The Definitive
Office Fit Out Handbook

A comprehensive guide to creating an outstanding workspace

Download Now

Table of Contents


Your work environment is fundamental to your output. It affects your productivity, your creativity, and your capacity for innovation. It dictates who you attract to your business, how they develop, and why they choose to stay. It supports and conveys your culture and your brand.

Put simply, getting your workspace right is critical.

If you’re reading this guide, chances are you’re going through a moment of change. Perhaps you’re 18 months off a lease break. Maybe you’ve outgrown your current office space and need to expand. It could be that you've recently relocated more staff to home-working and want to maximise the efficiency of your office layout.

Whatever the case may be, this step-by-step guide will make your life easier.

Who’s this guide for?

We’ve written this guide for project managers who are heading up a relocation/refurb and aren’t sure where to start. However, anyone even remotely interested in the importance of workplace design will find plenty to discover too.

What you’ll get out of this guide

This guide will:

  • Save you time, money, and stress
  • Lay out everything you need to know in a straightforward format
  • Stop you from falling into common pitfalls
  • Guide you through the entire office fit out process
  • Provide you with easy checklists every step of the way

What is an office fit out anyway?

If you’re unsure about what exactly an office fit out entails, check out our comprehensive blog post for clarity before reading further – we’ll wait for you!

Questions to Answer Before You Start

This section will provide the questions you need to ask yourself before you undertake a fit out or office move to avoid running in to any common pitfalls.

Here are the five most common snags we see businesses run up against:

  1. Not doing enough research and planning at the outset (including a space usage assessment).
  2. Setting an unrealistic budget.
  3. Estimating an unworkable timeline for the project.
  4. Poor communication between teams, from the initial decision through to the consultation and the move/refurb itself. This alone can lead to you losing time, money, and even good members of staff.
  5. You've recently changed working practices, so that many staff are home-based.
  6. Trying to do too much on the cheap (e.g trying to manage tradespeople instead of allocating that job to professionals). This drive to cut corners catches most businesses out.

To avoid these trip-ups, it’s important you start your project by answering the questions set out below.

Do I need a relocation or refurbishment?

You may still be unsure whether you’d be better off relocating to a new building or refurbishing your current office. Believe it or not, the two are intertwined:

If you decide to relocate, you’ll almost certainly have to fit out your new space with furniture, décor, and more – basically undertaking a refurbishment. Similarly, if you choose to stay put, you’ll have to relocate to a temporary workspace while your refurbishment takes place.

As you can see, you’ll have to get involved in a little bit of both no matter what you decide. However, the question below will help you make up your mind.

Which of these is driving your decision to change your workplace?

  1. You’re growing fast and need more space for more staff
  2. You need to update the look of your workspace to better reflect your brand and the work you do
  3. Your current building isn’t fit for purpose
  4. Your lease is up for renewal
  5. You've recently changed working practices, so many staff are now home-based
  6. You want to switch from lease to an owned premise
  7. You want to move closer to your clients
  8. You’re building a workspace from scratch

If you answered 1-5: you might not actually need to relocate. With the right design and know-how, a refurbishment could help you achieve these goals while saving you money.

If you answered 6-8: An office move would be best suited to help you achieve these goals.

When do I want to move or refurbish?

Whether you lease, buy, or build, office relocations can take at least a year to see through to fruition. An office fit out alone can take up to six months to complete.

It’s important, then, that you plan far enough ahead to make sure everything runs smoothly and to schedule. Whenever you want to move or fit out an office, we recommend giving yourself at least 8 months to get started.

Left it a little late?

If you desperately need to relocate but you have less than 8 months to get it done, don’t panic. Get in touch with us today. We’ll do our absolute best to help you out of a tight situation.

Who will be involved in the process?

There’s a whole raft of people you’ll need to work with to make your office move or fit out a success. First and foremost, you’ll need an expert team of workplace consultants to guide you around the trickier parts of the process.

It’s also vital that you involve your employees where possible. Yes, you’ll need to assemble an A-team of staff to help manage the move/refurb, but using your other employees’ thoughts and feelings to inform your decisions will help ensure your refit or office move goes smoothly.

What do you want to achieve with your new workspace?

You need to ask yourself what outcomes you expect after your move or refurb. Do you simply need more space? Perhaps you want a workspace that better reflects your culture or brand personality?

Whatever the case may be, you need to set some clear goals to establish whether the move or fit out has been successful at the end of the process.

Where do you want to move?

Your goals for your office move will likely determine where you choose to relocate. Whether you want to move somewhere with more readily available talent or somewhere with a more prosperous business community, spend some time researching your best options.

Just like when buying a house, weigh up the must-haves against your budget and consider where you can comfortably afford to move. Speaking of affordability…

What’s your budget?

Figuring out a workable budget for your move or fit out is essential. You need to be realistic – you don’t want to end up halfway through your project to find out you haven’t got enough to spend.

Of course, relocations and office fit out costs vary wildly depending on your requirements. It’s tricky, therefore, to offer budget suggestions, but here’s a rough example of fit out costs:

(At Rhino, we tend to work on three bands of costs ­– bronze, silver, and gold – but most of our projects end up being a mix of the three.)

  • Bronze:
    • Fit out: £30 – £35 per sq ft.
    • Furniture: £500 – £600 per person
  • Silver:
    • Fit out: £40 – £65 per sq ft.
    • Furniture: £700 – £900 per person
  • Gold:
    • Fit out: £70 – £300 per sq ft.
    • Furniture: £900 – £1500+ per person

For a more personalised idea of what you can expect to spend on your refurb, check out our free office fit out calculator tool.

When it comes to office moves, it’s even harder to recommend budgets due to so many variables. Where you decide to relocate will have the biggest effect on how much you can expect to spend, but talk to us for tailored advice on relocation costs.

Section checklist

  • Decide whether you should fit out your workspace or relocate
  • Why are you making these changes?
  • When do you want to undertake the project?
  • Who will be involved in the project?
  • What are your goals from having a fit out or moving offices?
  • Where are you looking to move?
  • How much do you have to spend?

Download this guide for later reading

Download Now

Getting Your Ducks in a Row

This short section will explore some of the steps you need to take before going ahead with a fit out or office move.

Launch a space usage audit

One of the biggest mistakes businesses make when moving or refitting their office is not understanding the usage rates of desks, breakout spaces, and meeting rooms ­– or truly grasping the working preferences of their staff.

Without knowing this, how can you be sure you need to move in the first place?

If you’re not sure how to go about conducting this research, call in your team of workplace consultants. They’ll survey your workspace using technologies like heat-mapping to truly understand how your staff use their environment. They can also take care of surveying your people, digging deep into their wants, needs, and working practices.

Of course, you could do all this yourself (just don’t expect to achieve the same results). Start by sending out anonymous digital workplace surveys. This will ensure you receive honest feedback from your team and go some way to shape your understanding of how they work.

Without knowing what your team currently use/don’t use, like/dislike, you can’t start designing a new workspace that’ll keep them happy and productive.

Consider business continuity and risk

As with every new space, you’ll need to assess risk from the usual health and safety angles. Recent events have demonstrated just how critical this is. It's best practice to work through a list of ‘what if’ scenarios relating to the renovation project, such as:

  • How flexible is this space in the event of rapid changes in working practice?
  • What if the Wi-Fi doesn’t connect on day one?
  • What if we run over budget?
  • What if team members are unhappy with the new space?
  • What if our schedule is held up?

Basically, analyse everything that could go wrong, assess each risk, and put measures in place to reduce the likelihood of it happening. This can send you a bit mad, but it’s absolutely essential.

Trust us, you’ll be glad you have a contingency plan in your back pocket if the worst does happen.

Consult everyone

Change can be difficult at the best of times, and managing change during an office fit out or relocation is crucial to its success.

Your longest-serving staff might be attached to ‘their desk’. Those who commute might panic about having to travel further. Some of your team might just be resistant to change more generally.  

Therefore, it’s important to communicate with your staff clearly and honestly from the outset. Explain to them your reasons for wanting to move or fit out the office, listen to their concerns, and keep them updated throughout the process.

Getting your team involved at the start will drastically minimise the chances of disruption further down the line and ensure your staff feel like they have some ownership over the change.

Section checklist

  • Undertake a space usage audit
  • Survey your people
  • Run a thorough risk assessment of your move/refurb
  • Work out a communication strategy to keep your team informed

Managing change during an office fit out or relocation is crucial to its success.

Assembling the A-team

To ensure your office fit out or relocation is a success, you’re going to need the right people by your side. This section will explain the key players you’ll need to assemble.

Rally the team together

You may be spearheading your office move or refurb, but you’ll need a cross-departmental network of allies to help you on your way.

From Finance to IT, HR to Marketing, pick a select few people from each department to help inform your decision making. Finance can help you set your budget, IT will ensure your new office is well-equipped for the future, HR will help manage your people during the transition, and Marketing can help brand the new design.

If you have a facilities or office manager, they could be your closest ally as they’ll already have a good idea about what the new office needs to include.

You also need to think about working with external teams, ranging from professional services to construction firms. You can save yourself a massive headache here by hiring a team experienced in handling external contractors to take care of this for you.

Most crucially, you’ll need to hire an office design team. They should be able to provide everything from consultancy and design know-how, to fit out advice and office furniture expertise.

Identify the visionary

With any office move or redesign, one person needs to act as the visionary. They’ll have final say over the overall look and feel of the new workspace and work closely with the office design team to get it right.

This could be yourself, but if not, make sure you choose someone reliable who has the skills required to take their thoughts from the ideation stage through to fruition.

Get planning

No office move or refurb will be successful without a solid plan and schedule. You need to figure out a time scale, a budget, and who is going to be responsible for the various aspects of the move/ fit out.

So, grab the most organised members of your team, some marker pens, a big white board, and get planning!  

The checklists below will help you out.

Checklist: Departments you may need onboard

  • Facilities (for their inside knowledge)
  • HR (for communications and legal advice)
  • Finance (for budgeting)
  • IT (for futureproofing)
  • Marketing (for their brand focus)
  • The Board of Directors

Checklist: Contractors you may need

  • Commercial agent
  • Conveyancer
  • Builders
  • Solicitors
  • Insurers
  • Tax accountant
  • Removals company
  • Utility tradespeople (plumbers, electricians, etc.)
  • Health and safety consultants

Checklist: Partners you’ll need

  • Workplace consultants
  • Office design company
  • Fit out firm
  • Furniture supplier

Get Designing

In this section, we highlight the areas you need to consider when designing your new workspace and everything in it.

Take an agile approach

An increasing number of businesses are adopting an agile working methodology. In the post-coronavirus world, it's arguably imperative. This way of working increases collaboration between staff, boosts your ability to adapt, bolsters productivity, and much more. But an agile workplace needs an agile workspace.

Agile office designs consist of four key zones:

  • Areas for focus
  • Areas for collaboration
  • Areas for socialising
  • Areas for meetings

It’s important that these zones are designed to be multi-purpose. A meeting room could become an impromptu lunch area when clients are visiting, for example.

Agile isn’t the only choice when designing a new office, but it’s the option we recommend for most businesses looking to create a more modern, social workspace.

The hidden stuff

It’s easy to overlook because it’s out of sight, but have you thought about all the hidden stuff like storage, cabling, and plumbing?

We know it’s not very fun, but it’s really important to think about at this stage. Ignore this step at your peril!

Think sustainably

Today’s world-class offices consider the needs of the environment as well the needs of their people. Consider how you’ll bring your new workspace in line with global standards like BREEAM and the International WELL Building Institute.

The WELL rating assesses the natural elements of your office that impact your team’s wellbeing, such as air quality, water purity, natural light availability, and biophilics (interaction with nature).

Building a sustainable office and designing it in a way that supports staff wellbeing is crucial to keeping your people happy and working productively.

An office for the future

Whatever your new workspace looks like, you need to consider what technology you’ll be using. It can often be tempting to kit out a workspace with all the latest gadgets and gizmos, but technology develops so quickly that it could all be outdated before you know it.

For this reason, you need to think about using technology that’ll stand the test of time and is flexible enough to adapt to whatever the future brings. Don’t be afraid to ask a third-party for help with this – it’ll save you a ton of money to get this right at the start.

Write a brief

Once you have an idea of the sort of design, technology, and sustainability features you’re looking for, it’s time to write a brief. This will be the document your office design team will work from. The more detailed and expansive the brief, the greater the chance you’ll end up with a workspace you’re happy with.

Bear in mind that your brief needs to be realistic. You can’t expect a gold standard fit out on a shoestring. Equally, you need to ensure your plans can be achieved as within schedule as possible.

We recommend storing this document on a cloud platform for easy access, so you can share it quickly with others for their input.

For some design inspiration to help you write your brief, take a look at some of our office design case studies.

Take our advice…

Managing architects, office designers, tradespeople, fit out companies, and furniture suppliers is a gargantuan task. We highly recommend working with one partner to manage the whole process for you.

And not just because we’re in that business! Working in this streamlined manner not only saves you sleepless nights but cuts the timeline of the project by up to 30% and slashes costs by up to 20%. It’s a win-win.

Checklist: Things to consider

  • Are you going to take an agile approach?
  • How many employees will be primarily home-based?
  • Which zones or areas are essential to your business?
  • How many employees will you have in five years’ time?
  • Which office design trends do you like/ dislike?
  • Think about environmental sustainability and employee wellbeing
  • What technology will you require?
  • Think about hiring one contractor to manage the process for you

Checklist: The surface stuff

  • Reception area
  • Meeting rooms
  • Open meeting areas
  • Pods (for private calls/work)
  • Kitchen
  • Café
  • Games room
  • Social spaces
  • Breakout/ collaborative spaces
  • Executive offices
  • Toilets
  • Showers
  • Bike racks
  • Car park
  • Biophilics (natural light and plants)
  • Colour scheme and decorations
  • Furniture

Checklist: The hidden stuff

  • Storage
  • Lighting
  • Heating, ventilation, air conditioning
  • Acoustics
  • Cabling
  • Plumbing
  • Telecoms/ Wi-Fi
  • Power socket locations
  • Software required
  • Equipment (printers, screens, servers, etc.)

Sweating the legal stuff

Regulatory compliance is crucial, but it can be a lengthy process. Here’s an alphabetical list of the most important regulations you need to comply with.

Asbestos survey

Every building needs to be surveyed for asbestos. There are strict, legal guidelines for the disposal and management of asbestos which can be found here.

Building regulations

These are the minimum standards for design, construction, and alterations of any buildings. Read through these here.

CDM regulations

The Construction (Design & Management) Regulations (2015) necessitate the appointment of a ‘principal designer’ who is responsible for the health and safety of everyone affected by the whole construction process.

DDA compliance

The Disabilities Discrimination Act (2005) applies to access to all commercial buildings and when hiring contractors.

Health and safety

The Health and Safety at Work Act (1974) covers all employees, contractors, and visitors in your premises.

The Workplace (Health, Safety & Welfare) Regulations (1992) includes regulatory requirements on issues like ventilation, temperature, lighting, cleanliness, workstations, and seating.

Environmental regulations

All buildings must meet legislative targets related to energy-saving and emissions. It involves Energy Performance Certificates, the Carbon Reduction Commitment, and ISO 14001. There’s also the SKA rating tool for measuring sustainability in the workplace alongside global standards like BREEAM and LEED.

Fire laws

Fire laws have changed since October 2006. The Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 combines all 70 pieces of fire safety regulations. Mainly, you need to carry out a fire risk assessment and have a protocol in place for when there’s a fire.

ICE regulations

If your business has more than 50 staff, it’s against the law not to inform and consult everyone about a change that may affect them, according to the Information and Consultation of Employees Regulations 2004.

1954 Landlord and Tenant Act

This legislation governs how new leases are terminated, renewed, and contested.

Planning permission

You’ll need planning permission if you’re building, making major alterations, or changing the use of a property.

Nailing the budget

Here’s a list of every possible cost you could have when refurbishing or relocating your office. It should prove priceless.

Take stock and forecast

You need to take stock and figure out exactly how much your existing office is costing to compare against future expenses – creating a cash-flow forecast. It’s obviously a good idea to get your finance team involved with the forecasting process.

Explore potential tax breaks

Did you know you could consider leasing for things like furniture, technology, and other equipment? It’s worth reviewing the options as you may be eligible for certain tax breaks.

Checklist: All fit out / relocation costs

  • Estate agency fees/ commission
  • Building surveys
  • Conveyancing fees
  • Workspace consultancy
  • Design
  • Fit out/refurbishment
  • Furniture
  • IT and telecoms
  • Building work
  • Tax
  • Marketing
  • Security
  • Removals
  • Leasing
  • Mortgages
  • Service charges
  • Business rates
  • Insurances
  • Utilities

After the Change

Your planning has paid off. You’ve moved or refurbished your office, and everyone’s moved in. But what now?

Measure your success

Just because the main bulk of your move or refurb is over, it’s no time to rest. You need to capture your team’s thoughts on the new space by conducting satisfaction surveys.

It’s also worth having someone as a dedicated ‘change champion’ – someone your team can talk to about their thoughts and feelings. Change affects people differently and it’d be a shame to lose loyal staff just because they didn’t have anyone to talk to about their concerns.

Step up your marketing

An office move or redesign is a fantastic opportunity for some organic marketing activity. Contact your local newspaper or trade magazine and get some journalists in to take photos of your swanky new workplace. If everything’s gone to plan, you’ll have a workspace you can be proud of and should want to shout about!

A move could also be the perfect time to think about updating your website, social media feeds, letterheads, and other marketing materials.

Keep discovering

Chances are that the change process you’ve been going through has taught you an awful lot about your workplace. Just because it’s over doesn’t mean you should stop learning.

Keep thinking about how to continue supporting your team at every step of their development – and how their environment can work better for their needs.

Plan a celebration

Breathe a sigh of relief and pour yourself a glass of bubbly – your office fit out has been a success! Use this time to plan events in your new workspace, for both your team and shareholders, as well as your valued customers and other stakeholders.

You all deserve a good party – congratulations!

Ready to Start Designing Your Ideal Workspace?

Contact us to get started today.

Get Started