When it comes to building a better workspace, where should the focus lie? Inside, or outside?

By Sue White

When redesigning a workspace it’s tempting to concentrate all efforts on the internal space. After all, by the time we debate options for improved floor plans, make a switch to standing desks, or toss a coin about who gets the corner office, the list of improvements often ends up being firmly focused on what’s inside our four walls.

But according to new research, when we are in the process of a revamp or office move, we shouldn’t neglect thinking about the exterior of our workspace. Think Global research, commissioned by Dexus, explored what executives from growing small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) around Australia are looking for to make their 2018 workspace an inspiring place to work.

49 per cent craved one simple outdoor option: a communal rooftop space or outdoor terrace. Given that only 21 per cent of those surveyed have one in place, creating a space to enjoy the outdoors could prove a boon for employers, as these businesses demonstrate: in Brisbane, Australia’s first elevated public park within an office building is open for business; in Perth, greenery will feature prominently at TWOFORTY; and in Sydney, a rooftop garden with Australian natives makes great use of space at 30 The Bond.

Those who do help take the inside “outside” for their employees would do well to keep a few basics in mind. First, is the space usable in most conditions? Is there wind protection, and shelter for those really hot days? Next, consider greenery. Plants create instant atmosphere, but make sure they are low maintenance. It’s usually best to choose hardy species that don’t need too much water. Lastly, while comfortable spots to sit and eat lunch are a must on any office rooftop or outdoor terrace, some of the best examples go beyond the basics and add a fun feature; a barbeque or a social feature like a table tennis table is usually appreciated by staff.

The urge to get a regular dose of Vitamin D during our breaks is not surprising; after all, the health of our bones depends on it. But there’s another way to help employees enjoy the outdoors in a slightly more active way: add in a community garden. Research shows that 42 per cent of respondents would like one at their workplace, yet only 28 per cent currently have one.

While community gardens can take some organising at the setup stage, the green thumbs of the office (and there are usually plenty) typically take an interest, while apartment-dwelling employees at some workplaces have been known to bring in family members to help garden over the weekend. The produce can be shared by staff in the office kitchen, or donated to a local charity.

Of course, sometimes compromises need to be made. If there’s no usable exterior spaces then creating a green wall in a prominent position can help provide a sense of serenity without chewing up floor space. (Check out Australia’s largest green wall at Bligh Street.) Next, focus on the interior space by adding generous quantities of indoor plants, especially in break out and meal areas.

Greenery aside, research showed there are a number of other amenities that do a good job of bringing the outside in. A significant proportion of surveyed respondents would like to jog or workout inside in an onsite gym (something 47 per cent of respondents want, yet only 17% have); stretch their body or mind via health and wellbeing classes (43 per cent would like these, but only 24 per cent have them), or bring a beloved pet to work (36 per cent of respondents desired a pet-friendly workspace, yet only 16 per cent have this option).

So where should you focus your efforts – in or out? Smart operators know this shouldn’t be an either/or situation. Whether you begin with the interior or exterior, find some easy wins to start, but longer term don’t neglect one for the other.

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