Recycled air, artificial lights, the guy sitting next to you coughing up a storm; there are plenty of reasons why employees might need to step outside for a minute and enjoy some fresh air and sunlight. Even if your business is a one man show, creating a comfortable outdoor retreat for your office space can benefit both workers and clients. Apart from the simple advantage of a good stretch and some time away from the desk, spending a portion of your day outside can help by:

  • Keeping your internal clock in check, which helps with sleeping patterns
  • Providing you with beneficial vitamin D
  • Reducing your chances of developing anxiety or depression
  • Giving you a feeling of restoration
  • Giving you a chance to socialize with other employees and/or clients outside of the workspace

You can encourage these outdoor breaks by providing a comfortable space with plenty of seating, shade and, of course, greenery. As an added bonus, the space can also be used for company parties, entertaining clients and even the occasional employee picnic lunch during the work week.

The first step is picking your patio. Depending on the area you’re working with, you might have to limit your outdoor seating to a small space or get creative with stark environments. Following are a handful of office situations and suggestions for creating an outdoor retreat for each.

The Concrete Jungle

Sometimes the best deal on office space doesn’t mean the best deal on your surrounding environment. Solid concrete as far as the eye can see doesn’t make for the most relaxing outdoor space, but by adding some shade and plant life you can create an instant retreat. For concrete areas, consider:

  • Building a wooden deck in a shaded corner of the building or squaring off the space with a short wall.
  • For full-sun areas, add shading such as stretched canvas, pergolas (which you can train vines to grow on for added shade), or wide umbrellas.
  • Add patio cushions in bright colors to distract from the drab surroundings.
  • Accent the space with potted plants. If you have enough employees, consider creating a “gardening volunteer” list where they can sign up to water the plants on certain days and spend some time in the sun.
  • Provide seating in the shade and steer clear of metal frames as even the indirect heat of the concrete can heat them up quickly.

Multi-Tenant Building

If you’re in an office building with several other companies, take the initiative to create an outdoor space for everyone by speaking with the landlord and asking all of the businesses to pitch in where they can. Since multiple companies might be using the space at once, consider:

  • Creating multiple sections in the outdoor area for company-specific get-togethers. These can be created simply with long, narrow planters, with potted plants or even by positioning chairs and seating to create conversation centers.
  • Offer dedication plaques to encourage other companies to donate to the project. Businesses can sponsor an outdoor bench, a small garden area or even an umbrella or two.

Grassy Fields

While wide, grassy spaces can be a break all on their own, adding some places to sit and relax can encourage people to take advantage of the area. Additionally, offering some outdoor games can help employees let off some steam during a stressful day. With grassy areas you can:

  • Put up temporary tents for shade that can be moved or broken down as needed.
  • Plant trees for shade and flowering plants for their visual benefit.
  • Include a wooden deck for flood-prone areas or areas that receive frequent rain.

Retreat on a Budget

Even if you can’t afford to go all out on an outdoor space, you can still create a relaxing retreat. For a quick, sunny space on a dime, consider:

  • Offering folding chairs to employees to take outside during breaks.
  • Having a “planting day” where employees help plant inexpensive flowers from a local gardening store to create a bright outdoor area.
  • Visiting local yard sales for inexpensive outdoor furniture options.
  • Updating older outdoor furniture with a new coat of paint and new patio cushion slipcovers.

No matter how you approach your outdoor area at the office, creating a place for you and your employees to take a break from the rough and tumble of the daily grind can go miles toward improving both your day and your overall outlook.

What are some neat tricks you’ve found for creating a relaxing outdoor environment? What are some other ways you’ve found to encourage employees to spend some time outdoors?