With the COVID-19 pandemic, employers are looking for safe ways to bring their employees back to the office. Key factors to consider in the reopening of the office include sanitization, shift scheduling, and ventilation.
One solution that developers and employers have been considering to address the latter factor is outdoor office space (for example, in a courtyard or a terrace), the rationale being that coronavirus transmission is nearly 20 times more likely to happen indoors than outdoors. The open-air office could be a great solution for employers; to avoid depending on HVAC systems and reduce airborne transmission while employees are able to enjoy the social, cultural, and collaborative benefits of being in the office.
As Christopher McCartin, managing director of design and construction at real estate development company Tishman Speyer, told Metropolis Magazine: “The benefits of light and fresh air are pretty self-evident, and the pandemic only reinforces that.” He also noted that Tishman Speyer has been building “significant” outdoor space into its office developments across the country.
Read on to get a list of the benefits of outdoor office space, as well as tips on how to successfully bring your employees a comfortable outdoor workspace.
The benefits of outdoor office space
- Natural lighting: Let’s be real — sitting in an office under harsh fluorescent lights is not as appealing as working in the sunshine. And if your office space doesn’t have large floor-to-ceiling windows that let a lot of light in, you’re probably missing out on a lot of Vitamin D. Working outside is a great way to boost mental health and just generally enjoy the wellness benefits of natural light.
- Proximity to nature: Being in nature is a great way to help us recharge. With outdoor office space, you’re able to reap the benefits of ample greenery around you, which also offers health and wellness benefits!
- Better air quality: Because COVID-19 is largely transmitted in indoor settings, employees will want to avoid sitting in stale air for multiple hours a day, especially if your building’s HVAC system doesn’t get regular, comprehensive maintenance. Having fresh air can help minimize airborne transmission and just generally have a positive impact on your employee wellness.
- A nice change of pace from working from home: Chances are, not all of your employees will come back to the office 5 days a week — the pandemic has prompted employees to anticipate and expect greater work flexibility across a variety of industries. With an outdoor office, employees will be able to enjoy a nice change of pace from sitting inside working from home — especially if you live in major metropolitan areas where living spaces are smaller and outdoor space is harder to come by. This will motivate employees to get back into the office and break up their work weeks.
- Social distancing is easier: Generally, it’s easier to socially distance outdoors, as there’s more space that isn’t limited by a set of 4 walls. This will increase your employees’ ability to be safe and to follow social distancing recommendations and guidelines.
Tips for creating an outdoor office space
Consider your climate: Because we don’t all live in a sunny, warm climate year-round, you might be thinking: how would outdoor office space work in less-than-favorable weather?
For example, what would you do on a chilly or a windy day? Or conversely, what if it’s too hot? Never fear — there are outdoor office solutions for a variety of types of weather. You may want to install panels to protect against wind, as well as awnings or canopies to shield your employees from mild to moderate inclement weather. If you live in a hot climate, awnings will work great as well to shade your employees from the sun beating down — they’ll also help to prevent sunlight hitting laptop screens and decreasing visibility. You may even want to install fans to help cool down the area further. And if it’s cold, invest in heat lamps, such as the kind that restaurants with patios often have installed.
Fully equip the space: Outdoor office space should still have all the amenities of an indoor office. You’ll want to make sure you install power outlets and WiFi, where possible have a dedicated meeting room space, and just generally offer your employees as many of the amenities as they would have in your indoor office — but at the very least, make sure you have the necessities.
Get portable, outdoor-friendly furniture: The furniture for your outdoor office space should be easily portable, functional, and largely weather-proof. It’ll be important to invest in a routine cleaning service, as outdoor environments are prone to getting dirty quicker than indoor spaces.
What if you can’t get an outdoor office space?
We understand that getting outdoor office space may not be realistic for or readily available to all companies. Still, here are some things you can do to replicate the benefits of having outdoor office space:
- Search for an office space with great natural lighting: Look for a space with ample windows that let in enough natural light, so your employees don’t feel cooped up in a dimly lit space. (We can help you find the right space!)
- Keep your windows open: Weather permitting, it’s important to keep your office windows open to allow the circulation of air from outside, which will help to renew and refresh the in-office climate.
- Stagger shifts: You’ll want to greatly reduce your office capacity to promote distancing and to minimize the impact of airborne transmission. You can do this by scheduling employees to come to the office at staggered times, or on different days — for example, Group A comes to the office from 10-3 pm on Mondays and Wednesdays, and Group B heads in on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Splitting days will also allow for the opportunity to clean and disinfect the space thoroughly in between uses of the office.
- Opt to work at cafe patios: An alternative to having your own dedicated office space is to utilize nearby cafes with patio space. You may give some employees the opportunity to work out of an outdoor cafe and offer to pay for their coffees!