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Preparing the office space for the New Normal

Preparing the office space for the New Normal - Urban Nest

Ingeborg Bruinewoud |

Illustration: Hunter French for Vice

We are living in extra-ordinary times. Although 2020 became the year of the black swan, we slowly moved through the process of denial and anxiety and are now entering the stage of adjustment and reevaluation to prepare for a new normal. A new normal in which social distancing might be here for up to two years, combined with periods of lock down. Part of this preparation is a critical examination of the current status of every office space...  

Current shifts

People working in offices (and most other people as well) are currently going through a stage of constant change in their surroundings while being in a stand still at home. This causes a change in needs and might in the long term change mentality as well. We'll sketch some current shifts and possible consequences to set the stage (but note: we are always a bit on the optimistic side!).

Online everything

The inevitable shift to online has accelerated here in the UAE. Where in other countries online shopping, working from home and weblectures were already part of the daily routine, here we just needed a little push. The spike in online shopping is a blessing for our urbannest.ae online shop. The working and schooling from home provides us with some interesting new challenges; how to furnish your rooms to enhance productivity and focus? What to do to keep creative juices flowing?
At the other end of the online spectrum we see the growing need for offline and face to face contact. For real human touch and scheduled time away from screens. Every trend has its counter reaction, and scarcity feeds needs…  

The blessing of slow
The pressure on most of us is changing; working from home, combined with home-schooling children or juggling several other balls is no mean feat. We’re losing time that we usually would have spent on the job to other obligations. And surprisingly; getting things done and productiveness is still there. Turns out that we could do our jobs better when we’re not focussed on the time spent on a task, but rather the result. Imagine how much needless time has been spent in offices all these years… Also; people often work even when they’re not supposed to (checking e-mails or making that extra call in the evening). Now we are away from our desks anyway, it is easier (and in some cases necessary) to schedule, plan, and stop working within reasonable hours. This could be the end of time-oriented productivity, and us valuing time spent over result. Would this mean we will work more part-time and more from home in the life after?
Slowing down gives us also the time to think and overthink the life we were living. With big uncertainties we have to live with now and all possible and probable outcome for the future, people start to rethink what is important. Now time-pressure is gone, the urge to go from urgent to important is there. 

The reevaluation of jobs and work 
While some of us are slowing down, others have to give all they have and even more than usual. Our modern-day heroes are the people keeping our economy running and people safe and healthy.

The regulations were already clear on what the essential jobs are in our society. People in healthcare, but also teachers, people working in supermarkets, cleaners and delivery guys. People that sometimes were painfully overlooked in our society and system turn out to be the pillars of that system.
Sitting behind a desk while managing someone who manages someone who manages someone who is actually doing something on the other hand, seems less necessary nowadays. Stimulating the discussion about bullshit jobs and people reevaluating their own positions; are they even having any positive impact with that what they are doing most of their days?
Would this mean we will see less managers in the future? Will we see less people in offices anyway?

Let’s speculate: future offices

Although some are starting to get used to this new (hopefully temporary) normal with staying at home, combining working with homeschooling and all other kind of obligations, others are already dreaming about the life after.
Now government is allowing offices to open again (although under restrictions) the time has come to start thinking about the impact change in work and jobs might have on the future office.  

With some of the changing needs and trends now, it is possible to explore some possible futures.
Work from home is here to stay but probably not in the quantities we are doing it now. A balance needs to be found for on- and offline, productiveness and time.
With the current restrictions it is clear how the office needs to look like now; social distancing needs to be possible, resulting in only 20 or 30% of the workforce being present. This asks for some prioritization and creative thinking. We need to be economical with our physical presence in the office when we have to share it with others, probably resulting in no more 9-5 and no more working overtime.
For the actual appearance of current offices one thing is sure; this is the end of the open-plan office. While researchers have been warning us for the risk of stress, subtle sexism, and decreasing face to face contact in open-plan office before, now the health threat of infecting others is a new reason to re-assess those often cool-looking but less often happy-making office plans. The office of the future? It most probably is the office of the past.

The leading role of the interior designer
With the expectation of up to two years of social distancing with periods of lockdown, it is very necessary that every company starts rethinking their current office situation.
We need to think about compartmentalizing our interior spaces to be able to re-start socializing safely, but we don’t have to go down the road of the good old (but boring) cubicle. There’s a chance and challenge for interior designers to facilitate for social distancing during face to face meetings while still finding creative solutions and turning a workplace into an inviting environment.

Playfulness, flexibility and solitude
Those three seem to be the keywords to get people into an office and facilitate them the best in getting things done. Playfulness because we still need some something to elevate the mood. Small quirks and winks can light up a room. Enhancing ‘play’ in adults can even help with productivity and creativity. It comes as no surprise that LEGO is found on many ‘brainstorm tables’ in creative agencies. Note: do keep the distance-rule in mind.
Flexibility because people won’t be coming in at 9 and leaving at 5 and won’t be sitting at their own desk all that time. Companies will try find ways to work in shifts, desks need to be able to switch from owners and the purpose of a room needs to be changeable depending on which person or team is in there.
With the vanishing of the open office plan there should be room to explore the other end of the spectrum; silence and solitude. Now social distancing is there, and probably will be for a while, there is finally eye for this much overlooked productivity and creativity enhancer. Also: with room for solitude an office will be more welcoming to introverts, who can be found in nearly every office but are easily overlooked too.   

Our recommendations 

We’re really proud to work together with designers providing for this playfulness, flexibility, and solitude like New Citizen Design and Droog.
Some items from their collections would really work in the current and near-future situation and would prepare the office for an uncertain future… 


‘Vider is a beautiful solution. 
This room divider adds some flexible cachet to any interior. In black & white for a bold statement, or in champagne or mint to dissolve in and reflect the interior surroundings, and to add to the atmosphere.’
Note; this screen is foldable and can be adjusted for any space.


‘Belvedere is a ladder made to reach uncharted heights and gain a different perspective. Belvedere is an invitation to take a step up. From atop our perch, the world below acquires new clarity, we come down with. A renewed vision of our own personal space.’
Note; with its 2 meter height, you are always on the safe side!


By Mark-Jan Meerdink for New Citizen Design
Reading table and room divider in one. Magazine screen cover improves looks and acoustics. And important nowadays: keeps people separated.
The different widths of the frame are determined by the average magazine size and the distribution of magazines/wires to make a well-balanced screen.


'In response to a society of action and rational thought, Paradosso 'let it go' invites the desk worker to take a distance from production, or the busy cosmopolitan to take a few minutes rest. A creative addition in numerous interiors like workspaces, lounges, lobbies, beach areas, platforms, waiting and retail spaces, filmstudio's, exhibition halls, festivals, you name it. 
The design stimulates the the imagination, allowing the unconscious to wander, creating stories between people while enjoying a back massage.' 


‘Rocking has physical, mental and emotional health benefits. It releases endorphins and calms the mind, improving balance. The high quality and minimalist design of the Swing Chair makes it a desirable piece for a living or office space, lobby, restaurant or cafe.’

Last but not least: don’t forget the home office
With the option of us working from home more often and for a longer period than most might have expected, it is important to create a space at home that gives the option to withdraw and find silence. Flexible use of furniture might come in handy here, as well as a wisely chosen color scheme that helps to focus.

Long story short: there is work to do! 

We’d love to curate and facilitate in your future-office projects or help you with the styling of your home office. Contact us to see what we can do for you.

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