Working from outdoors is the new WFH—here’s how to get yourself set up

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Since the start of the pandemic, the entire world has been moving its business outside. Restaurants, theaters, even gyms have all embraced the outdoors as safe places to gather, with the improved ventilation being the driving force for mitigating COVID-19.

As working from home has become part of the norm, working al fresco is the latest world to open up. And, according to clinical research, we’re more productive because of it. An article published recently by Yale University outlines the beneficial effects that exposure to nature has on our health. Imagine what this could bring to your day-to-day grind.

Gus Hattrich, CEO and founder of St. Louis-based Paradowski Creative, says, “Nature can reduce our heart rate [and] blood pressure, improve mood, and reduce the production of stress hormones.” His award-winning marketing agency set up a two-acre camp where employees can work outside.

He continues, “After a year, I felt like it was critical to find a way to use nature to help our company and our clients heal. What we’ve learned from 2020 is that we can feel technically connected through Zooms, social media, messaging apps, but simultaneously feel incredibly isolated. The value of work from outdoors is the connection it brings to the physical world. Being in nature helps reconnect us to something bigger than ourselves.”

Opening up your own patio, deck, or backyard transforms the WFH culture into WFO—that’s working from outdoors. Whether you’re solo or there’s an invite for local co-workers to join, here are a few tips on creating your ultimate “office” with a view.

Top quality furniture sets you up for success

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Credit: Roche Bobois / Edgedesk

Working from outside should equally as functional–and comfortable–as working from inside.

Even though you’re surrounded by chaise lounges, backyard picnic blankets, and folding chairs, it’s important to remember your workday isn’t time for a barbecue or a pool party—save a dip for your 5:01 pm meeting. But, we’re not talking about distraction here, we’re talking about posture.

Marc Rosenberg, founder of ergonomic desk system The Edge Desk, explains, “The benefit to working from home is tremendous, but there are challenges. When people try to get outside, they gravitate to lounge chairs or the lawn and horrendous posture leads to neck, back, and shoulder pain which kills productivity.”

According to experts from Steelcase (one of the design masterminds behind LinkedIn’s experimental outdoor workspace in Sunnyvale, California), when setting up a successful outdoor space for work, avoid using lawn chairs that can lead to bad posture and eventual discomfort. Instead choose seating designed for work that supports a variety of postures.

Hattrich agrees with investing in a high quality folding chair.

He says, “This will allow you to set up your outdoor office in as many locations as you want. Parks, camp sites, backyards—your outdoor corner office can be anywhere with the help of a great chair.”

Flexible furniture pieces, such as folding desks, small ottomans, stools, or pedestals (in light colors to minimize heat absorption), can be easily moved around and serve double-duty as side tables.

Store all of your necessary papers and resources in a cane box or a carry-all basket, so you can grab and go when the outdoor urge hits.

Take advantage of digital solutions

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Credit: Oakywood / Humanscale

Step up your tech game with a new laptop holder or an adjustable stand for when you're on and offline.

A streamlined workstation is key during WFO. It's best to avoid heavy, cumbersome monitors and as many cables as possible. Ditch the desktop monitor and opt for a laptop.

Sergio Silva, design director with ergonomic home office brand Humanscale, says, “Your neck and eyes will thank you.”

Laptops have their own outdoor challenges. Silva explains, “Even though laptops are ideal for this situation, they can cause injuries over time if simply positioned directly on the table surface. Instead it's best to opt for a lightweight notebook holder that elevates the screen and reduces the risk of long-term injury by promoting good, ergonomic posture.”

Easily turn a patio table into a standing desk with a laptop holder or an adjustable stand. Just make sure to choose one with ventilation, since you may be working in direct sunlight.

When you pop inside for lunch, store your laptop out of the sun in its own dock, otherwise it will overheat and end your workday prematurely.

Maximize the pros and minimize the cons of sunlight

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Credit: Tech Shade To Go / Spyoptic

These anti-glare gadgets are sure to encourage you to work outdoors on the brightest of days.

Those overhead fluorescent office lights have nothing on the sun. While sunlight triggers the release of serotonin (which can make you more alert), it can also cause eyestrain and pesky sunburns. Protect yourself by setting up shop in the shade under trees, porticos, or umbrellas.

Filed under “we wish we had invented that,” this pop-up tent for your laptop not only protects your device from overheating in direct sunlight, but also significantly cuts down on its resulting glare (caused when light bounces off at what’s known as Brewster's angle).

Polarized sunglasses are another WFO must-have for blocking screen glare. If you’re not sure where to start, you can try these super tough shades that block over 99% of surface glare or a pair of stylish aviators.

Build a quiet space with no distractions

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Credit: Getty Images / Chabybucko

Be sure to situate yourself in an area with minimal distractions for work efficiency outdoors.

When Eleanor Roosevelt said, “With freedom comes responsibility,” she probably wasn’t talking about doing yard work or tossing the Frisbee around during the 9-to-5. But, she still has a point. When you’re in the backyard, it’s tempting to go rogue. A walk about here, a dip in the pool there.

Instead, stay focused by creating a natural barrier until your work is done.

Angelo Randaci, master gardener and horticulture expert at organic gardening product line Earth’s Ally, says, “Beautiful outdoor spaces can raise the morale of employees and are great for health. People find stress relief and healing when interacting with nature or even viewing it through a window. Incorporating elements of nature into the workday gives your brain a boost, increases productivity, focus, and creativity.”

He continues, “Use trees, either in containers or planted, to divide an area or block out distractions.”

By putting different-sized trees, perennials, and annuals into attractive containers, you can separate yourself from any distractions (such as that pile of leaves that needs bagging), while still embracing nature.

Embrace the fresh air with a fresh perspective

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Credit: Getty Images / Svetikd

Maintaining a well-balanced workflow while outdoors starts with appreciating your surroundings.

While you’re at work outside, try to lose that indoor mentality if just for a bit. It’s important to embrace the fresh air, sunshine, and birds chirping.

Hattrich says, “We need to fight the urge to sit behind a screen all day answering emails.”

His solution: Put your phone down, pick up a pen, and start writing. He says, “Use your time outside to brainstorm, calm your thoughts, and think about how to solve problems your business or your team is facing.

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