How to take the office outside as you return to work

Summer is here and it’s time to make the most of it! There are lots of reasons why creating an outdoor space as part of your workplace is a good idea, from boosting mood, mental health and productivity to reducing the risks of COVID transmission. Giving employees a chance to get away from their usual workstations also boosts collaboration and creativity by allowing them a change of environment and a place to recharge.

We look at how businesses can set up an outdoor workspace, when to use it and why it’s a worthwhile investment.

How to create an outdoor workspace

Setting up an outdoor office space is relatively simple provided you have some outside space available, whether that’s a patio, a rooftop terrace, green space or even a converted carpark! Here are our top five tips.
  1. Furnish your outdoor workspace with a mixture of large and small tables to allow for both group meetings and solo workers.
  2. Choose comfortable outdoor chairs that encourage an upright working position and be sure to have plenty of seat cushions available.
  3. Think about the purpose. Do you want it to be a casual meeting space where employees can go to collaborate or take a break? If so, then outdoor lounge furniture may be a good option. But if you’re planning it more as a quiet work area then regular tables and chairs will suit better.
  4. Provide a parasol for each table so that the space is still usable on very hot, bright days.
  5. Make sure the office WiFi extends to cover the new outdoor area.

How to encourage staff to use outside space

The right outdoor furniture set up is key; once you have that in place, be sure to put out plenty of communications to all employees about the availability of outdoor space. Be clear that the area is freely available to all staff at any time and should be treated as just another part of the workspace. Encourage team leaders to hold meetings outside to get people used to the space.

Think about whether you want to provide any extras that would make it easier to use the open air space, such as free sunscreen in the office bathrooms and/or a water refill station outside.

You should also make clear that, as an extended office space, the outdoor area is non-smoking as this could put some staff members off using it.

When to take a meeting outside

If a meeting doesn’t require a screen, take the team outside. It’s a great option for creative sessions and brainstorming in particular. In fact, creativity improves in new environments and in green spaces, so, by combining the two, the ideas are sure to flow. (You can always bring a flip chart outside with you if you need somewhere to draw a mind map.) Commandeering the al fresco work area is also ideal if you’re meeting as a large group, giving you more space than a meeting room and disrupting fewer colleagues if the meeting gets noisy.

What are the benefits of working outside?

Physical health benefits

  • Sunlight boosts Vitamin D intake, which is essential in order to maintain a healthy immune system.
  • Daylight has a huge impact on the body’s circadian rhythm, helping to regulate sleep and wakefulness and leading to a better night’s sleep.
  • Being outside naturally reduces sedentary behaviour and encourages active movement.

Mental health benefits

Spending time outdoors in green spaces can help reduce feelings of stress, anxiety or anger and improve mood. Natural light is also shown to have a positive effect on mood and general wellbeing while fresh air will boost energy levels and alleviate some of the mental fatigue that workers experience after long hours spent concentrating on work, especially when spent in front of a screen. Not only is this good for mental health but it also improves productivity.

Some employees will also no doubt still be suffering from anxiety about being back in close proximity to other colleagues, being able to work outside instead of only inside the office may help allay some of those fears and give them the control they need to readjust to the workplace.

COVID-19 risk

It’s been well documented by now that the risk of transmission of COVID-19 is significantly lower outside. While many businesses have gone to great lengths to ensure that the workplace is COVID secure, it has limited some normal office activities, such as the ability to gather together in the meeting room. By taking a meeting outside, you can gather more safely in a larger group and so gain back the face-to-face interaction that we’ve all been missing.

While an outdoor workspace is a seasonal benefit (in the UK at least!), it is one that can be reused year after year. Chances are it will also be used for a longer season than you think, staff will love to get outside on the last good days of late September sun and some employees will be perfectly happy to wrap up and get some fresh air well into autumn.

As part of our Return to Work series, AJ Products is looking at different ways businesses can bring employees back into the workplace safely and still take advantage of the benefits workers have enjoyed while working from home. Find out about how to support employee mental health, how to implement a hybrid working policy and more.

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