As businesses welcome back employees and customers against the backdrop of COVID-19, it’s important to make them feel safe and ensure that workplaces are inviting. One way to achieve this is to take advantage of your surrounding property and transform your outdoor spaces into an occupant-friendly area.
“If you can create some sort of outdoor amenity, I think that’s going to be one of those things that will really change the re-entry process,” says Gib Durden, vice president of business development for HighGrove Partners, LLC, based in Austell, GA. “That’s probably the biggest thing is just being able to utilize the property you have and have some area where people can congregate six feet away but outside.”
If you haven’t created an outdoor area for your facility yet, take the time to consider the three site elements of shade, grading, and drainage first.
“Every office or site has a potential spot for an outdoor space,” Durden says. “Look for somewhere on the property that already has shade to a certain extent, so you don’t have to spend a lot of money creating shade with shade sails and umbrellas.”
Durden says another aspect of selecting a site for an outdoor space is choosing an area that is relatively flat. The less grading and retaining walls are needed, the more cost-effective the job will be. “The big thing is to really look into the drainage situation, natural flow,” he says. “You don’t want to have a spot that always creates a ponding or washout area if you don’t put it in the correct spot.”
Durden says the most important element of improving your property with inviting outdoor spaces is to go through a design process to look for the existing opportunities on the site. “If you bring in people that do this on a regular basis, you look at the entire property and discuss,” he says. “Utilize a company that has experience and go through at least a minimal design process to make sure that you’re picking the right spot on the property. I’ve seen people not do that and just throw something together and then next thing you know they kind of wasted their money. They probably should have taken a little more time in the design and review process before they just threw something together.”
Fire pits are an obvious addition to encourage socialization in a residential setting. However, they aren’t the most practical for commercial sites as most people don’t sit by the fire at 10 in the morning.
Durden says outdoor seating, charging stations, and Wi-Fi hotspots are far more likely to draw workers out of their offices and into the outdoors for a change of atmosphere.
“People can disconnect from their office for a second and maybe get outside and continue to work outside, answering emails or working on presentations or even having some team meetings outdoors,” he says.
Building patios surrounded by greenery can serve as a lunch time retreat for employees to recharge without having to leave the campus and can also be used for meetings. Water features can be particularly soothing, and they can block out any nearby noise that may be near to outdoor spaces.
Depending how interactive the clientele is will ultimately determine what features are best suited for your space. If you want to encourage people to stay in your space longer, having lawn games such as cornhole or bocce ball courts can help.
If you don’t have the time to commit to longer design/build project to revamp your campus, there are some less time-consuming options available.
One easy amenity to add are walking trails on the property. Taking a quick walk can get workers’ creativity flowing and companies that encourage exercise as part of their wellness program often receive discounted rates on healthcare.
“People like to get out and be a little bit active,” Durden says. “I see a lot of times as I’m visiting sites you’ll see people just walking around the perimeter of the parking lot, which is not really probably the most ideal way to go get some exercise. So, you can create some sort of path system. It doesn’t even have to be paved. It could be on gravel or a hardwood mulch.”
Another addition for active visitors is to offer bike racks. The amount of people who commute to work by bike increased by 60 percent over the last decade according to the United States Census Bureau.
Adding movable seating is another low-cost option that will help make an outdoor area more inviting. Even simply investing in beautiful landscaping can be effective as people are more likely to want to linger in a space that is both relaxing and attractive. And, Durden adds that adding unique outdoor amenities can also help an office building stand out from other cookie cutter properties.
Wood is the Chief Executive Officer of the National Association of Landscape Professionals (NALP), which represents an industry that employs nearly one million landscape, lawn care, irrigation, and tree care professionals who create and maintain healthy green spaces for the benefit of society and the environment. Learn more by visiting LoveYourLandscape.org.
For more on landscape design and maintenance for your facility’s grounds, visit Turf magazine, a Facility Executive sister publication.