The COVID-19 pandemic affected the business world in innumerable ways, including changing how and where we work. As offices and buildings reopen and people return to in-person work, companies must think about their environments and how best to maintain the safety of their employees.
Because social distancing remains a consideration for at least the short term, some companies have investigated turning their outdoor areas into viable, effective workspaces. Well-designed outdoor workspaces offer a solution for people to safely interact and work together.
During the pandemic, people held meetings in parks or parking lots and other outdoor spaces. But let’s face it – perching on a garden wall, falling into the deep recesses of an Adirondack chair, or gingerly sitting on a cold, hard stone bench is hardly conducive to productivity and creative thought.
With spring in full bloom and the winter cold and snow a distant memory, what better time than now to think about designing an outdoor space where your employees can work safely, collaboratively, and productively?
Tips for Designing Functional — and Comfortable — Outdoor Workspaces
A comfortable area with the right kind of seating and tables invites people to come together and creates a sense of community. Studies have also shown that connecting with nature reduces stress and mental fatigue. To create a safe, congenial workspace:
- Position furniture to allow a 6ft distance among people.
- Offer various spaces to accommodate different work modes and styles.
- Add power outlets, if necessary, or locate furniture groupings — chairs and tables — near accessible outlets.
- Use outdoor rated rugs, tile, or other floor coverings to assist with wayfinding and traffic flow.
- Incorporate sun protection via umbrellas, shades, screens, pergolas, or trees.
- Put planters, umbrellas, light stands and other ancillary design elements to work as barriers and boundaries between various outdoor spaces.
- Lengthen the outdoor season by adding heaters or fireplaces to take the chill off early spring or late fall days.
- Create layouts that accommodate mobile whiteboard or carts so that employees can easily access collaboration tools.
Finding the Perfect Furniture
When you’re evaluating the outdoor furniture you need, in addition to choosing commercial grade furniture, which adheres to commercial standards for weight, strength, durability — and stands up to heavy use in public spaces — keep these recommendations in mind:
Look for weatherability.
Opt for furniture with finishes able to withstand the elements. Outdoor furnishings need paint that resists UV rays, water, and — if you’re near the ocean — salt.
Evaluate different materials.
Teak wood offers a classic, timeless appeal as it gradually weathers to a silvery sheen thanks to its outer surface layer which oxidizes from the elements.
Powder coated metal furnishing resists knocks and scratches, withstands harsh winter climates (so it can stay out year-round), and cleans easily.
Weavings manufactured from synthetic resin offer durability and resistance to weather and sun. They’re maintenance-free, easily cleanable, and recyclable.
Steel offers a sleek design and stainless steel is perfect for the outdoors. You’ll need to clean it a bit more frequently to prevent discoloration, tarnishing, and rust.
Think about layout.
How will your employees use the outdoor space? After all, design and layout facilitate interactions, encourage collaboration, and stimulate communication. There’s no reason the furniture shouldn’t also offer comfort and increased quality of life — including at work.
Incorporate flexible furniture pieces like stools or ottomans into the design. They move easily based on what employees need — and double as small tables, too.
Choose color carefully.
Lighter colors reflect sunlight and minimize heat absorption. If you choose darker colors for some furniture, position that furniture under shade elements to keep temps from rising too high.
Mix it up! Don’t forget workspaces.
How do your employees like (or need) to work? Personal tables should sit at a height that’s ergonomic and comfortable for laptop use, for example. Offer different seating styles that support various postures so your employees have different options based on whether they’re sending emails or brainstorming with a colleague.
So many furniture options and combinations abound:
- Long tables with benches on one side and chairs on another
- Higher tables with stools and the option to sit or stand while working
- Smaller bistro-style round tables with chairs — big enough for lunches and laptops
- Solid or slatted tabletops and benches
Benefit of Working Outside
Challenges from the pandemic aside, working outside offers many benefits. Humans really weren’t designed to spend all day staring at a computer screen. Science has shown that a sedentary lifestyle increases potential health issues like obesity, heart disease, and diabetes. Working outside — even just a few hours each week — increases our exposure to fresh air, boosts energy and moods, and lowers blood pressure. Healthier employees also take fewer sick days, which helps support a company’s bottom line.
The variety of furniture options available can overwhelm anyone. Why not reach out to one of the CREA United members for help. Deb Hoffman, project manager and president of System Office Design is uniquely qualified to help you plan and complete your exterior office space design. She and her team understand and can recommend the most effective solution for meeting your employees’ work requirements while designing the right environment that complies with industry and COVID guidelines and regulations.