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With summer right around the corner for those in northern hemisphere, many are eager to escape the office and spend more time outdoors.

But what if you could combine work and nature? It’s something several cities and companies have been trying to do, creating outdoor spaces where workers can get back to nature, but with all the trappings of the modern office, such as wireless internet, electrical outlets and desks.

Not all work is best done at the desk

Not all work is best done at the desk, says Jerry Tate, an architect and partner with London firm Tate Harmer. “Sometimes it’s best to talk at a meeting table, or a coffee shop – there’s no reason why a fair chunk of that stuff can’t be combined with sitting outside,” he says.

Branching out

In June 2015, Tate, along with artist Natalie Jeremijenko, created TREExOFFICE, an enclosed outdoor office space built around a tree in London’s Hoxton Square. Only eight people could use it at one time, but it was at capacity for the two summers it was in operation. It’s not going up in Hoxton Square this year, but it may go up in Chelsea instead, says Tate.

TREExOFFICE is an outdoor space built around a tree in Hoxton Square, near London’s so-called "Silicon Roundabout' - the hub of the city's tech community (Credit: Tate Harmer)

While the project was created to raise funds for the square – companies had to pay a fee to book the space – it was also developed to help workers increase their productivity.

Workplaces that incorporate natural elements are 6% more productive and 15% more creative

There’s plenty of research to suggest that being surrounded by nature, whether that’s having a view of trees and grass from an office window or having a plant at your desk, can help people work harder. A Human Spaces Global Report found that workplaces that incorporate natural elements, like greenery and sunlight, are 6% more productive and 15% more creative than offices that don’t.

If that’s the case, then shouldn’t working outdoors should be as good, if not better, than looking out the window? “Quite a few studies show that people become more relaxed, their heart rate slows and they become more creative when they connect with an outdoor natural environment,” says Tate.

Pop-up office

This month, the Outbox, an outdoor office space in Silver Springs in the US state of Maryland, reopened for the summer. It was created last year by real estate development firm Peterson Companies.

The Outbox co-working space gives people a chance to escape their cubicles (Credit: Peterson Companies)

The 40ft long, 10ft wide box is removed in the winter and put up again in the spring. Like the TREExOFFICE, it has all the amenities of an indoor office, including WiFi, outlets, desks for individuals and other collaborative spaces.

Unlike Tate’s space, the Outbox is free and available on a first-come, first-served basis. It’s also always packed, says Laurie Yankowski, a Peterson spokesperson. “People want to get outside the office and step away from their cubicle for fresh air,” she says. “We’re giving people an alternative space to work and collaborate.”

Right as rain?

Of course, working outside has its challenges – a recent experiment in New Zealand shows the downside of setting up an office at the mercy of nature: wind and rain can get in the way of work.

Last week, Graham Nelson, cofounder of New Plymouth-based Manifold Coworking and Event Space, set up an outdoor office for National Coworking Day.

Unfortunately, heavy rain and large gusts – not your typical office distractions – interfered with some of the work being done. Still, with a canopy keeping workers mostly dry, about 16 people at time worked for the entire day, he says.

The approaching New Zealand winter didn’t deter Graham Nelson from setting up an outdoor space – complete with wind and rain (Credit: Manifold Coworking and Event Space)

Despite the weather, he says he may open an outdoor office in the summer.

Noise is a bigger issue with the Outbox. It’s in a busy urban space, surrounded by shops and restaurants. “It’s for brainstorming, not for the person looking for a solitary environment,” says Yankowski.

While this trend of outdoor co-working spaces is still relatively new, tech companies like Spotify and Google have for years created outdoor work areas, with desks and comfortable chairs, for employees.

Tate thinks more businesses will try this in the future, as advances in technology make it possible to work anywhere. Furthermore, with more research emerging about how bad open-plan offices are for workers, employers are increasingly exploring new ways to keep employees engaged, happy and healthy.

Says Tate, “more people are asking themselves how they reconnect with nature and promote creative thinking.”

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