After more than a year of pandemic lockdowns and making home the center of our worlds, homeowners are continuing to embrace their outdoor spaces. You may have already upgraded your backyard patio, set up outdoor furniture on your front porch, or even designed an outdoor kitchen. Now, get ready for the next wave: a new trend of "working from outdoors," or #WFO, if you will.
Moving your work-from-home space outside can be a fresh way to help you feel excited about your 9-to-5 again, helping to break up the monotony of working from home and even brighten your mood. After all, how can the sound of birds in the trees, the sight of blooming flowers, and the scent of freshly cut grass not put you in a better mindset?
"Whether it's the rustling of the leaves in the wind or the calm after a rainstorm, I find that being outside offers a feeling of zen that's helpful when getting into a creative zone," shares Los Angeles–based interior designer Kelly Martin. In fact, studies show taking breaks to look at nature can boost your concentration and bolster your creativity. Yet working outside isn't without its challenges—temperature, sunlight, and electricity, are the first few that come to mind. So read on to see experts' top recommendations for setting up your ideal WFO space this spring and summer.
Separate Work and Play
Chances are, you and your family are using your yard for recreational activities such as playing sports or running through a sprinkler. When you’re setting up a workspace outdoors, consider using decorative screens or planters as a way to add privacy and separate work from personal space, advises Mark Feldman, chief home officer and general manager at the online home decor marketplace Riverbend Home (that way, those corn hole boards won’t tempt you while you’re on Zoom calls). Setting up dividers is also a smart idea if you have neighbors in close proximity.
You can’t control the weather, but you can invest in items to help you cool or heat your outdoor space, depending on where you live, to make it more pleasant to work outside. For instance, you can install outdoor ceiling fans to cool you off or buy a patio heater to ensure comfortability, says Feldman. (He notes that now is the time to stock up on these items; Riverbend Home and other retailers saw a huge increase in demand for patio heaters last year that’s continuing in 2021.)
Throw Some Shade
If you’ve ever brought your laptop outdoors only to turn on maximum brightness and still not be able to see your screen (or drained the battery very quickly as a result), you know there’s nothing worse than direct sunlight for getting work done. Be sure your outdoor office has the right mix of shade and sun to ensure proper lighting conditions, says Feldman. This is a good reason to shop for pergolas, umbrellas, and canopies right now. An anti-glare screen protector is also a must for your laptop.
That chaise lounge you love to lie in on weekends won’t cut it. Just like when you’re working indoors, you should ensure you have a comfortable and supportive place to sit that enables you to work productively outdoors for an extended period of time, says Tiffany Brooks, a Chicago-based interior designer and HGTV host. If you plan to be working from outdoors, this is the time to get the patio furniture set you’ve been eyeing, especially one with supportive, upright chairs and an adjustable umbrella.
Pick a Desk
A sturdy patio table will do great as a desk—just be sure to wipe off any dirt or pollen before plunking down your computer. Or take a cue from Martin, who prefers working at a big picnic table in her backyard so she can spread out everything she needs to work. If you want to get fancy, invest in a desk from BloomingTables, which brings a touch of the outdoors to your indoor office with a design that serves as a miniature garden for succulents or microgreens beneath a glass top (and can be moved outside for an afternoon).
Power is an essential you might not consider when moving your office setup outdoors. You’ll need an outlet nearby (and possibly an extension cord or power strip) to plug in your laptop and your phone, tablet, or other devices. And because the sun shifts throughout the day, Brooks suggests getting a gadget such as a ring light (which also requires an outlet) for times you’re on a Zoom call and in the sun’s shadow. If outlets aren’t a possibility in your outdoor space, look for portable USB battery packs as backup.
The sounds of lawn mowers and weed eaters may signify summer is here, but they’re less than welcome when you’re trying to work. Try to limit distractions by only working outside on days that you or your neighbors are not having landscaping or gardening done, says Valerie Stafford, partner and lead designer at Rumor Designs in Steamboat Springs, Colo. Also remove any wind chimes or interactive lawn art (including bird feeders) unless they provide a calming effect for you.
Make It Somewhere You Want to Be
Don’t neglect your immediate surroundings and background that will show up on Zoom calls. Brooks recommends cute indoor/outdoor throw pillows, a throw blanket that will do double duty as warmth if the weather turns chilly, or string lights to add another light source and create a vibe.
More Essentials for Working Outside
Aside from choosing a good patio set with comfortable chairs and an umbrella, turn to these gadgets to help create the ideal WFO setup.
1. Laptop Canopy
OK, this device looks a little out there, we know: But it does wonders for preventing glare on your screen outside, enabling you to actually see what you’re working on even in bright sunlight. It’ll also help prevent your laptop from overheating in the sunlight. (As a bonus, you can tote this canopy to the beach or pool, too!) To buy: $50; amazon.com.
Your laptop isn’t the only thing that needs shielding from the sun. When it comes to sun protection while #WFO, don’t forget to wear sunscreen, and don’t underestimate the value of a great wide-brimmed hat.
3. Mobile Pixels Portable LCD Monitor
This screen extender offers flexibility for creating an outdoor workspace without having to lug a traditional monitor outside. If your job requires more than one screen, simply attach this to the side of your laptop screen. To buy: $289; amazon.com.
4. TOT’em Felt Office Organizer
It’s a pain to drag all your desk essentials, including papers and pens and cords, from your indoor office. Enter: this stylish felt tote that easily transports everything you need (even a coffee mug, if you wish) to wherever you’re working. To buy: $199; quickshipoffice.com.
5. HidrateSpark Steel Smart Water Bottle
Especially when you’re working outside, hydration is key. Sure, you could use any solid water bottle—but this smart thermal bottle blinks when it’s time to drink and syncs with your mobile device to ensure you’re meeting your daily water goals. To buy: from $60; amazon.com.
6. Glass Paperweight
Technically, you can grab any old rock to hold down your papers when a breeze comes up, but it’s more fun to opt for a pretty paperweight like this one, which will keep everything in order and be aesthetically pleasing, too. To buy: $33; amazon.com.
7. Netgear Orbi WiFi System
If working from home looks like it’s in your future on a consistent basis, consider upping your WiFi game. This system increases bandwidth so you can enjoy the outdoors without worrying about being kicked off an important call or miss crucial emails. To buy: $131; amazon.com.
8. Noise Canceling Headphones
Depending on where you live, you may need a pair to minimize distracting noises. You may also want to get a noise-reducing microphone like this one, too, for calls when you don’t want background sounds like traffic or barking dogs. To buy: $39; amazon.com.
9. Clio Coffee Maker
You probably don’t want to set up a drip coffee maker or fancy espresso machine outside. This sleek machine is easy to plug in on your patio table, however, and makes flavorful, hot or cold Americano-style coffee or espresso in only a minute. To buy: $129; cliocoffee.com.