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Of­fice space hits the great out­doors

Move­ment gives work a breath of fresh air

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NEW YORK – Trees all around you. Freshly cut grass. A breath of fresh air.

No, this is not your back­yard. It’s an of­fice space in the heart of a city.

In a 6-acre park in New York this month, out­door re­tailer L.L. Bean set up a tem­po­rary of­fice to demon­strate what cu­bi­cle dwellers can ex­pe­ri­ence when they ven­ture out­side to smell the roses as they tap their key­boards.

The setup, built in part­ner­ship with workspace provider In­dus­tri­ous, in­cluded all the el­e­ments of an of­fice con­fer­ence room – swivel­ing chairs, a desk and, most im­por­tant, Wi-Fi. But the dif­fer­ence was it re­sem­bled a se­ries of sturdy canopies, with a roof and open sides that pro­vided fresh air and out­door sounds. Next month, the project heads to Bos­ton, Philadelph­ia and Madison, Wisconsin.

L.L. Bean joins sev­eral of the na-

tion’s best-known tech­nol­ogy com­pa­nies to en­cour­age workspaces with a bio­philic de­sign, which seeks to bring the out­side in­doors and the in­side out­doors. These “green” spa­ces aren’t just for sus­tain­abil­ity; they ac­tu­ally leave hu­mans feel­ing less stressed and more fo­cused, ex­perts say.

Though bring­ing the out­doors in has been a trend for decades – wa­ter foun­tains in cor­po­rate head­quar­ters and trees in shop­ping malls – push­ing indoor el­e­ments out­side is newer.

Kirt Martin, vice pres­i­dent of de­sign and mar­ket­ing at Land­scape Forms, an out­door fur­ni­ture com­pany in Kalama- zoo, Michi­gan, has seen a sig­nif­i­cant in­crease in out­door workspaces be­cause large com­pa­nies such as Ap­ple and Face­book are try­ing them. “It takes so­cial in­flu­encers to get peo­ple to change their per­spec­tive,” Martin said.

And with the ad­vent of mo­bile tech­nol­ogy, em­ploy­ees can work on the go, not just on pas­sen­ger trains, planes or cars but from open-air struc­tures such as the New York City park setup. Com­bin­ing na­ture with work is part of a broader trend, said Leigh Stringer, a work­place strat­egy ex­pert who helped ad­vise L.L. Bean for the cam­paign.

For most of our evo­lu­tion, “hu­mans have been work­ing out­doors; it’s in our na­ture,” Stringer said. “It’s only been in the past 300 years or so that we’ve been work­ing in­doors.”

That re­al­iza­tion is catch­ing on. This year, Ama­zon opened “Spheres” for its em­ploy­ees in Seat­tle. Con­structed as glass domes on the head­quar­ters’ cam­pus, the three in­ter­sect­ing struc­tures are filled with 40,000 plants and serve as spa­ces for em­ploy­ees to work and lounge.

“By bring­ing the out­door work en­vi­ron­ment in­doors, we cre­ate an en­vi­ron­ment where em­ploy­ees can col­lab­o­rate and in­no­vate to­gether in a peace­ful set­ting that is more like a trop­i­cal rain­for­est than a city,” said John Sa, an Ama­zon spokesman.

In 2015, Face­book cre­ated a 9-acre rooftop gar­den at its head­quar­ters in Menlo Park, Cal­i­for­nia. Ap­ple’s “space­ship” head­quar­ters in Cu­per­tino, Cal­i­for­nia, sur­rounds a park, or­chard and pond. And last Oc­to­ber, Mi­crosoft built tech­no­log­i­cally en­abled tree­houses for em­ploy­ees in Red­mond, Washington. Even mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties such as Sil­ver Spring, Mary­land, have worked to pro­vide out­door work­ing spa­ces.

Many em­ploy­ees want to have out­door el­e­ments in a work­ing en­vi­ron­ment, ac­cord­ing to L.L. Bean’s 2018 Work and the Out­doors Sur­vey. It re­ported that 86 per­cent of indoor work­ers said they would like to spend more time out­side dur­ing the work­day, but 65 per­cent said work is the largest ob­sta­cle to do­ing so.

Bio­philic de­sign “speaks to the deeper need for us to con­nect with the nat­u­ral world,” said Tim Beat­ley, an ar­chi­tec­ture pro­fes­sor at the Uni­ver­sity of Vir­ginia and ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Bio­philic Cities Project. “Na­ture’s not some­thing op­tional; it’s ab­so­lutely es­sen­tial for lead­ing a happy and healthy and mean­ing­ful life.”

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