Each day, companies announce new technologies that increase mobility. Yet each work day, I continue to drive to the office and sit inside a building with windows that do not open, with my laptop connected to a docking station while gorgeous spring, summer, and fall days pass by under-appreciated outside the window.
Thankfully, I am not alone in wondering if an indoor/outdoor workspace is possible.
Design researcher Jonathan Olivares was awarded a grant to investigate outdoor office spaces. His firm applied its expertise in industrial design to research the possibilities of outdoor workspaces on a more institutionalized basis.
Their findings, which consider both workplace and classroom needs, are currently on exhibition at The Art Institute of Chicago.
Outdoor Offices of the Future
The Outdoor Office exhibit offers several prototypes that include lighting, protection from the elements, and productivity.
They include suggestions for furniture designed to meet the needs of an outdoor office. Materials like UV-resistant shade cloth, recycled rubber flooring, and wood-plastic composites were used to build the design models. They account for permanent or temporary for business meetings, class meetings, or individuals.
The possibilities of such a system in widespread use gives one hope for the future of technology as it relates to the common office worker.
Imagine setting up a portable office in Central Park or Golden Gate Park. How motivated would you be to go to work every morning?
Thanks to industrial design research that focuses on productivity like the research done by Olivares, this idyllic scenario may be here before we retire from the work place!
Concerns for Outdoor Offices
Working outside also brings up a number of reasonable concerns for employers.
- Will workers in outside offices be able to stay focused on their tasks?
- Can they control workers who are outside with more liberty to move about?
- What about the potential for equipment failures due to moving devices around?
These and other questions are only going to be answered when companies actually make the move and measure the difference.
While employers’ concerns are very legitimate, let’s consider the upside to allowing employees to work outdoors. For one, outdoor office spaces could be located on company property so that employees can still be monitored, rather than a telecommuting option.
Working outdoors could also be regulated. For instance, certain weather conditions certainly are not conducive to working outdoors, even with much of the technology that Olivares suggests. At other times, a pending project may be better suited to indoor conditions; if a lot of paperwork and files are involved, a windy day or even simply carrying the loads of files outdoors may not be worth the effort.
Employers may also find that employees are actually much more focused and productive with tasks. The outdoor air and a connection with nature could restore mental attentiveness. Some people may brainstorm better when taking a walk barefoot in the grass rather than in circles in their office. Being in nature clears the mind or provides peace for many people, which means that they may be much more able to tackle the difficult and mundane tasks outdoors.
At the very least, the idea of an outdoor office space is very inspirational. To be able to open up the windows or move to a covered, outdoor area to work for simple tasks is very exciting.
This gives me hope that maybe in the near future I will get the chance to kick off my shoes, plop down under a nearby oak tree, and finish that report that I keep putting off.