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How to plan an office refurbishment project [downloadable checklist and ebook]

Updated: Jun 4

office furniture is arranged over the main floor and a mezzanine in a newly refurbished building

Do you wish your office was a more inspiring place to work? Do you wish your space fitted your team better? Do you want to make changes but don’t know where to start?

We will give you the confidence to plan an office refurbishment project. Follow our 7-step instructions and you can’t go wrong.

1) Establish your refurbishment project brief.

The very first thing you should do when considering an office refurbishment project is to ask yourself why you want to do it? What’s wrong with the space as it is? It’s worth giving this some serious thought before you go any further.

You might think that your decor is looking tired and could just do with a cosmetic refresh. Conversely, you might hate the whole space and want to change everything! Beware making any knee-jerk reactions as you may regret it at a later date. Talk to all the people who work in your space and get their opinions as to what works and what doesn’t work. What do they wish the office looked like?

Earlier this year, the Iconic team realised that our office wasn’t working for us anymore. We’d outgrown the space so no amount of moving things around was going to improve the situation. We were going to have to move. We sat down together and discussed what we each wanted from a new office. This was the list we decided on:

• Town centre location

• Dog friendly

• Own kitchen facilities

• Separate meeting rooms

• Breakout space

Obviously, you want your office to work perfectly for the team you have now, but have a think about what your business will look like in the future. If you’re planning to expand, you will need somewhere for your new employees to work. How much flexibility will you require? As an absolute minimum, you will need to allow 5 square metres (55 square feet) per person in your work space, but you may well want considerably more for comfort.

Another important consideration is the environmental impact of your office refurbishment project. Besides just being the right thing to do, planning a sustainable office can save money in the long run. You might consider improving energy efficiency, using environmentally-friendly materials, reusing furniture, etc. Decide what level of sustainability is right for you and make sure you specify that in your brief.

The Iconic team are following a 5-year plan for growth, so we knew we needed an office that was large enough to house our team as it will be in 5 years’ time. We decided that we needed a minimum office space of 140 square meters (1500 square feet). The unit we settled on was 1600 square feet and in our preferred location. However, it was in need of a full strip out and refit. The slightly larger size meant that we would be able to incorporate our desired kitchenette, meeting rooms and break out space without compromising on comfort.

When designing our new office space, we decided to replace the existing heating and lighting systems as they were old and inefficient. We specified ultra-efficient panel heaters and low-energy LED lighting. Ideally, we would have replaced the old single-glazed windows, but when negotiating the lease, the landlord wanted to keep responsibility for them. They are planning to refurbish the exterior of the building, so we were happy to compromise on this.

Once you have established what you want to achieve, it’s critical to set your budget and timeframe before you go into the design phase of your project. Your designer needs this information in order to create an attainable plan. Without a clear budget and timeframe your designer will only have your wish list to go by, meaning that you may end up with a refurbishment plan that is unaffordable and will take far too long to deliver.

an office refurbishment project design transforms into a completed workspace

2) Finalise your office refurbishment design.

If you give your designer a really clear brief you will hopefully receive a plan that incorporates all your wants and needs, is affordable, and will be deliverable in a timely manner. He or she will probably provide you with some visuals to help you imagine how your finished office will look. You may well fall in love with this vision when it’s presented to you on paper.

It is absolutely critical to be completely happy with your design before you start work.

Changing your mind about the design once your contractors have started work will almost certainly cost you both time and money. Your designer may be able to provide you with 3D computer models to give you a good feel for how your design will look but mocking-up will also help you to cement the vision in your mind.

There are various easy ways to mock-up your design. You can ask for samples of materials and physically put them where they will be in your finished plan:

  • put your carpet sample on the floor of the area you’re refurbishing.

  • apply your paint sample to the wall.

  • put a sample desk and chair in the space and spend some time working there.

You can check how a space flows by applying tape to the floor. Tape the outlines of walls, dividers, furniture and so on to the floor and then take a walk around. Is there enough room between the desks? Will you be able to get to that filing cabinet? If you’re planning an extensive refurbishment of a large, multi-roomed office, it may be worth renovating one room as a tester.

applying paint samples to the wall is the best way to choose your colour scheme

Once you’ve completed your mock-up, ask yourself if you’re happy with it. Are you sure? It’s a good idea to get feedback from the people who will be using the space too. Is there anything you’re overlooked?

When you finally have the design of your dreams, it’s time to do your risk assessments. Doing all the necessary surveys and research now will massively reduce the risk of unexpected calamities further down the line. Once you’ve identified any potential risks, make sure your budget will allow you to cope with them.

When surveying the new Iconic office site, we discovered that the electrics were not up to current safety standards and would have to be significantly improved. We got quotes to complete the necessary work and revised our budget to allow for it. We had room in our budget to cover part of this electrical work. We revised other aspects of our design to allow us to achieve everything we wanted and required, while still controlling our costs.

3) Engage your contractors.

Even if you already have someone in mind to carry out your office refurbishment work, it’s good practice to put your project to tender, to measure their quality and value against the market. This eliminates the possibility that your contractor, knowing they are a preferred supplier, will quote you above the market rate.

At the other end of the spectrum, it allows you to filter out all those who would under-quote, in order to secure your business, but then fail to deliver.

If your construction project is outside your local area, you might not know the right people to carry out your work. Beyond doing a Google search, or looking in a local directory, how do you even find contractors in the first place? You may want to hire a project manager to find your suppliers, or a management contractor who can provide you with all the trades you need.

Once you have found a contractor, whether it’s someone you already know or if it’s somebody who’s been recommended, you must make sure they have the capability to do the job. If your contractor has sold you a dream but can't deliver it, your project will be at risk of running over budget and over time. You don’t need that kind of pain. Ask for evidence of their capability and previous experience.

4) Prepare to begin your refurbishment project.

No matter how small the scope of your refurbishment project, a certain level of disruption is inevitable. Your team will have to vacate the office that’s being refurbished while the work is carried out. It is inconvenient to try to carry out business as usual while work is carried out around you, and it is potentially hazardous.

If your office is spacious, you may be able to move your employees around so that they can work in another space temporarily. If that isn’t possible, you will need to make other arrangements. Consider having your team work from home for the duration of the works, or moving into a serviced office on a short term lease, such as those provided by Regus.

In our own case, we planned to remain in our existing premises while our new office was being fitted out. This meant that we could continue to work without disruption. However, because we had to give notice on our old office, we had an unmovable deadline for our new place to be operational.

Make sure you have communicated your refurbishment plan to your team. If everybody understands what’s happening, they’re much more likely to be onboard. If everybody is onboard, they’re much more likely to be cooperative and that will help your project run more smoothly.

The final thing to do before your contractors start work is to double check that you really are happy with your plans, that your plans fit your budget, and that the timeline is both acceptable and achievable.

contractors shake hands with their clients at the beginning of an office refurbishment project

5) Start your office refurbishment.

The number one rule once work has started is: DON’T CHANGE YOUR MIND ABOUT STUFF!

Of course, it’s your office and your project so you are perfectly entitled to change your mind. However, you must remember that every change of mind will cost you both time and money. Don't make changes to the plan unless they really are unavoidable.

You should plan to hold regular meetings with your contractors to measure how your project is progressing against the plan. Not only will this help you to identify, and deal with, any problems before they turn into crises, it will also help you to hold your contractors accountable. If the programme starts to slip behind what was agreed, you will be aware of it and be able to ask your contractors what steps they will take to get things back on track.

As your contractors need to keep you up to date with progress, so should you engage with your stakeholders on a regular basis. As was mentioned before, it’s good for the smooth running of your project to keep everyone affected fully informed. You should also make sure that you listen to their concerns and deal with them as appropriate. This will help keep everybody feeling positive about your refurbishment project and, you never know, someone might have spotted a potential problem that had been missed.

6) Project completion.

Once your project has reached practical completion, hopefully everything is perfect, and the reality of your refurbished office exceeds your expectations. However, it is normal that there will be a few snags.

You have a choice whether to move back into your office at the point of practical completion or wait until all the snagging has been closed out. You will need to assess how disruptive fixing the snags will be, if the work is carried out after you’re occupying the space.

If you choose to move back in before your snags have been corrected, make sure they don’t get forgotten about. Your contractors will know that they are obliged to fix them, so get them to agree to a date by which everything will be finished.

an office refurbishment project is completed and the workspace is ready for the client to move back in

7) Enjoy your newly refurbished office.

If all the plans have been carried out to your satisfaction, you can get on with enjoying your new working environment. Hopefully you and your team will all be delighted with the outcome.

It is good practice to reflect on the success of your project as there are always lessons to be learned:

  • What went well?

  • What went not so well?

  • What would you do differently next time?

This step by step guide should have given you a framework to plan your office refurbishment project around. A handy, printable ebook containing all these steps, along with additional material to give you a more in-depth knowledge, is available for download now.

Office Refurbishment Project eBook
Download PDF • 1.31MB


Elizabeth Hewitt.

Lizzie is CEO at Iconic Project Management, taking care of the running of the business so that the project managers can get on with the important job of managing projects. Check her out on LinkedIn or say hi on Twitter @captainlizzo.

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