Adaptive, Distanced Modern Office Design in the New Normal

The new normal is creating unique challenges for interior designers and architects alike.

The current state of the world offers a series of complex challenges for interior designers and architects developing new spaces. Before, people looked to connect and share within communal spaces, balancing individuality with group dynamics. Now, public synergy is altered dramatically, with distance and personal space as the new standard. As a result, designers are adapting, making use of established elements to facilitate more expansive dimensionality with time-tested measures and components.

Personal Dynamics in a New World

Bosse Room-in-Room Silver Frame

Each of us has encountered enough of this “new normal” at this point to write books on the subject. Out in public, comfort is not a priority, people wear masks and keep their distance, taking wide berths to avoid each other. At home, where we’ve increasingly found ourselves over the past year, people want to feel more comfortable than ever, especially as they work remotely. We now see the need for functional office spaces and professional office furniture is being adapted on a broad scale that’s truly never been seen before. “We know that work will become more localized, but despite the possibilities presented by newfound flexibility,” Gabrielle Golenda writes in Surface Magazine, “the prevailing view is that people will still need human-to-human connection and, therefore, workspaces will be progressively dispersed across spatial typologies as sundry hybrid approaches emerge.”

What This Means for Designers

Less obvious, however, is that as the world has changed, our connection to spaces has changed alongside it. As a result, this new dynamic has forced interior designers and architects working on new spaces to adapt, and to design with many (often conflicting) elements in mind at once.

Even so, there are still plenty of practical ways to adjust and build within this changing world. At its core, designing in the “new normal” is essentially a reconsideration and reimagining of existing elements in bold, innovative ways that work to bring out the best in the people that use these spaces. As Elizabeth Lowrey writes in Fast Company, “Now, because the office is no longer a mandate, it must become a magnet — a genuinely welcoming place where employees want to be, a place of social connection and great tech where they feel a sense of belonging and can do their best work.”

Reefs Snail Sofa with Privacy Walls

The Form and Function of Distance

Arguably, the new normal can be summed up in one word: distance. In office spaces, in particular, we have seen a major trend toward building open spaces for social distancing, increasing air quality and ventilation, creating space for more movement of people within offices, and incorporating easy-to-clean materials throughout.

Designing Office Spaces with Distance in Mind

At the office, distance is vital, and will continue to be so as people return to their office buildings this year. As a result, we’ve seen an overnight change to using indoor spaces in novel ways. Whether in existing or new offices, designers are increasingly incorporating isolated space environments through the use of pods and the “room-within-a-room” concept.

Bosse Room-in-Room Black Frame

The Bosse Acoustic Pods and Bosse Room-in-Room System for example, solve the primary problem of personal space and social distancing easily, and effortlessly. Of course, not everyone in an office can be placed in an enclosed space. In addition to pods, designers are using novel solutions like glass barriers, curtains and folding screens, or measuring devices installed in creative and delightful ways, that function well in both indoor and outdoor working environments.

Circulation, Ventilation, and Open Space

In order to facilitate the necessary movement of air and people through spaces, designers are looking for ways to improve air flow and circulation, as well as ventilation. As opposed to crafting designs that attempt to cover every available inch of space, designers are now opting for as much open space as possible and retrofitting old spaces for new uses.

For starters, though it might seem like heresy, some are advocating to get rid of the formal conference room for good.  Instead, designers can install lounge furniture with screens that can create space delineation throughout the office and end-users will opt to communicate naturally via Zoom while maintaining plenty of social distance.

Additionally, more offices are interested in the use of air purifiers to produce cleaner air all day long. Designers can look for ways to fit these into new or existing spaces with elegance and style or turn to the Bosse Acoustic Pods and Bosse Room-in-Room Systems with the Bosse Ion Cloud system already built in.

Cempa MicroSilver Poly

Clean Materials for Clean Spaces

Given the necessity of a constant cleaning of surfaces in public spaces, designers have begun to incorporate more easily cleaned materials. These include classically elegant materials like glass and metal, which are less vulnerable to bacteria growth due to their nonporous nature. Architects and interior designers are also looking to materials that resist bacteria on their own, such as MicroSilver, known for its antibacterial properties.

In upholstery, designers are looking for fabrics with dual functionality, such as anti-microbial vinyl and high-performance fabrics, as they are easily cleaned and in high demand from clients looking to protect their employees. As Elyse Belkin from Momentum Textiles states “Textile products such as Crypton Green, Naked Nylon, Silica, EPU and Clean Vinyl are all important upholstery categories as they are all bleach cleanable and withstand even the most rigorous cleaning protocols.”

For designers, the new normal relies increasingly on ingenuity involving space and flow. By using pods and rooms-in-rooms for social distance, creating  space delineation and traffic flow by specifying collaborative lounge furniture with screens, installing air purifiers, or offering easily cleaned products and environments, interior designers and architects are making the world of work better every step of the way.

As always, designers find ingenious ways to adapt to the new normal and to build spaces for everyone to live and work harmoniously, however challenging the circumstances may be.


Architect Magazine—“An Open and Shut Case for Reducing COVID-19”

Bloomberg CityLab- “How to Design a Post-Pandemic City”

Fast Company— “The Surprising Way to Build a Productive Organization in 2021”

McKissack & McKissack “Reopening Offices Right: A COVID-19 Commercial Interior Design Playbook”

Surface Magazine “The Future of Work Might Look Like This”

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