An office fit-out is a project in which the office interiors are altered into a state where it is functional and in good condition to work. It’s all about developing a space that was originally not in a suitable state for the working environment and transforming it into a place where people want to work.
Office fit-outs not only come in a wide variety of styles but also in two different classifications, namely Category A and Category B.
Category A fit-outs – usually carried out for developers and landlords – turn the rented office floor space into a blank canvas ready for the business to decorate and furnish the building.
Category B fit-outs are focused on painting that blank canvas. This means installing the functional furnishings and bespoke design – according to a tenant’s needs.
In this blog, we look at each fit-out category, in turn, to see what you can expect.
A fit-out is a process of making an internal space suitable for occupation. It’s the transformation of a concrete shell into a working space; from installing facilities (like the loo!) and raising the flooring, to creating internal spaces, such as meeting rooms, breakout spaces and kitchens.
As the tenant, it’s essential that you confirm with your landlord or developer what level of finish they’ll provide. Often space will be provided by the landlord or developer as either a Shell and Core or a Cat A fit-out, leaving it up to the tenants to create the final ‘working’ space through we call as a Cat B fit-out.
Although there is a broad expectation of what you can expect at each of these stages, you’ll be surprised to hear there is still no industry standard definition of a Shell and Core, Cat A or Cat B fit-out! We recommend confirming with your landlord or fit-out specialist what will be included during contract negotiation.
Shell and Core
A shell and core fit-out is the bare bones of a building’s interior space and is often how the developers provide the building. The building may be completed on the outside, but on the inside the office space is just a shell, looking like a bare construction site; with concrete floors and walls, but with no lighting or facilities.
Although the office space is a bare shell, the common areas shared between tenants will be completed; like the lifts, toilets and building reception. Unlike the shell, these core areas are usually finished to a high standard and will be ready for incoming tenants.
The Difference Between Cat a and Cat B Fit-Out
Cat A and Cat B are terms used in the commercial property industry that don’t provide any insight to what exactly is involved and can seem confusing to those undertaking an office relocation or office refurbishment for the first time.
There is no standard definition for these terms, but they generally refer to the level of fit-out works carried out.
Here, we are going to explain exactly what Cat A and Cat B means and the works involved in each category, so you know exactly what’s included before you begin your office relocation or refurbishment project.
What Is a Cat a Fit-Out?
You can think of a Cat A fit-out as the next level above “shell and core.” A Cat A fit-out provides a basic level of finish, offering things such as a smooth, level floor, fittings for lighting, raised flooring to demarcate different office spaces, and primary electrical outlets (for, say, computer terminals). A Cat A fit-out provides the essential background fixtures and fittings you need to layer your office on top, but it is not ready for use immediately.
Cat A fit-outs are completed to an industrial standard. They’re clean and bright, but do not contain any design embellishments that might indicate that you are standing in the office of a particular company. Cat A fit-outs are basic, features a neutral colour palette, and provide only the bare essentials that you need to conduct your operations. With a Cat A fit-out, you are likely to get things such as air conditioning and ventilation system, fire detection and smoke alarms, and suspended ceilings with a basic finish.
A Category A fit-out is where the landlord and developer leave an office as a basic shell, ensuring that the workspace meets certain standards and regulations in order that prospective tenants can move straight in. This is based on providing certain services such as facilities, flooring, ceiling works, health & safety systems and overall decoration.
While there’s no standard specification, Cat A spaces (also known as Category A fit-outs) are usually finished with a suspended ceiling, lighting, heating, and raised flooring. This would be the functioning space that landlords would lease, leaving it up to tenants to install the functional design and finishes that suit their workplace through the form of a Cat B fit-out.
It’s all pretty basic, but it’s a habitable space and usually with no concrete in sight! If you think all you need to do now is move in and furnish the space, you might want to think twice.
While a Cat A space could technically be habitable, they are often a bare-bones, open-plan finish that’s then treated as a blank canvas for interior and office designers. We wouldn’t recommend moving straight into a Cat A space, as you won’t have your funky breakout area, meeting rooms or cosy kitchen to sit down with a cuppa. For this, you’ll need to install a Cat B fit-out.
What’s Usually Included in Your Cat a Fit-Out:
- Raised floors and suspended ceilings (with a basic finish)
- Basic mechanical and electrical services
- Fire detection services and smoke alarms
- Air-conditioning and ventilation (HVAC)
- Basic internal finishes
What Is a Cat B Fit-Out?
A Cat B fit-out is the type of fit-out that most people imagine when they think about a new office fit-out. A Cat B fit-out yields a working office that staff can move into immediately, providing all necessary fixtures and fittings down to the smallest detail.
During a Cat B fit-out, it is typical to consult with a range of contractors about all of the stylistic elements, from architects to office designers to property consultants. Not only will you focus on the design and theme of the office, but how to create a space that will maximise worker wellbeing and productivity. You will consult with professionals about things such as layout, shared spaces, private working environments, temperature and lighting control, and fire and safety.
Cat B fit-outs provide your office with the facilities that it needs to be transformed into a living, breathing space. Cat B fit-outs will install kitchens and bathrooms, all workstations and furniture, and put your IT infrastructure in place.
It is important to note what a Cat B fit-out is not. A Cat B fit-out refers to fit-out in a new space that has not previously played host to an office. Cat B fit-outs are not the same as refurbishments. Office refurbishment refers to the process of updating a space in which there is already an office. A Cat B fit-out, by contrast, is the process of installing a new office in a space that has never been an office in the past. A Cat B fit-out can follow a Cat A fit-out, but not the other way around.
You may sometimes hear the term “Cat B refurbishment” being used. Do not confuse a Cat B refurbishment with a Cat B fit-out. A Cat B fit-out involves taking the shell and core and transforming it into usable office space. In contrast, a Cat B refurbishment refers to the process of redoing the design, fixtures, and fittings of an existing office so that it is suitable for a new company. Again, the difference between a fit-out and a refurbishment is that a fit-out occurs in a space that has never been used by an office before, whereas a refurbishment happens in an area that has.
Cat B (also known as Category B fit-out) follows on from Cat A fit-out to provide a space that your company can simply move into and start working. Since this is something often tailored to your brand, these are usually left for the tenant to design and install.
Category B fit-outs shape interior spaces, involving everything from building different rooms, to choosing the art on the walls. Floorplans materialise, finishes are chosen, and branding is pumped into space, giving clients an end product all their own. If Cat A is a blank canvas, Cat B is a finished work of art. These fit-outs incorporate the things that make a space functional, but they also provide the opportunity to bring an occupant’s company to life. Cat B projects are great for clients who want a space tailored to their people and their own requirements, as these spaces are the result of working closely with a fit-out partner to identify and understand the company culture and plans for the future.
There’s a lot of work that goes into transforming the blank canvas of a Cat A fit-out into a functioning Cat B space. A Cat B office fit-out would ideally be tailored to the individual needs of your business and workforce, delivering the right mix of workstations, breakout areas and meeting rooms. Space planning and workplace consultancy are often done before any design work is started to understand how employees are using their desks and meeting rooms, ensuring that the new design is a suitable fit for the workforce.
A tailored Cat B fit-out should also reflect your brand and work ethos; including furniture and custom design elements that embody your corporate personality. This isn’t just about choosing desks and furniture, but about ensuring that your office is somewhere that your employees will love to work; all while helping you attract and retain your industry’s best talent.
What’s Usually Included in Your Cat B Fit-Out:
- Fully-fitted kitchens and non-communal office amenities
- Partitioning; including meeting rooms, offices and breakout spaces
- Workstations and furniture
- Re-routing air conditioning and power points
- IT installation and infrastructure
- Design and brand detailing
There can be vastly different standards of a Cat B fit-out, depending on what you negotiate. While most of our projects are a full Cat B, designed with furniture and workplace interactions in mind, some landlord provided ‘Cat B’ spaces can just be room partitions, tea points and carpet.
Finding the Right Fit-Out Specialists
We perform both CAT A and CAT B fit-outs here at Absolute Commercial Interiors and have a wealth of experience with landlords and end-user tenants looking to create their bespoke interior. We also carry out dilapidations for departing tenants who are required to return their premises back to its original condition.
Hopefully, we’ve helped to bust the technical fit-out jargon causing you confusion regarding the difference between a CAT A and CAT B fit-out. Still, our friendly team are always on hand to help with any further enquiries too. Don’t hesitate to get in touch!
Don’t forget about snagging
As part of our approach to office fit-out for our customers in Manchester, Liverpool and across the North West, we take the snagging phase seriously. When choosing your partner or specialist for the job, this is something you need to look out for as it can sometimes be deliberately or accidentally overlooked in the project timeline.
The snagging process should involve a thorough walk-around of the space with both client and partner to check everything is as it should be and to the required standard. Any issues that may arise from this are typically referred to as ‘snags’ and will then need to be addressed before the project can be deemed complete.
Okay, So, What’s the Difference Between Fit-Out and Refurbishment?
If you’re unfamiliar with the commercial design industry and its associated jargon, understanding the difference between these two things can be tricky. Admittedly, the differences are subtle, but when planning a workspace transformation or interior design project, it’s important to know exactly what it is you’re looking for.
The two are closely related, of course, but the main differences lie in how fit-out is more about rethinking the internal structure of a space or making a concrete shell an inhabitable workspace. Refurbishment tends to come further down the line when an existing space becomes outdated or needs refreshing on account of specific workplace issues.
If a customer came to us saying that noise distraction in an open plan office is becoming a particular problem for their business, we would recommend either of the following options, depending on factors like budget and severity of the issue:
fit-out – Reconfiguring the structural layout of the place to reintroduce some space division, e.g. partition walls. Planning and building in specific private spaces where people can go to find quiet and isolation when necessary, which might require the creation of new internal spaces that don’t already exist.
Refurbishment – Swapping existing furniture for (or just introducing some) acoustically-enhanced furniture to help absorb excess noise and updating the design of the space with things like acoustic wall panels and sound-absorbing light shades. Investing in something like an acoustic pod or shielded meeting space to escape the hustle and bustle of the open work area.
Which Type of Fit-Out Do You Need?
Before moving into any new office space, it’s important to recognise that you need a Cat B fit-out if you plan on using the space. A Cat A fit-out is essentially for the building managers so that they can offer their tenants a blank canvas to work on before they move in.
If you perform a Cat B fit-out, then your landlord may require you to return your offices to Cat A standard if and when you eventually move out. This is worth bearing in mind. Cat B fit-outs should be carefully layered on top of the Cat A finish so that you can return to Cat A at the required time in the future.
There will be conflicting ideas as to which type of fit-out one will opt for. Different people will have diverse preferences. Some will want the building to be completed from a to z so that they will not need to worry about anything. The developers will be entrusted to finalising the commercial building both in terms of the exterior as well as the interior finishes. The price will obviously be higher as there is so much that will need to be seen too. However, the lack of stress and hassle in seeing the works in progress, acquiring materials and hiring different service providers to see to the various jobs, might ultimately pay off for the higher price of a Cat B office fit-out.
On the other hand, there may be clients who are obsessed with realising their business’s brand image in a specific way. In such a case, they would prefer to monitor and administer the interior decor and finishes on their own. This is where a Cat A fit-out would make more sense.