Business as Unusual: The Future of Workplace Design
After two years of working from home, employees are returning — sometimes reluctantly — to the office. Who can blame them? With a taste of working from sofas, porches, and backyards, and frequent breaks to amble around the neighborhood, team members find it challenging to head back inside. To help smooth the transition, many employers have introduced hybrid work models, where staff can spend part of their week in the office and part working remotely. Smart employers are going one step further. In addition to hybrid work models, they’re incorporating outdoor spaces into office design.
Outdoor office environments serve several important purposes. As Covid-19 lingers across the United States, an outdoor setup allows employees—especially those who are immunocompromised, or taking care of immunocompromised family members—feel safer. They also contribute to improved concentration and productivity, by removing distractions like impromptu deskside conversations and ringing phones. These spaces also present an opportunity to embrace sustainability, whether with green spaces, plantings, gardens, or eco-friendly building materials.
As many recent studies have proven, time spent in nature is crucial for maintaining mental health, and boosts employee satisfaction. This is doubly true among Millennials and Gen Z, who place much more emphasis on workplace amenities than their preceding generations.
Prior to the pandemic, many companies focused on bringing the outdoors in with green walls, indoor plantings, and natural materials meant to mimic an organic environment. There’s no doubt that these designs are both beautiful and beneficial. But they’re not the same as being outdoors, getting fresh air, and indulging in a physical connection with nature—an innate human desire, according to the biophilia hypothesis. Spending time outdoors, especially when walking, has been proven to reduce stress and boost creativity, idea generation, and problem solving. And reduced-stress environments have another important benefit: they improve interpersonal relationships.
The type of outdoor office space you choose will depend on your climate and the footprint of your building and grounds. For example, a rooftop or balcony space can be converted into an outdoor garden, using planters or capsule rooms to define areas for work and socializing. A large yard might be landscaped to mimic a small park, with benches for quiet contemplation and one or more areas with sofas and tables for breakout groups. Add flexible seating and tables to a hardscaped patio to encourage collaborative work, and cozy spots for solo breaks. If space allows, a walking trail provides an opportunity for team members to exercise, and can also serve as a spot for walking meetings, which have been shown to boost energy, improve productivity, and increase brain function.
Incorporating a capsule room in a rooftop garden affords seating, a convenient desktop, privacy and shade.
Garden benches offer employees a space to think throughout the busy day.
Your design choices can serve multiple purposes that garner the respect of your team. Bike racks simultaneously promote healthy living and sustainable clean air.
Outdoor office spaces are an investment, but make good practical sense. They allow you to not only create spaces your employees look forward to using, but also improve their mental and physical health. And by using live plants and durable natural materials, your business can be part of creating a more sustainable business world. When designing your outdoor workspace, take these considerations into account:
Without air-conditioning or humidity control, an outdoor space in a warm climate can quickly become undesirable. Include sunshades, pergolas with roof panels, canopies, umbrellas, or awnings to protect against the hot sun. Water features, fans, and misters can help cool the area. For regions with cold seasons, upholstered outdoor furniture, firepits, fireplaces, and heat lamps will maintain a comfortable work environment.
Most employees name a strong Internet connection among their most-needed tools. Incorporating WiFi extenders into your outdoor space will ensure they can continue to do their work.
Make sure your team has choices for where to sit and place their equipment, and enough lightweight options that they can move around for breakout groups or solo or pair work. Outdoor rugs can help define separate spaces, and add texture and color to your design.
This helps with both confidential conversations and minimizing distractions among other employees working in the outdoor space. Plants, screens, retaining walls, and free-standing walls and dividers all help create sound and physical buffers.
The ability to plug a phone, laptop, or tablet into an electrical outlet often determines where a staff member opts to do her work.
Live plants, flowers, herbs, and trees aren’t just pretty; they also offer mental health benefits. The calming influence of nature helps people concentrate better, retain more information, and perform with greater accuracy.