Extend the season, let’s work outside!


Dave Shaffer. Courtesy Interphase Interiors

It’s officially fall, but I can’t stop working outdoors.

Here in Michigan, this is a crazy idea. You can’t work in the snow. But you certainly can’t dismiss the call of those gorgeous summer (and even early fall) days.

The reality is that, despite living with four-season weather, outdoor work is an increasing trend that also can be a good investment.

We work with our clients to understand their culture and provide a space that motivates employees and helps with attraction and retention. Sure, there are more open offices today and private offices are scarce. We help balance a space so that it promotes collaboration, privacy, energy and restoration. Outdoor spaces can assist in all of those things and can do it in a space that you might not have considered before. Can it add to your overall square footage?

For commercial designers, it’s also a growing trend. In the future, you are likely to be competing for new hires with other spaces that offer outdoor spaces as an amenity.

Outdoor spaces often are used as social spaces and give people a great place to come to work. These are spaces with a more purposeful, classic use that can better stand the test of time than pool tables, slides or pingpong.

Outdoor spaces also can be economical and scalable; you can start with a picnic table near a side entrance. It is important to do outdoor spaces well. Safety and durability of furniture becomes more important outside, and as your outdoor space grows, it means more investment. Advanced technology and power doesn’t have to come right away but should be communicated with the purpose of the space. If you don’t have access to power and Wi-Fi, don’t position your outdoor space as a space to work. It could be positioned as a refresh area for offline work and unplugged breaks. You also can transition that space into a working area as it grows bigger. 

Here are four tips so that it’s not impossible to work outside in the cold, frozen north:

1. Bring the outdoors in. Create a space in your café for an outdoor umbrella table — make sure you utilize every ounce of natural light and use plants to invoke the outdoors. Research shows that natural elements can create focus, reduce stress and increase happiness. It also works to reduce consequences of seasonal affective disorder.

2. Plan for next summer. It’s not too early to think about using future outdoor spaces or a long-term plan for a great outdoor space. As you do long-term planning with your facilities teams, start talking about outdoor spaces and think about the spaces that people might already gather outside. Also, involve your staff in this planning — perhaps even making a special announcement. Being outdoors creates excitement and the anticipation makes warm weather more special.

3. Embrace outdoor space even in the snow or crisp fall days. Consider theme events such as a family day with harvest celebrations or snowmen contests. Adult celebrations could involve ice bars. You also can use fireplaces to create gathering spaces that encourage enjoying the outdoors for shorter stays.

4. This one is probably cheating but still worth mentioning: travel south. Many of us have to do this for business, personal events or even vacations. The next time you have a couple hours before your flight or between soccer tournament games, grab some time outside. Sorting emails, returning calls or catching up on industry headlines can seem less daunting with fresh air and some sunshine. In fact, some of our southern friends are looking forward to colder weather because it’s too hot to work outside in the summer.

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