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How outside space can help bring out the best in employees

Outdoor areas in urban offices can help to boost wellbeing and productivity and provide dynamic spaces that encourage connection.

July 25, 2019

During long, warm summer days, spending all day working indoors can leave many employees gazing wistfully out of the window.

Amid a growing focus on workplace health and wellbeing, not to mention employee experience, companies are taking note. Growing numbers of firms are now opting for offices with outdoor space, whether it’s grassy surroundings for lunchtimes away from a computer screen, shaded terraces for meetings or even rooftop running tracks.

“Companies are beginning to realize that, when it comes to workplace performance, employee experience is just as important as a building’s operational efficiency,” says Guzmán de Yarza Blache, JLL’s Head of Workplace Strategy, EMEA.

As such, they’re designing spaces that are more in tune with the physical and psychological needs of their employees. 

Boosting productivity through wellbeing

From fresh air and natural daylight to vegetation and green spaces, regular exposure to nature is not just enjoyable - it also has significant benefits for physical and mental wellbeing.

A growing body of research has shown that time spent outside lowers the heart rate, reduces inflammation, and stems the production of cortisol, the stress hormone. What’s more, natural elements have a restorative effect on mental fatigue, helping the brain to recuperate after extended periods of focus.

In London, 100 Liverpool Street is undergoing extensive renovation and will receive three additional floors featuring planted terraces and outdoor amenity space. The rooftop of Adobe’s headquarters is home to London’s highest running track, and the Post Building, a former Royal Mail sorting office with private terraces on every floor, has been partially pre-let by insurance firm Rothesay Life. Beyond the capital, Salford’s 100 Embankment will be topped by tiered terraces with green elements and 360-degree panoramas of Manchester.

“We’re seeing demand for offices with outdoor space from tenants who want to create a more interesting work environment as part of a competitive package of employee benefits,” says James Norton, JLL UK Director of Research.

“Occupiers are increasingly willing to consider new locations, with the quality of amenities on offer now higher up the decision-making agenda.”

A breath of fresh air

While departing from the traditional office set-up can be expensive for companies, Yarza Blache believes it’s an investment worth making.

“There’s no doubt that access to natural elements has a huge role to play in boosting productivity,” he says. The added flexibility has also been shown to be beneficial, with employees performing better when given the freedom to decide where they work.

Currently, most outdoor space in office buildings is used for casual work, such as checking emails and taking phone calls, as well as meetings and breakouts, with the informal setting leading to better outcomes and stronger relationships.

Similarly, onsite restaurants and bars with outdoor areas are instrumental in enhancing employee experience and teambuilding. “If correctly managed, through hospitality features and cultural elements that activate the space, outdoor areas have the power to bring people together,” says Yarza Blache.

The fifth facade

Amid growing demand for outdoor spaces in office buildings, developers face a number of challenges. “There’s the question of how much office space you lose and whether the loss of rental income can be offset by achieving a rental premium through the addition of outdoor areas,” says Norton.

Despite the additional considerations, the appetite for outdoor space is set to continue in line with a wider shift towards experience-focused buildings.

“From terraces and green spaces to sports facilities and a retail mix, buildings with amenities will outperform those without,” says Norton. “We’re seeing offices which offer an attractive mix of amenities achieve rental premiums, leading to a growing gap between rents achieved on prestige properties and the market average.”

Furthermore, new developments are setting the bar even higher. “As evidenced by Google’s forthcoming landscaper at King’s Cross, rooftops and open air spaces will become the building’s true protagonist, the fifth facade,” Yarza Blache concludes.

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