Inside Out: Planning, Designing, And Building Outdoor Amenities

Inside Out: Planning, Designing, And Building Outdoor Amenities

Originally published in IFMA’s FMJ Magazine. By Alvaro J. Ribeiro, AIA, senior architect at Margulies Perruzzi Architects

BOSTON – February 1, 2018 – A building’s curb appeal, image and energy can make or break first impressions. Creating places for people to experience a property – whether it’s first walking through a wonderful entry courtyard or just stopping to sit and talk – can cement a building’s identity in a visitor or prospective tenant’s mind. This process of placemaking starts with thoughtful exterior design. Elements such as landscaping, canopies and outdoor amenities are a valuable part of a building’s identity. Creating outdoor amenities as an extension of the workplace is emerging as a national trend in major cities across the country, with real estate developers and facility managers playing a significant role in their management and operation.

Just as interior amenities such as corporate cafés, fitness centers and game rooms are becoming common features, companies are beginning to tap into the value of outdoor amenities to make properties stand out, create inspiring and motivating exterior work environments, and support a sense of well-being and community.

Property owners increasingly understand the important impact on attracting new tenants by integrating highly desirable amenities in new and redeveloped office buildings. Building owners and tenants are keen to bring the outside in, often with features that stream natural light into the office and support plant-covered “living green walls” for example. They are also enticing people to work, exercise and socialize more outside as well.

In urban areas, outdoor amenities, like roof decks and gardens, Wi-Fi-enabled outdoor seating areas, and access to bike-sharing, are cropping up. In the suburbs, outdoor amenities like putting greens, recreational trails, and central courtyards draw workers outside at various times during the day.

Outdoor amenities are helping building owners, tenants, and facility managers address the values and habits of an evolving workforce, promote increased employee wellness, and turn real estate assets into a competitive advantage. All of it requires a coordinated effort and a shared vision between real estate owners, corporate human resources, and operations.

Successful Strategies

Competition for the best talent is fierce, and facility managers have a role to play in attracting and retaining employees. Forward-thinking organizations are re-evaluating their workplace strategy and appealing to talent by offering rich amenities that support well-being, provide a sense of community, help reduce stress and employee turnover, increase teamwork, and strengthen the company’s vision and values.

Millennials in particular desire amenities like roof decks, landscaped patios, casual seating areas with fire pits, and recreational spaces because of the social interaction and work-life balance these environments help create. Offering small communal settings where people can work, eat, learn and play is essential for increasing social interaction and employee engagement, both inside and outside the office.

In fact, when it comes to the top five ways to improve employee engagement, creating
a sense of community ranks number one on the list. The physical workspace is an important aspect of promoting employee engagement, and companies understand that creative and innovative employees need flexibility in the work environment to do their jobs. The Steelcase 360 Report on engagement and the global workplace found that 67 percent of companies have outdoor seating areas, a trend that shows a successful workplace strategy includes offering a variety of interior and exterior communal settings that help drive individual productivity and wellbeing, as well as an organization’s success.

The Human Factor

Most employees spend 80 percent of their day inside, and sedentary lifestyles are known to negatively impact health. A 2017 study from Columbia University Medical Center found that being in the same position with little or no movement for 60- to 90-minutes over several hours each day increased the risk of early death – even in those who exercised.

However, even small changes in scenery and business practices can counter the negative effects of sedentary behavior. A 2015 study from the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine found that changing just one seated meeting into a walking meeting per week, increased work-related physical activity levels by 10 minutes. Office workers participating in the study conducted weekly meetings in groups of two or three, and were asked to wear accelerometers to measure activity levels over three weeks. The study suggests that modifying traditional seated meetings to walking ones is easy to implement and conduct during regular working hours.

Given that 80 percent of every business’ operating costs are spent on people, many companies have turned their focus on how the workplace, and the ways we work in and out of it, can promote wellness for employees. Studies show that healthy employees perform better, take less sick time, and are far more productive. Companies have been responding to higher health insurance costs and the uncertainty of the health care industry for several years by investing in programs and strategies that help employees stay healthy. This next level of wellness will require reimagining the modern office.

As wellness in the workplace evolves, so does the overall thinking about how facility amenities can keep employees healthy and help them perform at peak levels – beyond offering health insurance or access to the company gym. That’s why many landlords and property managers are now looking to make better use of the premium outdoor space surrounding their suburban buildings by creating gardens, outdoor rooms, and walking areas that support wellness and social interaction. Facility managers are weighing in on how companies can incorporate interior and exterior features that encourage employees to get away from their desk, move around more, and experience the physical, mental, and emotional benefits of fresh air and the natural environment.

With this goal in mind, more companies and building owners are beginning to offer outdoor recreational programming and walking trails that provide stress relief and opportunities for fitness. The global headquarters for Boston Scientific Corporation in Marlborough, Massachusetts offers an inviting environment to get fresh air and sunlight during the work day. The campus features a landscaped courtyard, accessible to and linking all four buildings of the campus quadrangle, that provides a series of outdoor rooms and vegetated meeting areas. The landscaped courtyard is regularly used for small meetings or casual outdoor relaxation and company outings. At 101 Station Drive, a 208,000 SF repositioned and renovated office building in Westwood, Massachusetts, the open lawn in front of the building is often used for tai chi classes in good weather.

Outdoor workspace and amenities contribute to social and emotional well-being too. The dynamics of community and collaboration are being challenged with the rise of the mobile workforce. Shared outdoor workspaces are the bridge between traditional office space and independent remote work because they offer opportunities to gather, collaborate and socialize in an open, natural and relaxed setting.

Office buildings in major metropolitan areas are being transformed with the outdoors in mind. For example, Boston Scientific Corporation’s new global customer fulfillment center in Quincy, Massachusetts enhances the employee experience with a variety of high-end amenities, including a waterfront roof terrace with adjoining full-service corporate café. As the jewel of the building, the 2,000 SF waterfront roof terrace, with Wi-Fi connectivity, reconfigurable outdoor casual seating and conference spaces, offers stunning views of downtown Boston and provides a compelling amenity for employees.

The O&M Viewpoint

Facility managers can play a critical role in the selection, use, and upkeep of outdoor amenities, as they are often most attuned to what amenities make the most sense for a building and the people working in it. They can also play a key role in advancing the building owner’s – and tenants’ – vision for the use of these shared outdoor spaces.

Facility managers can bring valuable insight to issues such as understanding the structural requirements and permitting process for a new roof deck or the accessibility and connectivity needs for walking trails and outdoor meeting spaces. When it comes to deciding on what amenities to invest in, facility managers may be asked to think beyond the cost and consider the greater benefits outdoor amenities have on the potential to increase engagement and productivity, lower health costs, and reduce time away from work.

The maintenance and use of outdoor spaces in urban areas can significantly differ from those in suburban locations. Hosting events after-hours on a roof deck may require additional evening facility management staff to override lighting controls and monitor the security system, while accommodating lunchtime food trucks in the courtyard of a suburban office complex may require nothing more than scheduling. The timing of maintenance should also be considered, to make sure that the grass is cut for a fitness class or that sprinklers do not go on when people are congregating outside.

Finally, remember that outdoor amenities can help distinguish office buildings as a marketable property and can be a deciding factor for discerning tenants. With rents on the rise in most cities, appealing amenities – both inside and outside – could make the difference in creating a leasable real estate asset for the building owner.

As more companies and landlords integrate outdoor amenities into office life, this workplace trend will continue to have significant impact on how facility managers operate and maintain exterior areas and grounds in the future.