Bring everything outside. That’s the recommendation to reduce the risk of coronavirus transmission. Getting outside–even a little bit–is not only good for exercise and social gatherings, but studies confirm that being out in nature is good for your mental health, too. Knowing this, you might want to bring your home office outside ASAP.
Building a tricked out home office shed in the back yard isn’t necessary. This is a practical guide on how to take your office al fresco, using whatever outdoor space you already have, whether it’s a porch, a balcony, or just a standard-issue suburban yard. In fact, you might not need anything new to set up an outdoor home office. I want you to make the most of what you already have.
I’m all about creating an upbeat, organized office that you love, no matter how big or small, and no matter where it is in (or outside of) your home. The US northeast is enjoying a picture-perfect summer right now, and it seems a shame to spend my workdays inside if I don’t have to. I usually work in my office on a desktop that is ethernet-connected, but there are still some things I can do away from my desk, like make phone calls, review large files, and write articles like this. Most of you probably work on a laptop, so getting outside should be even easier.
If you are home. All. The. Time. with your family, getting out to the porch or yard might be just what the doctor ordered to give everyone a little bit more space.
It doesn’t take a lot, but there are a few critical must-haves to set up an outside home office.
Outdoor Home Office Must Haves:
Table- To save your back, a comfortable table will easily substitute for a desk. We’ve bought this cast aluminum dining set at our last house, over twelve years ago. It’s lightweight, and at 48″ it’s the perfect size for 4-person dining. We’ve been eating lunch out here a lot lately. This set on Amazon has a lot of the same features that my set has. (affiliate links here and below) The tabletop is made of smooth flat pieces, so it’s comfortable to lean on and write on, but the wide slats also allow for rainwater to wash through and dry quickly. It’s the best outdoor table I’ve ever seen.
Chair- This is where so many outdoor dining sets go wrong. Most chairs have a metal or a webbed seat bottom that is not made for sitting without a cushion, which means you can’t use it if your cushions get wet. Our dining chairs have wide metal slats on both the back and seat of the chair, so you can sit without cushions or add cushions that make it comfortable enough to sit out here and work for a couple of hours. We bring the cushions into the family room every night, so we aren’t stuck with wet cushions when it rains. It also makes them last longer.
Wifi- My signal drops off just past the back doors, so we’ve added a wifi signal extender like this one just inside. It takes a minute to set it up, but it is so worth it to have the signal where you need it. Caution: even with a signal booster, your connection may not be strong enough to support a video call. You might want to check this before an important meeting.
Covered area- You really need a covered spot if you are going to work outside, because it’s hard to see your screen in full sunlight. A couple of years ago, I bought this massive patio umbrella at the Philadelphia Home Show when I was speaking there. This thing is massive. It’s two-tiered to help withstand strong wind. It cranks, swivels from side to side, and pivots on an angle. We store it in the basement at the end of the season and when there’s a hurricane bearing down, but otherwise it stays out all summer, and it looks nearly brand new after four years. You might think that my favorite thing about it is the party lights. But truly my favorite thing about it is the deck mount, which means that it is out of the way and doesn’t limit us from moving the table around. This 8×8 patio umbrella throws plenty of shade, and that’s a good thing. If you don’t have a covered porch or an umbrella like this, even a standard table umbrella can help you manage in an outdoor home office.
Bug/sun protection- The only thing my lovely umbrella doesn’t have is a fan. If you have a structure where you can mount an outdoor-rated ceiling fan, then you have built-in insect protection, because bugs don’t like the breeze. If you don’t have a ceiling fan, you can purchase a pretty outdoor pedestal fan like this one.
Electric- While most things are rechargeable these days, having electrical outlets outside makes it possible to have a fan or lawn toys. We hired an electrician ages ago to add covered, outdoor-rated outlets to our house and garage. For the little money that we spent, we have had so much enjoyment from having electricity where we need it. Money on a licensed electrician is never wasted.
Office tote- Make it easy on yourself and get a tote to move things from inside to outside and back again. I just borrowed an insulated picnic tote from my kitchen because the insulation provides just a little more cushion for my electronics. I know, it seems strange to take a tote from one part of your house to another, right? But it just makes it easier, especially if you are going to carry snacks or a drink outside, too. You probably have a tote or a backpack already that will do the job just fine, maybe even an insulated one like mine, but if not, check out this pretty insulated tote for your outside home office. You want one large enough that your laptop fits, but not so large that things get lost in there.
Clipboard- If you are outside, there’s going to be wind, and papers are gonna fly. The simple solution is a clipboard. And why not make it cute? If you need office supplies, you might as well make them beautiful. Check out these gorgeous colorful clipboards. You can find clipboards to fit your favorite color scheme.
Appropriate video backdrop- You know the old saying…
If you were lucky or smart enough to plant your trees or hedges in the right place 10 or 20 years ago, maybe you have a lush, green natural backdrop for your video calls since our whole life is on Zoom these days. If you don’t have that lush backdrop, just be mindful of what’s in the background. If your camera gets a glare from your patio doors, you can probably pivot just a smidge and make the video call a bit nicer for your team. Try not to show your neighbor’s house; it’s just polite, plus you don’t need them walking through your background in a bathing suit, right? If you need to move some potted plants around to create a little screen between you and some other outdoor feature that is less than ideal, go ahead and stage it a bit.
Headphones with mic- Especially if you live in a noisy area, or if you live in a very quiet area and know that you need to take calls outside, you might need a headset with a mic. You probably already have a set of those, so you can drop them in your tote and head outside.
Outdoor Home Office Optional Equipment:
Plants- For me this is optional, but it might be what makes you happy. We’re growing tomatoes, and we’ve had one harvest already! Knowing that our container gardens would be a feature on the back porch this year, we opted for an attractive trellis over wire tomato cages, and I’m pleased with how they look. But other plants can like basil and marigolds can help ward off bugs, which makes your home office even nicer.
Mosquito repellent incense sticks- At the end of last year, I grabbed some of these fabulous mosquito repellent incense sticks. We just stick them on the edge of potted plants and let them smolder. They do a surprisingly good job, and I don’t feel like I’m going to bed covered in DEET.
Rug- This one is a hard pass for me. I love the way outdoor rugs look, but we get a lot of water on our deck. A rug would just invite pests and mold, and it would need constant cleaning. But if you have a covered or screened porch, a rug can really add a lot of color and style. Click below for a porch redesign and see what a difference an outdoor rug can make in the right space.
Doormat- This cute doormat was my one $25 splurge this year for the back patio this year. Having a doormat on the outside really reduces the amount of dirt coming into the house. I like this raised rubber design, that lets the grass fall right through, rather than getting tracked in the house. Even with easy-to-care-for FLOR tiles in the family room, I’ll do anything to keep it clean inside.
Tablecloth- If you haven’t found these lovely fabric spill-resistant tablecloths yet, I highly recommend them. Many come with a center hole for your umbrella and zipper to make getting them on and off a cinch. I love that they are lightweight and easy to wash. There are so many pretty patterns to choose from. They are almost as fun as adding a rug to your outdoor home office.
Music- If you like to stream music from your mobile device, you probably already have a speaker. But if you don’t, choose a waterproof speaker for your home office that can stay outside, maybe something that says “staycation” like this suction-cup flamingo Bluetooth speaker.
See, it’s not that hard to move your office outside for part of the day while the weather is nice. It might just lead to other benefits, like feeling less anxious overall. Don’t I look relaxed? I’m am going to relax this summer…even if it kills me.
If you have an outside office and you need to meet with other people, you’ve got options if you have an outdoor office with shade, electric, a breeze, and maybe even an outdoor misting system like this one. (Water and electronics don’t mix. Keep the mist away from your computer and phone.)
Another benefit of bringing your office outside is being closer to your favorite outdoor activities. I love biking, but I still don’t do it nearly as often as I’d like. But if I’m already outside, there’s a much better chance that I’ll get out for a walk or ride during the day.
If you haven’t already picked up your copy of The Upbeat, Organized Home Office, get yours here. I’d love to hear in the comments below if I’ve inspired you to make any changes to create an outside home office that you love.