Future of Design January 15, 2024

Here’s why outdoor workplaces are in high demand

The outdoor office is poised to become a global trend. Terraces and other alfresco amenities, once considered a desirable workplace perk, are now a vital tool for recruiting and retaining top talent.

Discover the benefits of outdoor work environments.

(Photo: Sahar Coston-Hardy)
Faster leasing, higher rents

The promise of fresh air, greenery, and natural light helps employers recruit the best and brightest. It’s no surprise, then, that outdoor spaces are a boon to commercial real estate developers as they compete for tenants.

“Without a doubt, our emphasis on a building design that prioritized the availability of private terrace space helped us achieve the rent and the demand that we did,” says Ted Koltis, executive vice president of Columbia Property Trust, the developer of 799 Broadway, a new boutique office building in New York City. In addition to its sought-after location in Greenwich Village, 799 offers private terraces for nearly every tenant. The building was 85% leased out before construction was complete.

Shared outdoor spaces are valuable, too, offering a way for tenants to extend the utility of their leased space for work and collaboration. “The engagement translates to great leasing impact,” says Sam Zeller, chief operating officer of Chicago-based Zeller, of the rooftop deck at Resurgens Plaza in Atlanta. “Prospective tenants want to tour properties and see how their employees and colleagues will take advantage of that vitality.”

“Outdoor space has emerged as one of the greatest value enhancement amenities in workplace design.”
Sam Zeller, COO, Zeller
At the C6 Bank headquarters in São Paulo, employees can choose from game tables, small tables for heads-down work or one-on-one meetings, and casual seating areas or conference tables for larger gatherings.
(Photo: Renato Navarro)
Tenant team building

Outdoor workplace amenities can help build cohesive teams, which is another attractive feature for tenants.

In the pleasant climate of São Paulo, Brazil, employees at the headquarters of C6 Bank enjoy a rooftop terrace, balconies on each floor, and an open-air work area on the ground floor with shaded tables and charging ports. “With the resumption of in-person activities after the pandemic, outdoor spaces were an appealing alternative to meeting in enclosed rooms,” says Rafael Biagini Brazão Costa, head of human resources at C6 Bank.

Some outdoor workplaces even welcome the public, creating connection with the larger community. In Atlanta, AFC Park is part of HUB404, the city’s effort to cap a major freeway with parks and trails. The park is open to the public during the day and secured via gated access at night (building tenants can swipe their badges for entry after hours).

Tenants and the public are welcome to enjoy AFC Park in downtown Atlanta, where a previously underused water feature and wooded area were transformed into a gathering space. A sculptural ring encloses the lawn, making a striking visual statement and doubling as informal seating. Tables under shelter with power and Wi-Fi provide space for heads-down work in the fresh air.
(Photo: Sahar Coston-Hardy)
More employees returning to the workplace

In-person programming like food trucks, fitness classes, and community engagement events are luring employees back to the office, and outdoor spaces are the perfect site for such gatherings.

“Experiences that engage all the senses are the ones that lend to the greatest success, and being outdoors is a great way to do that,” says Greg Frankum, executive managing director at Transwestern, the property management and leasing firm for AFC in Atlanta. “When we create a stimulating experience, people are more likely to keep coming back. And that’s the goal: to ensure they keep coming back to the office.”

Meagan McSherry, a property manager at Transwestern, agrees. “Our tenants want to create FOMO among their employees, and they’re leaning on creative programming in outdoor spaces to help with that,” she says.

Healthcare providers and their patients enjoy a refreshing departure from the typical clinical setting at the Lennar Foundation Medical Center’s outdoor physical therapy area.
(Photo: Robin Hill)
Healthy tenants, happier tenants

Outdoor work areas are healthy for everyone, but hospitals, clinics, and other healthcare settings can take those benefits to the next level. “Healthscapes” that blend the clinical environment with landscape design benefit patients and providers alike.

A traditional physical therapy space at the Lennar Foundation Medical Center in Coral Gables, Florida, for example, opens onto an outdoor terrace with ramps, stairs, and a walking track. Featuring a variety of inclines and walking surfaces, the area offers realistic settings for patients to work on their recovery. It also offers healthcare providers a chance to enjoy fresh air and greenery during the workday.

“It’s a great space that can be activated by patients and staff alike, allowing a unique healing environment for our patients and an area of reprieve for our incredible team at Lennar Foundation Medical Center,” says Maura Shiffman, assistant vice president for UHealth’s Lennar Foundation Medical Center. “The ability to take advantage of South Florida’s incredible weather and scenery to bring an elevated sense of serenity is beneficial for all.”

“The entire building is a major recruiting tool.”
Ben Riestra (Former) Chief Administrative Officer, Lennar Center
“We’re creating functional office space that just happens to be open-air.”
Clare De Briere Executive Vice President and Regional Manager, Skanska USA Commercial Development
Sustainability leadership

Outdoor workplaces can also improve the environment. Terraces and patios can replace indoor work areas, reducing the need for energy-intensive heating and cooling.

Skanska Commercial Development’s new building at 1811 Sacramento Street in the Arts District of Los Angeles, for instance, devotes an additional 20% of indoor office space to functional open-air work areas. Targeting net-zero carbon, the concept design of the outdoor workplaces addresses the operational carbon part of the equation by including passive conditioning strategies like louvers to reduce glare, solar panels to produce shade and power, large fans to circulate air, and radiant heat to keep people warm on cooler days.

“We designed this building to be truly net zero,” says Clare De Briere, executive vice president and regional manager of Skanska USA Commercial Development. “We want it to be as good for the people who occupy it as it is for the environment, and I think we were able to achieve that.”

De Briere sees the building as the vanguard of a broader movement. “I think we’ll see a lot more builders doing this because they’re going to have to do it. It’s part of the world’s reaction to climate change: The city of LA and other cities are starting to change regulations to require more carbon-efficient buildings. I think this is a good way to do it, and I’m hoping other people will follow our lead.”

(Photo: Garrett Rowland)
Stepping outside the norm

From motivating employees to return to the office to strengthening social bonds, open-air workspaces are becoming pivotal. Developers that look beyond typical office design and embrace an outdoor paradigm are sure to reap the benefits.

“Workspaces that emphasize occupant health and wellness in addition to functionality will directly impact an employer’s ability to recruit, retain, and motivate top talent,” Koltis says. “The more tools in their toolkit that address these goals, the more successful our tenants will be. In every redevelopment and ground-up development, we are actively trying to incorporate some form of outdoor space.”

(Main Photo: Chris Cooper)