The Coolest New Trend in Office Space

Outdoor workspace offers the fresh air and change of scenery known for helping us be more productive. It sounds appealing, but is it right for you?
August 08, 2013

The pond is cool and still. The trees sway gently. The walking paths curve invitingly over rolling green hills. Every now and then, some form of wildlife peaks out to catch some sun.

No, it’s not a nature preserve. It’s the grounds of your average suburban corporate headquarters. And chances are, there are no people milling about. The place is completely deserted because the employees are hiding out in the sterile, overly air-conditioned office buildings. What is wrong here?

At NeoCon, the annual contract furniture industry exposition in Chicago, someone recently dared to ask: Why don’t developers make better use of the premium outdoor space that surrounds their properties?

As Elijah Brumback, a reporter for Michigan Business, writes, “Over the years, companies have concentrated on how work is accomplished within an office. But while they’ve provided new office designs to accommodate the mobile workforce, they haven’t paid the same attention to spaces outside the office buildings.”

Furniture and industrial designers, however, are now illustrating the value of outdoor office space. Instead of treating it as an afterthought, they are considering what kind of work can be done outdoors and how products can meet the needs of a workforce that is increasingly diverse, digitized and on-the-go.

Well Design’s Workaway outdoor pod, for instance, offers an alternative to the cramped cubicle with a cut-out cubic design that can be positioned in parks, plazas and anywhere in between. It features a built-in seat, a work surface and shade, is equipped with WiFi, and can be reserved ahead of time by checking in on a smartphone app.

Outdoor workspace offers the fresh air and change of scenery known for helping humans be more productive. It sounds appealing, but is it right for your company? Before hopping on this latest trend, you might first consider the pros and cons.

The Good

  • Outdoor workspace supports an open and relaxed culture. It encourages people to feel less trapped and expands their horizons.
  • The shared aspect of outdoor workspace facilitates co-working arrangements, as well as informal project collaboration and brainstorming.
  • An outside work option may improve employee recruitment, retention and satisfaction by providing more options for how work gets done. Plus, it looks cool.
  • When you have an outdoor workspace to retreat to, it’s easier to take recharge breaks throughout the day. You feel like you’re getting out of the office without really having to leave.

The Problematic

  • There are four seasons in most areas of the world. If the weather is bad, what do you do? Would the outdoor workspace only be used part of the year, and if so, is it worth it? 
  • It’s more challenging to maintain proper security in an outdoor workspace, as there are both physical and IT safety concerns. You’d want employees to be able to use the space easily, but would need to keep others out.
  • A pleasant outdoor space that’s designed like a recreational setting isn’t going to motivate people to work. It would need to look at least a little corporate, with the two office must-haves: power sources and privacy.
  • At the end of the day, people still need indoor space. Even if you reside in San Diego, there will be times when an employee needs less natural light to work on his iPad, or doesn’t want his 150-page report to fly away in the open air. You don’t want to double your real estate costs.

Do you think outdoor workspaces are realistic for your organization?

Read more articles about office design.

Photo: Thinkstock