The Relevance of Open Spaces in the Workplace

Updated: Sep 22




Introduction


Office construction has always bent towards creating work-related spaces dedicated to office functionality only. The idea of closed offices creates multiple private areas while segregating the workforce. Earlier, it was understood that by doing so a serious, productive atmosphere was being established.


For years, office architects and designers have been bringing nature into the workplace, incorporating materials like wood and stone and strategically deploying plants and botanical artwork.

Now, companies are inviting employees to step outside for a taste of the real thing.

Employers with suburban campuses have long turned swaths of blank lawn into furnished outdoor areas where workers can meet with colleagues, work alone or simply take a break from their computer screens.

Nature aside, outdoor work areas are a logical next step in the evolution of flexible offices. Many companies already offer lounge areas and communal tables for employees to work without feeling chained to their desks. A terrace or rooftop, equipped with Wi-Fi and electrical outlets, can be another option.



Figure 1: Open outdoor space


The far-reaching consequences of outdoor designs on employees have been proven to be beneficial at the least. 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. Outdoor spaces promise the use of these natural elements that help people to connect to nature while connecting to each other.




Why do Offices need Outdoor Spaces?


Indoor pollution

The medical journal, ‘The Lancet’ suggested that tiny amounts of chemicals escaping from paints, carpets, office supplies, photocopiers, and other sources ‘may be combining to make the air hazardous’ in offices. According to work-health specialists, Mark Cullen and Kathleen Kreiss in the textbook Occupational Health (Lippincott, 2000), nearly all cases of workplace asthma are caused by indoor air pollution. These incidences of illness due to lax ventilation standards are increasing as our offices become more modernised


Many people who work in an office year-round will come into work one day to find workmen performing maintenance or renovation, which might involve installing shiny new furniture. Though a contingent risk, when this does happen, a variety of solvents are often used. This is particularly so in common renovation tasks such as roofing, cleaning, and painting. Formaldehyde is one of the most common pollutants in office buildings found in furniture, new carpets, particleboard, plywood, and other products, and can cause a number of respiratory issues.


Bacteria, fungi, and moulds may flourish in improperly maintained air ducts, air conditioners, air filters, carpets, humidifiers, and poorly ventilated places where moisture is present, like bathrooms, kitchens, and laundry rooms. Improper ventilation may make it easier to contract an infection from an ill colleague.


Mental Relief  

Work-related stress can hinder employees’ job performance and even cause various health problems. It’s a serious issue that should be addressed as soon as stressed employees start exhibiting certain symptoms. However, an effective way to manage workplace stress is to employ different strategies that will prevent or alleviate it. One of these strategies refers to encouraging employees to spend more time outside. Designing an outdoor office area is the perfect way to achieve this. An enjoyable outdoor space will provide them with an opportunity to relax, take a breath of fresh air and relieve stress before it becomes a more serious problem.


Ensuring employees’ happiness and job satisfaction is crucial for creating a successful business environment and culture. If employees spend day after day isolated in a building, they can easily lose enthusiasm. Providing them with an inspiring outdoor work area can truly make a difference and it can be easily achieved.


Sustainability

Eco-friendliness and sustainability are some of the most important priorities of an increasing number of companies. Nowadays, businesses aim at designing green offices by creating lush green walls, decorating with plants, introducing sustainable materials and implementing various energy-efficient solutions. Designing an outdoor space will provide business owners with yet another opportunity to embrace sustainability.


Natural light and natural air while being beneficial to people are eco-friendly resources. Outdoor spaces require a much lesser amount of intervention to be made usable. Hence, construction is minimised, resulting in low costs and less energy consumption.


The electricity needed to run the outdoor spaces is much lesser than that of any indoor space. Only task lighting is needed in the outdoors. Natural light can help save up to 65% of the otherwise lighting costs. No air ducts or air conditioning of any kind is used in outdoor spaces, saving a fortune in costs while helping the environment.


Retention & Recruitment of Talent 

Today, the employment experience is just as important as the job. Workplace design is all about designing for people, and organizations must offer a range of options to meet the needs of different groups of workers. What matters most is making employees feel valued, and recognizing that their quality of life matters. As Building Design + Construction states, “community gathering spaces, appealing food offerings, workout facilities, outdoor break areas, recreational amenities, modern furnishings, and advanced technology platforms communicate the message that an employer cares for the well-being of employees, which can be a big aid to recruitment and retention.”


The truth is that businesses now have to work just as hard to retain top talent as employees need to in order to attain a certain position. Millennials are a major part of the current workforce and they appreciate inspiring and stimulating work areas where they can feel at peace. 


Employee satisfaction can be sanctioned through beautifully crafted open spaces for all. The ambiguity of space that isn’t properly defined can instil freedom into people’s hearts as they feel free to express themselves.


Most importantly, working outdoors can lead to increased employee happiness, enhanced employee engagement, and improved employee retention. According to a 2018 survey completed by outdoor product retailer L.L. Bean, United States workers between the ages of 22 and 65 spend approximately 95 percent of their time indoors.

  • About 87 percent identified themselves as a person who enjoys the outdoors.

  • 86 percent of respondents would like to spend more work hours outdoors.

  • 74 percent said it would improve their moods.

  • 71 percent anticipated reduced stress as a potential benefit.

  • 66 percent experienced an increase in their health and wellness.

Improved Productivity

One benefit of working in an outdoor space is improved employee concentration and focus. Modern offices can be an incredibly distracting environment – especially in open floor plan offices. Ringing phones, noisy conversations, and intrusive instant messages can make it nearly impossible to concentrate. Several recent studies indicate that the distractions of working indoors can have a considerable negative impact on our productivity. In a study conducted by the University of Irvine, California, researchers measured the effects of interruptions on mental acuity. Researchers found that the average office worker is interrupted every 11 minutes, while it takes an average of 25 minutes to bounce back to the original task after an interruption.  In a separate study by Carnegie Mellon University, subjects who received an instant message during a cognitive skills test scored 20 percent lower than test subjects who did not receive an instant message. Well-designed outdoor workspace can help to reduce the impact of office distractions and lead to improved performance.


Another benefit of working outdoors is improved creativity. Researchers at Stanford University completed a groundbreaking study on the effects of walking for problem solving and idea generation. Study participants who walked on a treadmill indoors experienced a 60 percent increase in creative output, a notable surge in their ability to generate ideas. Once the outdoors was factored into the experiment, creative output soared. Of all the variables tested, walking outside “produced the most novel and highest quality” ideas – 81 percent of participants experienced enhanced creative thinking. As it turns out, the way that most people brainstorm — crammed into conference rooms— might not be the most effective approach.


Working outdoors can also provide a powerful boost to our problem-solving skills. A recent study from the University of Utah found that participants solved an average of 47 percent more puzzles after completing a hike than participants who did not go on a hike. While taking a hike in the middle of our workday might not be the most practical option for some, there is evidence that merely walking at a normal, comfortable pace, can help open up the creative pathways in our brains.




Getting the best from Outdoor Spaces


Orientation

Indoor conditions are relatively static all day long, but outside the sun changes position minute to minute. Therefore, the goal outdoors is to find a location for the office space that lacks intense solar exposure. The problem of excessive light not only causes over-heating, but it also creates problems with computer monitor visibility. Direct UV exposure is not healthy for the longevity of electronic devices either. The north side of an office is the most evenly shaded and therefore ideal. Shade trees can also mimic this same effect, allowing more variation in the locale. In general, anywhere that there is little need to mitigate excessive solar exposure will be ideal.

Figure 2: Construction orientation to avoid harsh sunlight


Overheads

As an outdoor space, the office is vulnerable to rain and weather if not adequately protected. Therefore a solid roof is advised. This keeps the workspace as dry as possible whether in use or not. Natural light can be highly desirable in the workspace. Skylights built into a weatherproof roof are a good way to achieve this, and they may be fitted with shades. These are advised in regions of excessively high temperatures, where spaces overheat during midday.


Overheads provide opportunities for lighting and fans. The lighting requirement may be very important for an artist who works at a drawing table all day. A person working on a computer may not require so much ambient light. Either way, the fixture options are far greater under a solid roof. A ceiling fan is just as important because heat collects in these spaces without air movement to drive it out. A variable-speed fan provides air movement directly over the workspace on warm and humid days.

Figure 3: Shaded outdoor area


Side Light

In the early morning and late afternoon, sunlight originates low in the eastern or western horizon. This may cause direct exposure. Throughout the day glare and reflection from automobiles, swimming pools and buildings can be highly distracting, not to mention problems with monitor visibility. 


To keep working conditions ideal, one will need to equip the outdoor office with shades to control side light and glare.


Simple bamboo roll up shades should have very narrow gaps between slats. These can be altered during the day for the best temporary control of sidelight. The downside to hanging shades is that even a soft breeze can make them sway or bang around. 


 Outdoor power operated screen shades are designed to cover large view windows from the direct afternoon sun. These are perfect for the outdoor office because they can be operated by remote control to block nearly all the light. Because the side edges are mounted on vertical tracks, they remain fixed and do not cause problems with wind.


Breeze Deflector

Even the slightest breeze can cause distracting flutter or send papers flying, which is why working in an ordinary patio can be challenging. For homes where the prevailing winds are predictable, design a barrier to block or deflect air movement. Clear plexiglass panels are the best choice for protecting workspaces without feeling boxed in or sacrificing views of the garden.

Figure 4: Outdoor Breeze protection 


Flooring

Outdoors, smooth floors are avoided in outdoor living spaces because they become slippery when wet. Try to roll an office chair over a brick patio and you'll see why ordinary outdoor paving can become a problem. It's often the mortar joints that cause the problem. Outdoor office spaces are best paved with poured concrete with a smooth or even polished finish. 


The change of flooring to accommodate a change in function is another common use of flooring. Green spaces use pebbled or green finished flooring. This is a contrast to the circulation area that uses concrete with a non-slippery finish.


Level differences are also used to define different areas. This terminates the need for any obstructive piece like walls and doors etc. 


Power and Connectivity

Any space designated for the use of electronics should be well thought out because running extension cords outdoors is not safe nor advisable.

Based on where a desk is proposed, provide a weatherproof connectivity enclosure to hold these links to power, cable, phone, and desk lighting. Don't forget to make sure your home's wireless internet signal is strong in the location you select for your outdoor office. 


A well-positioned enclosure will ensure that numerous devices, including a portable air conditioner, will be available close to your laptop and desk. 

Providing a dedicated circuit with plenty of power avoids overload when using multiple devices with a high amperage space heater or air conditioner.


Site Considerations

Designing an outdoor space conducive to collaboration and productivity is beneficial only if employees physically want to use it. As Miranda Jones, cofounder of Galanter & Jones, a San Francisco–based heated-outdoor-seating company, explained, “People spend an exorbitant amount of money on outdoor spaces, only for them to go unused because it is too cold or too hot to use the space.”


This being said harsh sunlight, heat,cold, and even humid climates are major reasons people don’t sit outside. The usage of outdoor spaces can be during particular times of the day. For example, offices in Mumbai do not utilize outdoor spaces during the afternoon. Till daybreak, the harsh sunlight and heat make these areas unusable.


Even though shading devices are effective, the overall comfort of an outdoor space is dependent on the temperature and humidity. 


Since these spaces are not usable at all times, the proportion of outdoor to indoor spaces has to be considered carefully. Office designing trends bend towards providing most of their seating indoors. The outdoor spaces are deemed optional or additional even. 


Considering what time of the day these spaces are getting used allows designers to design accordingly. This is a feasible and efficient approach to landscaping and other design work.






Case Studies


Microsoft Meeting Space


Introduction

The treehouse is one of three new branch-based meeting spaces created by renowned builder Pete Nelson of Nelson Treehouse and Supply. Nelson kicked off the project by spending his first day on the site “connecting with the trees” for hours, said Bret Boulter, who works in Real Estate & Facilities on Microsoft’s Redmond campus and who headed up the project.


Figure 5: Open treetop 

The treehouses are part of a larger new system of technology-enabled outdoor districts connected to buildings around campus and empowering employees to work in new ways. On a recent sunny day, an employee perched, legs crossed, on a soft grassy knoll below a treehouse. For several minutes, she sat with her hands on her knees, eyes closed, head tilted toward the sky, breathing deeply. Then she grabbed her laptop and typed furiously. After a spate of work, she set her computer aside, rested her palms on her knees, gazed up, and then closed her eyes again.

While under construction this summer, the outdoor meeting spaces, which include two enclosed treehouses and one elevated roost called the Crow’s Nest, created a wave of curiosity.


Design

Figure 6: Meeting Spaces treehouse


Two of the three treehouses, which are accessible to all employees, are open. The cedar meeting room takes reservations, as with many of Microsoft’s more traditional meeting spaces; the Crow’s Nest is first-come, first-served. The third, a sheltered lounge space, will be ready later this year. The building is already taking shape in the boughs of a tree Pete Nelson selected "Nothing formal,” said Dawson (Design crew member). “A place you can chill inside or out of, sit, work.


Figure 7: Work Culture


With their workspace turned inside out and meetings taking place up in the foliage employees are figuring out how to rethink what working looks like. The meeting spaces are so informal and ambiguous that the people sit in any way they seem fit. What might seem like a lack of design, is actually a design with enough moving pieces to allow creativity among people.


Figure 8: Easily accessible outdoor space


The all-natural concept prohibits the use of elevators making the treehouse inaccessible to elders. The additional canopy and seating are a tradeoff from the experience of the treehouse. Though this might seem like a concession to the elderly the design is quite spectacular.



WRNS Studio, Mountain View, California


Introduction

Intuit’s new Marine Way Building (MWB) in Mountain View, California, aims to become an antidote to the trend of building insular campuses across Silicon Valley. To achieve this goal, WRNS Studio and Clive Wilkinson Architects joined forces and designed a human-centred, urban-minded workplace that connects to both nature and the public realm.

The development added two new office buildings and parking structures to the existing Intuit campus, which was a suburban office park in the 1980s. It now offers 185,400 square feet of office spaces distributed across four floors.

The integration of outdoor space with the enclosed workspace is an endeavour to create contrasting workspaces. The moods and temperaments of the employees help them choose where to work. The biophilic approach to the outdoor space creates an increasing contrast while improving the health quality index of the space.

Figure 9: Office Entrance


Outdoor Spaces and their Design

The project targets LEED Platinum, thanks to its design strategies that enhance resource efficiency, expand the natural habitat, ensure good indoor environmental quality, reduce water consumption and waste, and enable the expanded use of transit options. This is aided by the building’s green roofs, themselves part of a comprehensive landscape plan that includes naturalized wetland bio-filtration areas and natural planted areas to help sustain local salt marsh and grassland biome species.


Figure 10: Bird’s eye view of the office building


The “green” approach makes the utilisation of outdoor spades vital to the design of the office. The use of stilts to raise floors helps create transitional spaces between the open green roofs and the built-up spaces. These spaces are covered by the superstructure itself.  Additional seating and greenery are added to the transitional spaces mainly because they are shielded from the harsh sunlight during the daytime.


Figure 11: Green roof


The outside area is considered an informal space to work in. In contrast to the enclosed spaces, these open areas have ergonomic furniture pieces aimed at relaxed seating. Meetings between fellow employees are encouraged at every junction to promote comradery and openness in the workplace.  Plantations seen are those of the naturally available plants in California. These plants are drought resistant as California is prone to drought bi-yearly.


Figure 12: Bird’s eye view of office building 2


The upper flaws use solar panels to generate electricity. These upper floors have a few green spaces for people to use while next to the solar panels. This is a marketing gimmick aimed at exposing everyone to the company’s eco- friendly approach to design.


The open spaces are all around the offices. The superstructure provides shade to different green spaces at different times. The usage of each green space depends on the sun’s location in the sky. The open spaces in the shadow are used during the day and after sunset, all the outdoor spaces are used. Hence, the use of shades and covers in minimized.


Outdoor staircases encourage the use of these outdoor spaces, emphasising their importance.




At Workamp Spaces


The need for open outdoor spaces in offices is irrefutable. Keeping with current trends, the health benefits provided by open spaces is phenomenal. Prolonged exposure to indoor pollution has serious ramifications for all employees and staff members. Recognising the importance of reducing office users’ time indoors is the first step forward. 


Apart from the health benefits, employee and visitor comfort is another priority. Employees need comfortable spaces to be productive. Their concentration, creativity, and efficiency can be improved drastically with the proper use of outdoor spaces. Appropriate furnishing coupled with zoning can create euphoria for all the users.


After recognising the potential of open space, Microsoft decided to create outdoor spaces meeting rooms. These off-site open spaces help\people to express freely. Office clients, vendors and even stakeholders utilise these spaces as the open plan design looks to break the ice between people.


WRNS studios have targetted the SMART building concept into their design. Open spaces allow a number of eco-friendly technologies to be used while catering to people’s comfort. 


When it comes to designing an outdoor workspace, it is critical to consider the impacts of technology and the weather on functionality.


Depending on the geographic location of your outdoor workspace, sunshine, heat, cold, rain, and wind can all necessitate the inclusion of specific components in the design of the space. In warm, sunny climates, it is important to include sunshades, canopies, and/or umbrellas to provide relief from the sun during scorching summer months. Incorporating ceiling fans mounted fans, and even misters can provide additional relief from the heat.


The execution of outdoor spaces in terms of design is important to the overall benefit they provide. Identifying the potential of an outdoor space is critical to allow a designer to supplement the rest of the office.


Replenishing Outdoor Cafe at Workamp FutureX


Figure 13: Terrace Cafeteria


Workamp FutureX is situated in the commercial estate of Marathon FutureX, Lower Parel, Mumbai. Being a commercial building, the structure accommodated mainly closed spaces. Workamp FutureX has utilised the limited open space to create a stunning cafeteria within the open space. 


Cafeterias are used extensively by employees during their day. An average of one out 9 people use the space at any given time. By creating a cafeteria in the outdoor area, employees and staff members are being forced into spending time outdoors. 


Additionally, seating for work and recreation have been provided along the periphery to make sure people spend time outside whenever possible. Hence, the importance of the outdoor open space has been recognized and worked upon for the betterment of the workplace.



Minimal And Sleek Outdoor Cafe at Workamp Estate


Figure 14: Terrace & Cafeteria


A large undefined terrace has been provided to the employees as an open area. This area is used for functions, events and other recreational activities. The lack of definition allows people to enjoy the space freely, leading to intuitive conversations and meetings. Chairs and tables from the cafeteria are used in this space whenever needed by employees. 


The cafeteria spills onto the terrace to provide any event with beverages and snacks when required. This symbiotic relationship between the terrace and cafeteria makes it a widely popular area for employees and their clients.


The terrace has a softwood flooring which makes its ideal to have events. The view and fresh air go a long way in disrupting the conventional office paradigm. Much needed lighting has been additionally provided for the use of this space after sunset. 


The space acts as a canvas for the designers of Workamp to use and reuse in different ways whenever they deem necessary. 



Terrace Getaways at Zilingo


Figure 15: Outdoor Seating


WorkAmp Zilingo is also a part of Marathon FutureX, Lower Parel, Mumbai. The open area runs along 2 sides of the enclosed office. The enclosed office space can visually see the outdoor open space from most parts of the office. 


The open space is primarily for meetings, leisure, and eating. The seating provided can be used for a large number of functions. The ambiguity of the space creates a sense of openness. The artificial grass is met with wood flooring to better define the spaces. The wood is for the furniture pieces while the grass is for walking. 


Figure 16: Private Balcony Seating


The open area consists of the balconies which are used for private seating areas. These areas are largely occupied by small groups with similar interests. The great distance between the clusters of furniture ensures privacy even on the same bacony. 


These spaces have informal seating aimed at striking interesting conversations between people. Dim lighting in the evening also ensures the use of these spaces for productive interactions amongst the many employees.

The use of the space to further the employees potential by creating a positive atmosphere is crucial to setting a mood at Zilingo.



Conclusion


It is clear from the above examples, that Workamp Spaces Pvt. Ltd recognises the deficiency in office design today. In India, office design revolves around accommodating personnel and saving funds only. The welfare and benefits of employees are often sidetracked due to this.


Open Spaces are one of the many features of office design that need to be touched upon in our community. The staggering improvement in each individuals’ output and health must be brought to light. 


According to Harvard University myrmecologist and conservationist Edward O. Wilson, human beings are hardwired to connect with nature and other living organisms. These profound words inspire each designer to create natural biophilic open spaces so that each employee, receptionist and even janitor can work to the best of his/her ability.

With building codes and bye-laws in place, there are significant restrictions on creating interactive open spaces in urban settlements. However, through intricate designs and ingenuity efficient open spaces have been created by Workamp Pvt. Ltd. Mixed-Use terrace plans and functional zoning of open spaces have led to respectable designs that truly help the workforce.

As pointed out earlier in this paper, there are many plausible design strategies that can be utilised by designers to create stunning outdoor spaces. Recognising the limitations put on by budget constraints and laws, affordable open spaces can be constructed.

The growing trend of biophilic offices can be executed promptly through open spaces. Plantations and natural features can be considered a hassle to deal with indoors. Hence, through the introduction of open spaces connecting people to nature seems simpler. A biophilic approach adds a different dimension to the office effectively evolving the existing spaces.





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