WRITER | SCOTT PHILP
The American workplace experience has changed forever for those able to work successfully outside the walls of their traditional office. While many are now working from home, a select few are taking it a step further and working productively outside in nature. The mental and physical health benefits of spending time outdoors are well documented and can enhance your work experience as long as the space is carefully selected, planned, and constructed.
So, what does it take to create an outdoor office area?
If the space is to be used frequently during the summer, spring, and fall, it may need to be located in a dedicated area. This could affect the layout of adjacent spaces and the overall flow of your entire outdoor living environment, so consider carefully. If the office area is to be used less frequently, perhaps a multipurpose area would be appropriate so it can be utilized for recreation when not functioning as an office.
Background noise is another important consideration in selecting an existing outdoor space or planning a future one. Proximity to road noise, wave action, wind, children or other family members, and pets are important factors in selecting a suitably quiet office location.
Obviously, the weather will affect an outdoor office space as well. High wind, rain, intense heat, or a quick cold front can seriously impact your working experience.
Successful outdoor office spaces can range from a covered patio table on a perfect sunny summer day to a true three-season room with auxiliary heat for spring/fall use and air conditioning in the summer. Permanent roofing is a great option, and canvas walls with windows can help create a controlled environment when needed and be whisked away during warm summer months. Sliding walls are also a fantastic way to maintain a comfortable temperature, and they afford easy access to the outdoors. When it’s chilly, electric heaters can be a simple solution; adding propane/natural gas heat is another great option for warmth. Electric mini-split units are a good choice as they can both heat and provide air conditioning.
Ensuring stable electrical and internet connectivity will be a must for most users when considering an outdoor work environment. Electricity is the lifeblood of a modern office, so ensure that the electrical breaker servicing your office outlets is large enough to handle the load you will place on it.
While WiFi is the easy choice when a strong signal is available, it may be worth considering a hardline or WiFi extender if access is intermittent. Installing a WiFi extender in a location distant from the home, such as a lakeside deck or cabana, might also afford the privacy necessary to conduct successful meetings and maintain focus. A strong cell phone signal is also vitally important when a conventional landline is not used.
You may also want to consider the usual duration of your calls or meetings. Will you be on the phone for five minutes or three hours? As call length increases, you will want to be more selective of your space, recognizing the benefits and limitations it has.
If video calls are part of your work experience, be sure that your backdrop makes the statement you want it to. Consistency will help reinforce that you are working in your version of an office and that others can count on your reliability.
It is apparent that previously seasonal residents are spending increasing time in their getaway homes, with a sizeable number looking to make a permanent move. The past year has fast-tracked the plans of many who had looked to retire in three, five, or ten years and proven that they can, in fact, work successfully from home at this stage of life.
A landscape architect or design professional can help you maximize your current outdoor spaces and fully integrate them into any open-air office plan you would like to create. Connecting design principles with building techniques and innovative materials is key in maximizing value in outdoor areas. Consider the opportunity to reimagine your work environment; this may just be the year of “fresh air” you are looking for!