Interview with Paul Etherington on his experience working in occupied buildings

Minisming disruption to occupants when working in occupied building is a number one priority for BW. We talked to one of our more experienced PMs, Paul Etherington, who shared his experience and some useful lessons when working in occupied buildings.

What are the challenges when accurate and up-to-date building records don’t exist?

If current and up-to-date records don’t exist, there will be increased risks associated with a fit-out project. When this happens on our projects, we work with clients to organise out of hours validations and surveys. These identify whether there are any major issues, for example asbestos in the building, as well as what the building’s power distribution and power loadings are. We can then provide a set of drawings to improve the accuracy of the project thus reducing risks in terms of time and budget.

How can capacity for modern power loading effect projects?

If a building doesn’t have sufficient power to support the client’s requirements, then the feasibility of the project will be affected, and costs will almost certainly increase. I always work closely with my clients and their building management to establish these essential facts at the start of the project. Again, this reduces the risk of increased costs during the project and ensures a high quality of the fit-out is maintained.

What can we do to ensure the programme doesn’t disturb a client’s day-to-day operations?

We always try to be sensitive to the needs of our clients’ and their neighbours and minimise disruption wherever possible. We always forewarn occupants of any significant disturbances and always endeavour to schedule noisy works at the least intrusive time.

We can work with clients to identify and create a ‘noise matrix’ at the start of each project. Within this the different noise level are identified and graded according to the disruption anticipated this enables us to mutually decide what can be tolerated and when.

Noise periods are monitored, measured and adapted during the programme if necessary.

How do access restrictions impact the delivery of an in-occupation project?

Whether there are physical access issues or time constraints, we work with clients to manage all potential barriers to makes sure that projects are still delivered on time and to budget.

We work with clients to understand their needs; the key is to ensure that dialogue is underpinned with guidelines. At the start of the programme we agreed delivery arrangements and developed a process where deliveries are given a specific time or route which suits the client.

We regularly meet with clients during the project to ensure their day-to-day operations are not impacted by deliveries and waste away. We aren’t afraid to adapt the plan at any stage of the project to work around key meetings and ensure a successful project journey for our clients.

Can you give some advice for setting up temporary circulation routes? 

We don’t want any nasty surprises on our projects and our strategic approach means that we are able to advise anyone affected of potential disruptions at the beginning of our projects. If a temporary entrance is required, we try to emulate the existing solution and navigation route as closely as possible.

Communication is key, we explain to everyone who could be affected exactly what is going on, with plenty of time to adjust and make alternative plan if required.

How we plan for these routes is one of the first conversations that takes place. It could also change once the project has begun. We provide many solutions for temporary circulation routes whether it be barriers or temporary demountable walls. We work with clients to use these walls as a communication tool to keep employees up-to-date on the progression of the project.

How do you make sure reductions in facilities and amenities are kept to a minimum?

Sometimes some short-term pain for long-term gain in unavoidable, however, we always try to keep this to a minimum.

We have early meetings and agree a plan with the client, especially if temporary solutions need to be implemented.

We can work with you to help provide solutions and programme events to minimise the overall period facilities are affected and out of action.

What can you do to ensure project in occupied buildings are kept safe?

If you are opening up a building you are potentially increasing the security risk, so we continually assess the changing building structure. We are incredibly vigilant, we introduce strict sign-in processes and re-brief security teams.

We also work with our clients and their building management teams to agree a set of security guidelines ourselves which our subcontractors follow. We ask all of our workforce to be identified through passes and different coloured branded hi-vis’.

How can we make sure our sites are discreet in occupied building?

Sites that look good encourage everyone working on them to keep them in a pristine state and deliver exceptional work. This is why we always install a professional site set up in line with our clients’ brand.

We have created a minimum site set up manual which allows us to ensure we have a professional for all types of projects.

Dust and noise can be an issue on site, what do you do to minimse this?

Building sites are inherently dusty and noisy spaces, we deal with this by sealing off areas wherever possible. There are many build solutions we can employ to contain dust and noise. Whether it is sheeting or temporary stud walls, we always find the best solution for our clients.

We have these conversations up front, so occupants know when this type of work is happening and send reminder newsletters to ensure occupants have notice to work around these works.

Can be building wholly or partially be vacated during work, and is this cost effective?

Allowing works to take place in a phased approach can often means that projects are delivered quicker. However, every project has its own requirements and needs to be assessed. We can conduct a cost-benefit analysis at the start of a project and work with you to discuss the best fit-out solution for you.