Ten Top Tips: How to transform your office on a tight budget

Anthony Brown, board director at fit-out and refurbishment specialist Overbury, explores how to maximise the impact of your office fit-out when budgets are limited.

by Anthony Brown
Last Updated: 19 Aug 2013

1. Employees first: Property costs typically represent a much smaller percentage of a company’s total overheads compared with staff costs, yet workplace design can have a significant impact on employee engagement, morale and productivity. Even a small investment in office fit-out has the potential to make a massive impact on your workforce. To ensure that impact is positive, start with your employees. Canvass opinion from your team to understand their work needs – how they would like to be organised in the available room to best do their job – as well as their personal preferences, including attitudes to light, space, ventilation, colour and sound.

2. Break down barriers: Collaborative working is now king, so move away from the dated tradition of rows of desks and partitioned offices. Aim to create activity-based 'zones' for brainstorming, socialising and one-to-one meetings, as well as individual workstations. At PwC, the firm used the move to its new flagship More London office to do away with permanent desks and introduce new technologies to encourage more collaborative working. Employees log in to a central system each morning to be allocated a free space in zoned business areas. It’s not only encouraged greater collaboration, as staff sit next to a new person each day, but it’s freed up valuable square footage to fit in more social and client spaces.

3. Call the professionals: When faced with a tight budget, companies often decide to design their fit-out in-house and employ individual trades directly in a bid to save costs. It’s almost always a false economy. No matter what the budget, the most effective workplaces are built by a designer and specialist contractor working together with you. They will specify and deliver a scheme that can be feasibly built within budget, minimises disruption, but most importantly achieves the positive employee impact that most fit-outs are driven by in the first place. 

4. The holy trinity: Whatever the budget or scale of your fit out aspirations, you need to balance quality, cost and time to best fit your business needs. What is most important to you - highest specifications or speediest delivery? Compromise on lower priorities to achieve the best balance.

5. It's the little things: There's no shame in cutting a few corners if you are on a tight budget, and a good design and build team will know a number of clever tricks to make savings. For example, instead of replacing the entire carpet or flooring, focus on changing the circulation routes with the highest footfall. Walkways usually total just 25% of the total square footage, offering a big cost saving, and even bigger impact. Keep the costs of fixtures and fittings down by choosing off-the-shelf products from accessible suppliers rather than more expensive bespoke options.

6. Future-proof your workplace: Design your new workplace to be as flexible and future-proof as possible to avoid later expenditure. Wireless and cloud technology can free up space traditionally allocated to trunking and server rooms. Work with your design and build team to guard against future technological shifts, but also ensure the physical space can be easily reconfigured as your business needs change. Sliding walls, for instance, can be solid, smart and fully sound insulated these days – forget the flimsy curtain partitions of the 1990s!

7. First impressions count: Overhaul tired entrances and reception areas by replacing doors, flooring, lighting and soft furnishings. Branding entrance areas with inexpensive vinyl wall transfers, including key words, phrases or images in your brand colours can give a real sense of your business from the moment employees and customers walk in the door.

8. Be a showstopper: A little goes a long way when you're making a series of small changes to your office, but one showstopping element can also be an effective use of a limited budget. We’ve seen incredible advances in workplace technology in recent years – interactive walls, intelligent surfaces, wireless displays, and so on. Meanwhile the proliferation of consumer technology has driven down the prices of items such as traditional flat panel displays. Set aside a ‘luxury’ pot, and consider how you want to invest that cash to create a central 'big bang'.

9. Go green: Don't forget outside spaces when transforming your office. Gen Y or ‘millienials’ and wireless and tablet technology advances are encouraging a desire for workplaces that can provide a flexible mix of environments. With the sun finally out, ensure your fit-out capitalises on underused outdoor space to maximise square footage and help attract young talent into your company.

10. Take a flexible approach: When it finally comes to starting the build, being flexible about when works take place in your office can significantly reduce fit-out costs. Specifying an 'out of hours' programme, where work can only go ahead after everyone’s gone home, could lengthen project timescales and thereby increase costs. A specialist workplace fit-out contractor will be well versed in building around working employees while keeping disruption to a minimum.

Anthony Brown is board director at fit-out and refurbishment specialist Overbury. For more information please visit www.overbury.com or call 020 7307 9000.

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