Connecting people with nature in the workplace is not a new trend. Decades of research and countless studies have proven that incorporating natural elements in the spaces where people work has enormous benefits. For example, daylight and views of the outdoors have been shown to increase happiness and cognitive support, and biophilic designs can reduce stress and enhance well-being. Designers have been using this knowledge to bring the outdoors into the office for many years.
However, as humans, we still need time outside to boost our physical, emotional, and cognitive well-being. The increased use of technology has tethered us to inside spaces. While mobile devices can help us work from anywhere, much of our work is still dependent on being inside buildings to access Wi-Fi, networks, secure data, and larger, more stationary equipment—both digital and analog. All this time spent indoors has created a more intense need for people to experience the counterbalance offered by nature to support overall health and performance—a key reason the drive to bring indoor office work to the outdoors is now on the rise.
The movement toward hybrid work has provided the opportunity for more choices in where we work: home, office, and third places. With the office as the hub of hybrid work, providing areas for connection, restoration, and focus is important in creating an experience that will draw people to the workplace. As we see an increased desire for outdoor living spaces in the residential market, we also see that same demand for outdoor spaces in the workplace.
National Association of Home Builders
This desire to be outdoors might be attributed to increased stress in the workforce. In a recent survey that was part of the Gallup State of the Global Workplace 2022 Report, 44% of people answered that they experience high levels of stress on a daily basis at work, and 21% said they have feelings of anger daily.
Numerous studies have shown that exposure to nature can reduce the production of stress hormones and lift a person’s mood. Being able to address these issues at the biological level can increase focus and therefore, performance. In fact, one University of Michigan research study found that 20-30 minutes of sitting or walking in nature 3 days per week significantly reduces stress-inducing hormone levels, and another U of M study concluded that interacting with nature for just 1 hour increases attention spans by 20%.
We can easily see that working outdoors has benefits for people and their employers. So, what can companies and leaders do to support it? First, we should think about what activities we can encourage, and then, make sure that the spaces support those activities.
Social interactions like lunches and coffee chats are the easiest outdoor activities to support. They require little technology, and we already consider them mini “getaways.” So, people are used to leaving the office or stepping outside as part of the experience. But how do we incorporate outdoors as we do other work—not just as we take breaks and interact socially? Think about moving interviews, 1-on-1 meetings, and brainstorming sessions outside. Or just start taking phone calls outdoors. It’s important to note that when leaders schedule meetings or work outdoors, it will encourage others to follow their example.
The approach to designing outdoor spaces to accommodate work activities isn’t that much different than designing indoor spaces. While regional climates and geographical features may affect how much and when space is available, cafés, meeting rooms, community spaces, retreats, and lounge area designs can easily be translated to outdoor settings. The product selections will, however, need to be able to withstand the elements. The good news is that there are many beautiful, yet practical options in outdoor furnishings.
Water- and UV-resistant lounge furniture, café tables and chairs, outdoor rugs, lighting, and umbrellas create comfortable spaces where people can connect and collaborate. Wi-Fi can also be extended to outdoor spaces, so people can share and access the data they need. You can even consider investing in covered and enclosable patios, heaters, and elegant gas or electric fireplaces to expand use for evenings or colder months.