Workplace designers now routinely include biophilic elements because research shows having a connection with nature is beneficial to both productivity and wellness. So, encouraging employees to venture outdoors for part of the work day is a logical next step, and the idea is catching on. The outdoor office trend is expected to dominate the commercial design conversation in 2020 as more furniture options come to market and employers carve out workspace outdoors.
This next frontier of flexible workspace was featured prominently in June at NeoCon, North America’s largest commercial interior design trade show. NeoCon Plaza, a temporary outdoor amenity space, spanned the length of The Mart’s South Drive. Designed by Gensler’s Chicago team and brought to life in collaboration with Forward Fruit Branded Environments, NeoCon Plaza offered visitors a place to connect, collaborate, relax, recharge and unwind as they enjoyed the outdoors and sweeping views of the Chicago River, Riverwalk and Chicago cityscape.
“An effective workplace is critical, but it’s no longer enough,” observes Todd Heiser, managing director & principal of Gensler Chicago. “Employees want, and expect, an excellent experience at work, which means spaces with high levels of choice, variety and balance. Adding an outdoor element is another step in the evolution of choice and it is with this philosophy that we approached the NeoCon Plaza.”
Furniture manufacturers are getting ready now to roll out a new crop of outdoor product choices. “Great employee experiences can be enhanced by bringing people together in inspiring places. Outdoor spaces enhance well-being, support hospitality and expand the workplace ecosystem for creative collaboration,” said Allan Smith, vice president, global marketing at Grand Rapids, MI-based furniture manufacturer Steelcase.
“Outside is the new in,” agrees John Scott, senior workplace design strategist at Haworth, the Holland, MI-based furniture manufacturer. “In order to creatively develop solutions and reduce the stress in our work lives—go outside. The NeoCon Plaza gave attendees an immersive look into how these spaces can be successfully implemented.”
Facebook, Google and Casper are three progressive employers that you might expect to offer outdoor workspaces, and of course they do. But other more traditional companies—like LL Bean and Gilead Sciences—are also early adopters. There are as many ways to design an outdoor space as there are corporate cultures; however, try to achieve a combination of collaborative areas as well as private spaces for solo tasks. The workplace strategists at Steelcase’s Turnstone brand offer these tips for designing an outdoor workspace:
- Choose power-integrated furniture. There aren’t many outlets found in the wild, so choosing furniture that makes it easy to stay plugged in and fully charged is crucial to being able to work outside.
- Stick with light colors to minimize the heat absorbed by the furniture.
- Accessorize with heavy objects to fight the wind and keep papers in check while maintaining style.
- Ditch the lawn chairs; get seating that’s designed for work. Casual seating can lead to bad posture and uncomfortable working conditions.
- Keep cleanability in mind and select tables and chairs that are easy to wipe off. Provide shade with trees or umbrellas. There is such a thing as too much vitamin D. Stay cool and safe by avoiding the sun’s direct rays.