Open Workspaces Don't Work -- But Outdoor Spaces Do

At first, I used to hide it, my dirty little secret. Someone on a call would say, “Is that a bird chirping?” Or they would notice that I didn’t join the video feed like everyone else.

At meetings, they’d say I looked “healthy” and ask about my vacation — even though I hadn’t been anywhere. 

That’s right, I was a closet outdoor worker.  At first, it started out of necessity. My office was on the second floor of a 20-story building. The air condition ventilation system followed the elevator shaft up the building and my office was first from the elevator. It was an arctic ground zero on a hot day. When I heard the AC come on, it literally sent chills down my spine. 

By noon I had get out of my office or risk hyperthermia. I’d venture outside like a lizard seeking a warm rock to restore my body temperature. My time outside continued to lengthen and I noticed that not only was I more comfortable, but I was also more productive, according to several studies cited in this Slate post. 



For years, I experimented with lighting trying to simulate natural light in my office. Incandescent and fluorescent lights were like kryptonite to me. The truth that I was hiding from was that I was a full-on biophilist, a landscaper trapped in the body of an office worker. 

But I never talked about it, afraid others would judge me and think that I wasn’t taking work seriously (as if the mere fact of working in an office space made you more productive).  

After founding a company last year, I am now free to work where and how I want and that extends to our whole team. It’s part of our culture. 

Our team video conference calls are open kimono. We wear our bird-chirping, dog-barking, and wind-chime background noise as badges of honor. No longer am I sneaking a snack of sunshine. It’s all out in the open, literally.

Speaking of open, now that the research is in, let’s stop hiding the fact that open work spaces were a mistake. They don’t work, but you know what does? Outdoor spaces, and there is plenty of research to prove it.  

Hopefully, the outdoor work space concept will replace open space offices. Apple, Amazon and others have already incorporated it into their new headquarters. Let’s also dispel the notion that you need an office to be productive. It’s time to accept that work is a mindset, not a place. Employees should be able to work when they want, how they want, and where they want. 

Got to go. A bird just created a mess I need to clean up — quickly. Hey, it’s not all perfect.

4 comments about "Open Workspaces Don't Work -- But Outdoor Spaces Do".
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  1. adam waxman from Integrity Marketing Partners, September 5, 2018 at 2:26 p.m.

    On nice weather days, I often joke with colleagues and clients that we/they should open up the office's "sunroof" so everyone can enjoy the nice day. It's great to hear you're literally doing that! I love it! Here's to the great outdoors!

  2. Scott Gillum from Carbon Design replied, September 5, 2018 at 3 p.m.

    Thanks, Adam! If you can't get outside, an office "sunroof" sounds like a great alternative. If stadiums can do it, why not office buildings. 

  3. Jeff Ferguson from Amplitude Digital, September 8, 2018 at 2:25 p.m.

    Love this!  I've had my business for over 7 years now and we had an office in the early days, but nobody wanted to be there except visiting vendors (clients always want us to come to them). 

    I take all my team calls outside during the mornings and they've gotten used me saying, "hold on, plane..." or knowing that's where I went if I'm on mute.  I still dive back inside for client calls, but I'm at my most productive sitting outside.

  4. Scott Gillum from Carbon Design replied, September 8, 2018 at 3:26 p.m.

    Love it!  Good to know there are others out there...literally. 

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