Cost Effective Fit Out Solutions

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Sharing market knowledge and expertise is always at the forefront of Summertown’s activities. On 26th November, Summertown’s Projects Director Paul Briers hosted a workshop on ‘cost-effective fit-out solutions’ at the 2015 edition of The Big Five. Renowned as the largest and most informative construction exhibition in the Middle East, Paul was invited to shed light on Summertown’s in-depth understanding of the topic.

Balancing clients’ quality expectations with cost-effectiveness is a matter that is raised on nearly every Summertown project. However, as Paul explained, it is impossible to summarise cost-effectiveness by a single parameter. Instead, it can be determined by a life-cycle perspective where all costs and benefits of a given project are evaluated and compared over its economic life.

In particular, Paul highlighted five key areas that should be taken into consideration when undertaking a cost-effective fit-out design:

The first, site selection and the concept of being thoroughly aware of a company’s forecasted growth before investing in a space. Business assessment is a necessary step to ensure long-term planning of any site. For example, if the workforce is likely to increase and outgrow the office, then creating a cleverly designed, accommodating area is a necessity. If a full assessment is not carried out from the start, as companies grow in size, it becomes challenging to provide a working environment that meets the needs of its occupants. Currently, an interesting trend is ‘hot-desking’, a workspace sharing model in which employees outnumber desks. Proven to reduce cost through space savings, ‘hot-desking’ can be integrated into site selection from phase one of the fit-out.

The next subject matter, workspace design, focused on ‘rethinking’ the use of space. Until recently, open plan offices were considered the best environment for employees, encouraging collaboration, innovation and team work. Now many studies have proven that a lack of privacy negatively affects concentration levels, productivity and creativity. The focus is shifting towards building a space that offers the perfect balance between collaboration and privacy. Today, designers, architects and workspace experts are introducing these principles into their projects to increase user satisfaction. Investing in the workspace is no longer considered an extra cost, but as a productivity investment that enhances an organisation’s overall success.

The third topic, local versus international sourcing of materials, brought to light a predicament which many contractors face in the UAE. The limited product offering in the local market has resulted in much product being sourced from overseas. However, since sustainability in buildings has moved higher on the agenda in the UAE, the fit-out industry has experienced increased pressure to implement environmentally-responsible practices. The emerging demand for reusable and local materials is having a positive effect on their availability and prices in the market. As green practices are adopted on a larger scale, economies of scale are achieved and the unit cost of green products in the local market are lowered.

This led onto the subject of sustainability and the long-term ecological footprint of material and the number of questions that must be raised and answered when considering a fit-out. Where did the material come from? How was it processed or fabricated? How did it arrive on-site? How long will it last? How will it eventually be disposed of? The cost-effectiveness of sustainable fit-outs in the region has been a hot topic, and recently, we have witnessed a greater awareness from businesses regarding both the economic and corporate benefits of building green. Thankfully, today there is a larger offering and the price of green products has reduced, which has encouraged the development of green projects.

Overall, mitigating project risk as best as possible when undertaking a fit-out is key. A responsible contractor will be aware of any potential risks to the project, and will be prepared to mitigate them in the most cost-effective way possible. It is unrealistic to think that delivery of a fit-out project will come without risk, which is why transparency and open communication with the client is essential and allows for the team to maintain tight control on costs versus ‘allowable’. Contractors should not be afraid to ‘go above and beyond’ with their fit-out projects. However, cost-effective solutions that bring operational benefits for cleverly designed spaces should be front of mind at all times.