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Precise planning

Marcos Bish, general manager, Summertown Interiors, explains why the company prefers its own space when executing a fit-out.

INTERVIEWS, Facilities Management
INTERVIEWS, Facilities Management

Marcos Bish, general manager, Summertown Interiors, explains why the company prefers its own space when executing a fit-out.

Many companies experiencing rapid expansion are also facing fit-out dilemmas when it comes to planning the logistics of a fit-out.

Companies allowing fit-outs to be carried out around their employees, show a lack of respect for their people.

With many areas to consider when designing a retrofit, Marcos Bish, general manager of Summertown Interiors, says planning is the key to a successful operation.

"If you spend time on the planning, you can get a momentum on your project. Imagine trying to build the metro with no plans approved? In an office, if you plan the project correctly, the client can move their people and we can start with no more changes throughout the project," he explains.

But the problem many fit-out companies experience when contracted to execute a fit-out, is where the client decides to place its staff.

Currently, many companies in the region allow fit-outs to be carried out while employees are working, something Bish disagrees with.

"It may be cheaper to let the fit-out contractor work around your staff, but the question is, should you do that? From a health point of view, do you really want your employees to fall ill and sit in the dust while all the particles are flying around?"

Conducting a complete retrofit could mean anything from stripping walls down and considerable MEP work like moving air conditioning vents, to space planning and choosing the right furniture.

If ceiling tiles are being removed, dust particles will travel through the AC system and continuous noise will bounce off walls and echo around the office. But hoarding off the 'work in progress' area hardly constitutes a safe and comfortable working environment.

"Companies that allow this to happen, show a lack of respect for the people who are working for them. It also tells the marketplace and potential employees something about the company, if it doesn't take proper measures to ensure staff safety and a productive working environment," stresses Bish.

While health is a concern, productivity can also be affected due to employees falling sick or being unable to concentrate due to noise.

Summertown Interiors prefers its clients to house its employees either on another floor or in a different building all together.

While it stresses the damage it can cause to employees' health and lost time in productivity, the company also has concerns over client relationships.

"One of the reasons we prefer the client to remove its staff is because when we have worked around them in the past, the relationship with the client has turned a bit sour.

"They ask you to break the fit-out into phases and partition it off, but when we are working and the noise starts, the client often gets irritated and asks you to stop hammering. This can add time onto the project and create an unsettled feeling between you and the client," Bish explains.

But whether a contractor has been asked to provide a full turn-key solution or is executing a furniture fit-out, Bish firmly believes that staff should not sit in the environment where they (the fit-out contractor) are working.

Working example

He cites one of Summertown Interiors' recent projects, the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company (ADNOC), as a well planned fit-out.

"ADNOC had existing offices that were outdated and not working properly. There was a storage shortage and many people had personalised their offices in such a way that everybody had different things," Bish explains.

Summertown Interiors prefers its clients to house its employees either on another floor or in a different building.

Summertown Interiors approached the project by conducting a survey into the kind of working environment that would suit employees and the company, throughout the building.

In order to ascertain a solution that would suit, both the CEO and engineering department of ADNOC and Summertown Interiors, sat down to discuss their options.

"One of the parameters we agreed on from the beginning was getting everything approved prior to start-up. This prevented demobilisation and people movement within the office until everything was signed off up until the last screw and detail," explains Bish.

It took 12 months for the planning of the project to be complete and Summertown Interiors is now carrying out the agreed fit-out on the ninth floor.

Staff have been housed on alternative floors and if ADNOC is pleased with the results, the contract could be extended to the rest of the building.

During the planning stage, Summertown Interiors came across a partitioning problem.

"Some of the partitioning and cupboards ADNOC had were built-in. It took us three to four days to measure them and see how we could fit them into the new space plan."

Some of the panels we were able to reuse, but others were immobile due to their size and shape," adds Bish.

Electrical works were also changed to better suit the company's workforce and working area and furniture boards and visuals were presented.

By working together to form a detailed plan of action, Bish argues the finished product will ultimately be better.

"We think it's important to work as partners and discuss problems and challenges, so you get a better outcome. Contractors need to be honest and transparent and communicate with their client."

By planning the fit-out down to the last detail, both the fit-out contractor and client know what is expected of them and how much it will cost.

"We believe that when we do a project, there will be no variations as long as the client does not make any changes. We make things very detailed to avoid cost implications," he says.

Although temporary re-housing staff seems to be the best solution to a fit-out, it can be difficult to find somewhere financially viable.

"The question remains, what is better for your business? Three months on another floor or alternative offices, or eight months working alongside a contractor?" Bish concludes.

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