Picture a 70-degree day: blue sky, calm breeze, the smell of fresh-cut grass, the distant call of birds. A small band of colleagues, tablets and coffee cups at hand, gather in lounge chairs under a tree for a moment to connect, share conversation and refocus.
They could be meeting in their team space or a conference room, but they opt for the great outdoors—because it’s a beautiful day and there’s Wi-Fi and power access on the terrace. That’s the group’s favorite spot when the weather is nice and they need to discuss or debrief on a project. It’s a great haven for individuals who need a brain break, too.
Team members think of this terrace as their “outdoor third place”—one of those gathering places, like a coffee shop, that serves as a relaxing, welcoming, stimulating alternative to the first place (home) and second place (office).
The idea of having an outdoor breakout space on campus is the next stage in a movement to bring the third place into the workplace. The move comes in response to workers’ need for well-equipped on-site retreat spaces that encourage both creative collaboration and focused solo work.
Employees—whether they work in-house or nomadically—want environments that do more than just support their work. They want spaces that inspire and stimulate them.
And few settings do that better than a well-appointed work area on a patio, deck, rooftop or balcony.
“When you walk outdoors to have a meeting, you can see a look of refreshment come over people’s faces, even when they have a lot of work to accomplish,” said Lew Epstein, general manager of Coalesse, in a Steelcase article on corporate third places.
Even municipalities are getting in on the open-air third place action. Last year the city of Long Beach, California, won a grant to transform part of a public park into The Outdoor Office, “a space that encourages creativity, collaboration and productivity, and encourages residents to take work to the park.”
And in downtown Silver Spring, Maryland, a project with similar goals—an outdoor office space called Outbox—made its debut last summer. We’ll be watching to see how quickly this concept spreads to other cities.
Working outside can have its challenges, of course—wind and rain being the most obvious. But while we can’t control the elements, we can manage several factors that make for a great outdoor work experience:
- Reliable internet access
- Plentiful power outlets
- Comfortable, functional furniture
- Sufficient access to shade via pergola, canopy, awning, umbrellas or trees Scroll down for a few examples of outdoor office designs.
Scroll down for a few examples of outdoor office designs.
1. Outdoor lounge
Lounge-style seating graces this portion of Quicken Loans’ expansive rooftop patio in downtown Detroit. The Emu Ivy lounge chair, sofa, occasional table and pouf are part of the larger Emu collection of Italian-designed outdoor furnishings.
2. Sidewalk café
This café-style setting provides an outdoor meeting space with easy access to the indoors. Featured here are the Emu Heaven café armchair, Emu Re-Trouvé Pouf, Emu Round stool and Emu Round square tables.
3. Alfresco break room
This sheltered space has the feel of an outdoor break room, with tables and chairs ready for solo or collaborative work, reflection or conversation. A shaded patio outside Steelcase’s global headquarters in Grand Rapids, Michigan, features the Emu Pattern armless chair and Emu Pattern round table.