranging from minor touch-ups to more extensive renovations. Let’s take a look at these different types of office refurbishments below:

1. Strip out and refit

This is the most extensive form of office refurbishment, offering a level of customisation similar to a full fit out. If you’ve truly outgrown your current office and need a complete overhaul, a strip out and refit will allow you to take your office space back to Category A level and then completely redesign the workspace once you’re back to basics.

Naturally, this type of office refurbishment is more expensive, time-consuming and disruptive. Pretty much everything in your office will need to be ripped out and then replaced by new flooring, kitchen areas, meeting rooms, partitions, desks, furniture and decor. If you need to update essential utilities like the plumbing or electrics, this can also be done with a full strip out and refit.

2. Mid-touch refurbishment

A mid-touch refurbishment allows you to keep the elements of your office that work and upgrade the parts that no longer suit your changing needs. For example, your kitchen area or breakout area could be in dire need of an update, but it may be unnecessary (and disruptive) for you to remove the current desks. Or you may need to update the desks and meeting rooms to accommodate a growing number of employees, but this doesn’t necessarily mean you want to overhaul the kitchen too.

Mid-touch office refurbishments allow you to save time and money by combining existing design elements with new features that will better serve your current needs. This makes these types of refurbishments very popular among business owners who want to give their office spaces a new lease of life without having to fix what isn’t broken.

3. Reconfiguration

The most basic type of office refurbishment is a simple reconfiguration. This could be anything from a fresh lick of paint and reorganised furniture to new flooring, an updated relaxation room and new company branding.

A reconfiguration is typically undertaken when certain elements of the office are starting to look a bit worn and outdated, such as threadbare carpets and scuffed walls. You may also need an office reconfiguration if you’re changing parts of your company branding, such as your company colours. In this case, your reconfiguration could involve repainting each room and buying new furniture and decor items to match the new themes.

Overall, an office reconfiguration is meant to solve minor problems, such as redesigning the desk layout to accommodate new employees or updating old components. As a result, reconfiguration usually involves minimal disruption and lower costs.

What should I choose: office fit out or office refurbishment? 

So, an office fit out takes an office space from a bare shell to a fully functional workplace, whereas an office refurbishment updates a currently existing office to suit a business’s evolving needs. This simple definition should help you discover which one you need for your office space.

However, if you’re still unsure, it can be helpful to go through the main differences between the two so you can focus on the factors that are most important to you. Let’s have a look at these differences now:

1. Scale

Perhaps the biggest difference between the two is the scale of the endeavour. Since an office fit out can take an office space from an empty shell to a uniquely branded and decorated workplace, these projects are typically much larger in scale. Office refurbishments, on the other hand, are usually smaller projects. Most of the time, business owners will choose a simple reconfiguration or mid-touch refurbishment to minimise disruption and costs while still revamping their office space.

Of course, not all office fit outs and office refurbishments are the same. While some refurbishments will only involve things like rearranging the furniture and replacing the carpets, other refurbishments could involve ripping out all existing features and starting fresh, almost like a Category B fit out. Therefore, office refurbishments and office fit outs can sometimes be similar in scope, although fit outs will tend to be larger projects because they’re usually undertaken before your office relocation. This gives you more time to improve the office before moving.

2. Cost

Naturally, larger projects will incur larger costs. All types of office fit outs tend to be consistently expensive due to the large amounts of work that need to be done, with an office fit out costing around £40-£95+ per square foot in 2023. To get a more accurate cost estimate for your project, check out our office fit out calculator.

The cost of an office refurbishment can vary a lot more depending on how extensive the project is. A full strip out and refit may end up costing a similar amount to an office fit out, especially if you need to amend your electrical or plumbing systems too. On the other hand, a small office reconfiguration may just involve some new decor, dressings and new items of furniture, so you can keep costs pretty low.

Whether you’re considering an office fit out or an office refurbishment, it’s vital that you plan your project carefully before beginning if you want to keep costs under control. Small changes you add to the project on the fly can have knock-on effects that end up being surprisingly expensive. Or, if you don’t examine your office space during the planning process, you may discover structural problems that need to be addressed immediately while your project is already underway. If this wasn’t factored into your budget and timeline beforehand, this could be a big setback.

3. Relocation

Do you need to relocate to a new office or can you update your existing space? As your business grows and evolves over time, you may start to outgrow your current office. However, it’s important to ask yourself if you can potentially accommodate these changes with an office refurbishment, or if you need to relocate to a larger space or a building in a better location.

If you choose to relocate, you’ll likely need an office fit out to bring the new space up to scratch. This whole process will naturally be more expensive than an office refurbishment, but one benefit is that disruption is minimal (except for the office relocation itself) since you can fit out the new office while your employees work in the old office space. Plus, your new office should suit your business for years to come, whereas a refurbishment may only help you in the short term if your business is rapidly expanding.

To learn more about ensuring a smooth transition between offices, check out our complete guide to office relocation.

4. Disruption

Speaking of disruption, this is one of the main factors you need to consider when choosing between an office fit out and office refurbishment. In addition to being frustrating and stressful, disruption to your day-to-day operations can cost a lot of money, especially if your staff can’t work as normal for a period of time.

As mentioned above, office fit outs usually involve minimal disruption until they’re completed, as this is when your team will need to relocate (which can be extremely disruptive). Office refurbishments will come with varying levels of disruption depending on how extensive the changes are. A minor reconfiguration may just involve a few days of working from home as furniture and carpets are replaced, but a full strip out and refit can be very disruptive and long-lasting because your team won’t be able to work in the office for a much longer period. This type of office refurbishment could even involve relocation to a temporary office if working from home isn’t feasible for multiple weeks.

5. Sustainability

Finally, if sustainability is one of your company values, you may want to factor this into your decision. Usually, an office refurbishment is the more sustainable option, as you’ll get the opportunity to keep or reuse existing features while only replacing worn or outdated elements. Plus, you can make an effort to only source sustainable materials for new furniture and incorporate biophilic design elements

However, in some cases, an office fit out could be the more environmentally friendly option. If your old office building is very inefficient or not located close to your employees, relocating and fitting out a new office could improve your energy efficiency and reduce the total amount of time your employees spend commuting.

Here at Diamond Interiors, we specialise in functional, stylish and sustainable office design, helping you achieve your sustainability goals whilst also ensuring the needs of your business are met. In addition, we offer advice on how to make your office more sustainable in our blog, where you can also find a wide range of office design ideas. Get in touch to find out more about office design, office fit outs and office refurbishment. We’ll also be happy to answer any questions about our planning and installation processes.