With the COVID-19 pandemic dramatically affecting the traditional work setting, commercial spaces have had to reconsider their designs in order to maximize employee productivity, keep customers safe, and remain relevant in the era of remote work and commerce.

Fortunately, there were many creative design trends with an eye on optimizing commercial spaces in place even before the pandemic, with a number of innovative building materials available to help commercial spaces thrive in 2020 and beyond.

Insulated Concrete Framing

One of the major benefits of remote work and commerce is that it cuts out the operating expenses of running a commercial space. Therefore, in order for commercial spaces to remain viable moving forward, every effort must be made to attain energy efficiency.

The best way to do this is by constructing with materials that offer high insulative properties, with the framing being at the heart of these efforts. With most commercial spaces covering thousands--if not tens of thousands--of square feet, even the tiniest cracks in a building’s framing can add up to hefty increases in utility costs.

As such, contractors should strongly consider using a tilt up wall design from wet-set, insulated concrete forms (ICF) when framing their commercial space. Not only does ICF offer a solid, one-piece structure that provides elite air and moisture barriers that will normalize utility costs in all weather conditions, but it requires a fraction of the machinery and manpower of traditional framing panels, leading to lower costs and energy consumption during the construction process.

Acoustic Ceiling Clouds

One of the major trends in commercial design in recent years has been to tear down walls to create more open, inviting spaces that not only enhance the sense of community and collaboration between employees and customers but help manage utility costs by increasing the amount of natural light that flows through a space.

While giving people the autonomy to choose their own spaces has done wonders for enhancing creativity and stimulating positive endorphins associated with the workplace, sound management can become a challenge for those groups attempting to hold a meeting where privacy and close attention to detail are necessary.

To combat this issue, acoustic cloud panels can be placed around a commercial space, as needed, to help reduce echoing and control sound transmission. Not only do these innovative structures absorb sound and control acoustics in bustling buildings, but they can be aesthetically fabricated in a multitude of custom designs to provide a pleasing aspect that old-fashioned drop ceiling tiles cannot match.

Exterior Grilles and Screen Panels

To expand on the idea of natural light flow as a means of controlling electric costs, many commercial spaces feature large, oversized windows or entire walls made of glass.

While these features undoubtedly maximize the amount of sunlight flowing through a building, distractions from the exterior world, such as noisy passersby and/or blowing debris slamming against the windows, can be unavoidable with such layouts.

As such, the addition of decorative exterior screen panels or architectural metal grilles can help mitigate these issues. Not only do these customizable structures provide a trendy, modern facade to a commercial space, but they help control natural light flow while providing insulation from exterior noise and debris.

White Solid Surface Countertops

Commercial buildings are often subjected to a higher degree of wear and tear than residential spaces, creating the potential for high cleaning, repair, and replacement costs.

To help control these expenses, consider building countertops with a highly durable, nonporous material like a white solid surface. In addition to being extremely easy to clean and simple to repair, the white surfaces do an excellent job of reflecting natural light, making them an ideal choice for commercial spaces that feature an open design.

Matt Lee is the owner of the Innovative Building Materials blog and a content writer for the building materials industry. He is focused on helping fellow homeowners, contractors, and architects discover materials and methods of construction that save money, improve energy efficiency, and increase property value.