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Agile working – the legal alarm bells that should be ringing

16 September 2019

The days of a stuffy office environment are gradually becoming a thing of the past. Over the years, a move has been made away from cellular offices to the more popular open plan set up – however, for many companies, especially those in creative industries, open plan offices are no longer enough. This is a key issue for tenants in office premises as they consider what to do with the space they are in.

Many companies are seeking to rethink their working environment to enhance creativity, brainstorming and innovation. We are now in a world where an office containing just desks and chairs is simply not sufficient. In recent years, a more dynamic approach is being taken not only to encourage collaboration but also to provide a variety of working environments in one place to accommodate different working methods.

A trend is emerging whereby companies are amending their fit out plans to ensure that a more modern approach is being followed. On one floor there might now be a combination of normal desk set ups surrounded by a variety of other working zones, including quiet pods and corners, breakout areas and kitchen table project points. The intention is for employees to be able to move seamlessly between these zones depending on what they are working on and who they are working with.
Whilst agile working and the softening of workplace design might seem to be an issue for an interior designer, before proceeding with any works it is important for a tenant to check for any limitations set out within its lease. The lease will set out what can and cannot be done at the property and, more often than not, alterations will require the landlord’s consent.

Historically, office fit outs have been relatively low maintenance. A tenant would simply move in its desks and perhaps put up some demountable partitioning, both of which generally would not need to be run past the landlord. Agile working, however, is not your typical low key fit out and could require some major alterations to the premises, such as the installation of kitchen points and structural changes to the floor itself.

When seeking to install a slightly alternative fit out it might be tempting for a tenant to simply consult an interior designer and get going with the work or just make the landlord aware of the its intentions and proceed to commence works following receipt of an informal response. It is important, however, for tenants to remember to obtain legal advice to ensure that the works are undertaken in accordance with the requirements set out under the lease: it is crucial to ensure that the landlord’s formal consent - and any other consents that may be needed, e.g. from any superior landlord - are obtained if required.

If works are undertaken without obtaining any necessary consent, the tenant will be undertaking unauthorised works in breach of the terms of the lease; in a worst case scenario this could provide the landlord with grounds to forfeit the tenant’s lease altogether.

For further advice on this topic please contact Katie Thomas.

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