What Exactly is an Office Fit Out
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What exactly is an office fit-out?

A Definition of Office Fit Out

An office fit out is the process of converting an empty space into a functional office. It is the full end-to-end transformation of an empty space so that ready for occupation by a company and it’s staff. This includes everything from the installation of facilities like bathrooms to raised floors, and the creation of meeting rooms, breakout areas, and kitchens. During office the office fit out process, a bare, uninhabitable area is transformed into a fully functional workplace, replete with furniture, HVAC, tea points, AV, workstations, and other necessities.

Different Types of Office Fit Outs

There are several types of “Fit Outs,” that come in various states of completion: from a completely empty “shell” of a building to a blank canvas space ready to fit out with glass walls, and bespoke kitchens. It’s good to become familiar with fit out types in order to help navigate your project and its requirements. We’ve included a comprehensive guide to office fit-outs below explaining not just the meaning of the term “office fit out” but also the steps it entails.

When referring to the process of preparing an interior space for office use, the word “fit out” is often used to describe the installation of all the essential structural, electrical, furniture, decorative, and mechanical elements. In other words, the office is outfitted with furniture, décor, and mechanical and electrical services equipment according to the requirements of the tenant.

The goal of an office fit-out is to create a working environment that is conducive to the demands of the company or individuals who will be using the space. It’s important to distinguish between an office fit-out and office renovation. To fit out an office is to create a new working environment from the ground up.

What is a CAT A Fit Out?

A CAT A is the basic finish of an office following the building construction – the shell and core. CAT A’s are generally commissioned by landlords who lease the building on to tenants, who in turn fit it out the office space to meet their bespoke requirements. This is not to be confused with a “Grade A” which refers to the quality of the building. CAT A (or Category A fit out) is the basic finish after the completion of the shell and core. A CAT A fit out is still essentially a blank canvas or “White Box” with an open-plan finish. This is still a relatively rough standard. It’s not suitable for tenants to move in as such.

A CAT A finish typically includes:

  • Installation of basic mechanical and electrical and plumbing services
  • Standard lighting installation
  • Raised floors and suspended ceilings
  • Heating, Ventilation and Air-conditioning (HVAC)
  • Fire detection services and smoke alarms (which are essential for the health and safety of the building)
  • Basic internal finishes

If you were walking around a CAT A finish you would notice a very plain-looking space with evenly spaced lighting and metal blocks of the raised floor. The raised floor is essentially a set of high-density particleboards with a steel wraparound on the top and a steel sheet at the bottom, all a uniform size of 60 x 60 cm, and laid out in a grid pattern across the entire floor. Lifting a section of these blocks would expose a space underneath (around 10-25 cm in height) which is supported by pedestals. This allows computer and electrical cables to pass under the floor to respective workstations and other areas of the office.

Note: At this point, there is no partitioning of the office space. Landlords may require at the end of the tenancy that the office space be returned to CAT A finish. This requires separate cost and timescale considerations for dilapidations.

CAT A Fit Out
Example of a CAT-A fit-out

What is CAT A+ FIT Out?

CAT A+ sits midway between a CAT A and CAT B. It emerged as a landlord’s response to serviced office and co-working spaces (the likes of WeWork and Regus). Tenants who are less inclined to take long leases have the option of a plug-and-play office setup that comes already fitted out to a generic level, but without the bespoke design elements, fittings, and choices of exactly how they want the office laid out.

CAT + Fit Outs typically include: 

  • Fitted kitchens and tea points
  • Partitioning for meeting rooms, breakout areas, and offices
  • Furniture
  • Workstations
  • Re-routed Air Conditioning
  • Power sockets
  • IT Infrastructure

The CAT A+ model is not suitable for all companies. Many companies wish to create their own customised space to fit the company culture. If the company brand and culture are important elements to you and you want to retain a unique corporate identity, the CAT B fit out is more appropriate.

DTRE CAT-B fit-out
DTRE CAT-B fit-out - Mayfair, London

What is a CAT B Fit Out?

A CAT B fit out (also known as a Category B fit out) follows on directly from a CAT A fit out to provide completed ready-to-use office space. In contrast to the CAT A+ which provides a generic usable space (common with co-working and serviced offices), a CAT B is a space that is tailored to the requirements of a particular company brand. This is a particularly favorable option if you’re looking to take out a long-term lease and you want to separate and distinguish your branded workspace from others.

In contrast to a CAT A+, there are numerous advantages that a CAT B fit out affords its tenants:

  • A unique, professionally designed office space with purpose-built areas
  • A choice of functional and aesthetic interior fittings
  • A more integrated design that augments your company’s brand identity
  • Better utilisation of space, which comes from the ability to carefully space plan the office from a blank canvas CAT A fit out.
  • Less wastage from renovating an already complete and standardised office space.
  • Cost savings in not having to reconfigure ventilation ducting and mechanical and electrical systems.

As a tenant, you want a space that is designed and fitted out to motivate, energise and inspire your workforce. The design and layout of this space need to be considered alongside all sorts of practicalities, like the number of staff working at the office and working from home (see our article on hybrid office design), and the arrangement of heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) in the suspended ceiling so that it reaches each workstation. In addition, there are considerations of workplace well-being such as breakout areas and the use of plants in various parts of the office (see our article on biophilic office design). Ultimately the Cat B design and fit out should work to improve staff performance, aid retention, and generate efficiencies within a company. This, in a nutshell, is what a CAT B fit out has to offer. So where does it start, and how do you achieve it?

The CAT B starts essentially where the CAT A ends. It covers everything from interior partitioning (the creation of meeting rooms, boardrooms etc.) to the design of ceilings, walls, doors, reception areas, break-out areas, kitchens, tea points, quiet spaces, and various other essential parts of the modern office. Before a CAT B commences, a company needs to decide whether to go the traditional route, by partnering with an architect, builders, and various other parties, or to use the design and build route (D&B) where a single office fit out company is selected to look after every detail, from space planning and 3D designs to the choice of furniture, interior design, build work and final finishes. The Design and Build (D&B) model is becoming far more popular as it saves time and avoids complications where otherwise multiple independent contractors are involved.

Concluding Thoughts and Next Steps

While terms such as CAT A, CAT A+ and CAT B are useful in navigating fit out requirements, the fit out industry doesn’t have a universal standard on what each category of fit out means, or what’s included as part of the agreement. One landlord’s understanding of CAT A may differ from another. Additionally, depending on your lease agreement, you may be required to return the premises to its original state when your tenancy ends.

Our design and build team specialise in helping tenants find, build and design exceptional workplaces. If you require help and advice, or costings for an office fit out, feel free to contact us to discuss things in more detail. With over 18 years of experience in the fit out industry  our team are ready to advise and assist you with any of the following:

  • Space planning and rationalisation – we have an in-house team of designers who specialise in office space planning and provide exceptional recommendations that help make the best utilisation of space within your budget.
  • Interior design – from sketches and mood boards to the provision of 3D CAD designs, our team of office designers are second to none in bringing exciting ideas to life.
  • Furniture – our longstanding relationships with leading suppliers allows us to offer you significant cost savings in purchasing office furniture from a wide range of leading brands including designer and ergonomic office furniture (see our section on furniture suppliers)
  • Hybrid office design – with years of experience in enabling flexible workspaces for clients, we are now leading the way in hybrid office design.
  • Wellbeing in the workplace – our team is skilled in the creation of workplaces that encourage workplace wellbeing, with the inclusion of breakout areas and flexible work arrangements.
  • Clean air and sustainable HVAC solutions – we offer expert in-house advice on the installation of HVAC and have long-standing relationships with HVAC contractors.
Platinum Equity CAT B Office Fit Out – Mayfair, London
Platinum Equity CAT B Office Fit Out – Mayfair, London

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