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There's something so lovely about being able to work outdoors. The background sounds, the sunlight, the fresh air, the smells, it's all so... stimulating. And a decided change from working at your kitchen table that can provide the perfect refresh when you are having a mid-day slump.
The trend for WFO - working from outside - has obviously been on the rise over the last few years as we have shifted to a more working-from-home culture. However, if you find that you are moving your workspace to your backyard more often, it's probably time to get a proper setup. Perching your laptop on your knees while you precariously balance a coffee and a notepad on the arm of a garden chair isn't going to cut it long-term.
How to perfect your WFO set up
We spoke with designers to get their tips on how to create an outdoor space that's perfect for getting work done. Whether you want to use your backyard for more laidback parts of your working day or intend to use it for the majority of the week, these ideas are sure to inspire you to create a space that looks lovely and works practically.
1. Pick a shadier spot
Or at least have the option of being able to sit in the shade should you need to. The idea of working in the sunshine is far less enjoyable in reality and often totally impractical too. Making phone calls and sending the odd email from your phone is doable, but a whole working day with video calls is near impossible to do without some kind of shade.
This space designed by Kathy Taslitz is perfect for WFO - bright and sunny but no direct light that's going to cause havoc with screens. 'The surfboard-shaped table and teak and metal benches I designed for a narrow space. It has a marble top which is great for spreading out work. The pergola gives great coverage as well as allowing some sunlight to filter through.' says Kathy.
'Although the sunshine is great for your mental health and can lower blood pressure, it can definitely be a hindrance when working outdoors,' says Jerad Gardemal, principal and founder of JF Gardemal Designs. 'Ensure that the space you have chosen is conducive for Zoom calls by placing your workspace in an area with adequate shade and the least direct sunlight. This will reduce screen glare and lack of visibility when on calls.'
And designer Victoria Holly agrees, 'As someone who lives in Los Angeles, I love working from the outdoors whenever I can. What I've found is the biggest obstacle when it comes to getting work done: the sun and your computer screen. But this has by far been my favorite pandemic purchase: a computer sun visor from Amazon. It works so well and you can enjoy the sun and see your screen. I also love having a wifi extender so your wifi works the same outside as it does inside. Working outside is a little less about design and more about functionality and practicality, at least for me!'
2. Ensure your seating is practical and comfortable
The right seating is the most important aspect of a home office and it's just as important when you are WFO. You do have a bit more room for being creative with your outdoor seating as it's unlikely you are going to spend every day of the week working outdoors, but it still needs to be comfortable and supportive.
'When setting up an outdoor workstation, I would first think about whether you plan to work outside here and there as the mood strikes you, or whether you're planning for a full work day in the space for more or less the whole summer season,' says designer Kathy Kuo. 'It's important to consider a proper chair when working outdoors. It may seem appealing at first to just lay back in a chaise by the pool with your laptop, but ultimately that's not going to be comfortable for a full workday. Consider an office chair that's suitable for both indoor and outdoor use to make sure your posture isn't suffering as you Zoom alfresco.'
Jordan Clough, associate principal at Richardson & Associates Landscape Architecture agrees, 'The most important aspect when working outside is comfortable seating. Working from a chaise lounge looks great, but is hardly practical for any real length of time - no back support, balancing the hot laptop on your thighs - it's not ideal. I tend to work from a teak dining table and chair set that is sturdy, upright, and about the same dimensions as my desk inside.'
3. And get the 'desk' right too
And just as important as the chair is the home office desk. Consider how you use your desk indoors and let that influence what you choose for your outdoor desk. If you are a compact worker that needs space for a coffee and laptop, a bistro table would do you. Just ensure the construction is sound and the style is up to being worked from – avoid designs that have slats in the top, or intricate metal work, they look lovely but totally impractical for balancing a laptop. Choose something solid and smooth.
If you like to spread out at your desk, just go for an outdoor dining table. They are ideal if you want to co-work outdoors or like to host meetings too. Plus, you can actually use it for its original purpose when you aren't using it as a workspace.
4. Give yourself some privacy
'Privacy is needed in a work from outdoor setup. A garden office or pod, for example, is an amazing option placed in your backyard. The furniture can be configured to face the garden, but it provides electricity and seclusion to get your work done. If that is not an option, configure your furniture in a way that you create a box-like outdoor space that is not facing the street or visible to passersby. Doing this will avoid unwanted distractions, and create the privacy needed for productivity.' suggests Jerad.
'Try to find a spot that is a bit away from the fray so you can think or have a conversation without a lot of background noise,' agrees designer Kathy Taslitz. 'Shade is also key as your laptop may get too hot in direct sunlight. A comfortable chair and table make things easier for longer stays. A pergola or umbrella works perfectly for that purpose. Bring some drinks and snacks so you don’t have to keep running back for things inside. It’s handy to have an extension cord nearby in case you need to recharge and an outlet isn’t close by.'
This chic outdoor workspace was designed by Studio Webster Dale, and it has both the benefit of being surrounded by greenery and being slightly separated from the rest of the yard thanks to the differing levels. 'This outdoor space was conceived as a series of outdoor rooms in a similar way that an interior would work,' explains founder Stephanie Dale. 'Although small, different areas of the garden provide different functions and focal points. The pergola provides a shady spot to work from and the bespoke bench provides the opportunity to catch up with friends around the fire pit.'
5. Consider how your tech will work
'So many of us rely on a laptop for work and nothing cuts a session short like a worn-out battery. If you have an existing outdoor outlet, I recommend trying to plan your working-friendly space so that you can easily access it. Otherwise, having a licensed electrician install one is a very worthwhile investment,' suggests Kat Aul Cervoni landscape designer and founder of Staghorn NYC. If that's not an option and you intend to be working outdoors for long periods, consider a good quality portable charger that you can use as backup should you need to.'
Then of course there's internet. Lots of us will have the option to mobile hotspot should we need to, but check your data connection is strong enough to cope with meetings and downloads before you decided to rely on it. 'Think, do you have enough bandwidth to work outside? If not, consider investing in a Wi-Fi extender. You certainly do not want to spend your days being slowed down by constant buffering,' adds Jerad.
And there are other tech to consider. Headphones are a must if you will be in meetings. 'Noise is a consideration when attempting to work outdoors. Although nature and the noises it produces are exceedingly beautiful, birds chirping can be a distraction when trying to lead your team on a conference call. Headphones that are noise-blocking can help to filter Mother Nature so that you and your team can focus on the work at hand.'
6. Treat the space like a room in your home
Outdoor living rooms have been huge in the last few years. A dining table with a couple of cute lanterns won't cut it anymore, you need sofas, rugs, throw pillows, and decor in order to create that really seamless flow between indoors and out. And this kind of outdoor living room setup can be the ideal place to WFO.
'Make a point for your outdoor space to feel like a living room,' advises Marie Flanigan. 'There are so many beautiful outdoor furniture options that create a gorgeous vignette complete with sofa, chairs, and a coffee table. One item that will really make a space feel collected is a good outdoor rug. Since it’s likely that this space won’t be your everyday workspace, it’s not necessary to include any of the usual office décor like a desk. Think of this space as a flex space that offers a nice change of scenery while working.'
However, if you intend to work outdoors more often than not, you need to get a balance between relaxed living room vibes and the practicality of a home office. This space designed by Victoria Holly Interiors gets it spot on, and in a relatively small space too. The corner sofa gives that laid-back living room look, while still being a comfortable spot to work from. The table too looks lovely and fits with the indoor furniture outdoors aesthetic, it's also the height is right to work from and big enough to accommodate for whatever you might need for your working day.
7. Double up you outdoor dining space as a work space
If you have a small backyard or don't necessarily need a dedicated WFO spot, you can always double your outdoor dining space as a place to work from.
'If you have an outdoor dining table, go 2-for-1, and use that as a workstation, suggests Joshua Smith. 'Because most outdoor chairs are designed for relaxing, not work, think about investing in an ergonomic chair cushion or a lumbar support pillow that works with your outdoor seating. If you don’t have a table to work from outdoors, a lap desk is a great cost-effective solution.'
And again, treat this space as you would a room inside your home. And a table cloth, some fresh flowers, comfy cushions, and throw down a rug under the table which always helps to soften and zone the space.
What are the benefits of working from outdoors?
'It’s pretty clear that being outside just makes anyone feel better. Breathing in fresh air, hearing the birds chirping, seeing greenery is invigorating and offers some extra headspace when you are working,' says Kathy Taslitz.
'I find a change of scenery is helpful for getting focused, coming up with new ideas, and shaking off the 'office' feel from sitting behind a desk,' adds Jordan Clough. 'There's a lot of science and research happening around how seeing or being in nature is really good for your mental health, and it doesn't take a phd to feel the difference a break from the inside desk makes.'
'The positive effects of fresh air and sunshine really can't be overstated. Being able to set up a workstation in your outdoor space has so many benefits because it helps you change your perspective a bit, to draw inspiration from the beauty of the outdoors, and shake that feeling of being 'stuck' inside that sometimes creeps up during spring and summer.' says Kathy Kuo.
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Hebe is the Digital Editor of Livingetc; she has a background in lifestyle and interior journalism and a passion for renovating small spaces. You'll usually find her attempting DIY, whether it's spray painting her whole kitchen, don't try that at home, or ever changing the wallpaper in her hallway. Livingetc has been such a huge inspiration and has influenced Hebe's style since she moved into her first rental and finally had a small amount of control over the decor and now loves being able to help others make decisions when decorating their own homes. Last year she moved from renting to owning her first teeny tiny Edwardian flat in London with her whippet Willow (who yes she chose to match her interiors...) and is already on the lookout for her next project.
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