How To Set Up an Outdoor Office
BY RACHEL CAVANAUGH
You may be working from home more frequently these days, but the remnants of office life will never fully escape your memory. I mean, how could you forget those days back at headquarters—the fluorescent lights, the stale air, Steve slurping soup in the next cubicle. And let's not forget Sally from HR and her never-ending debate over whether to cut her bangs. She’s been grappling with that since 2018—just do it already, Sally!
Thankfully, you don’t have to deal with your coworkers’ constant barrage of gossip and rude eating habits anymore. But that doesn’t mean life is constant bliss either. You may still have kids running around or pets trying to distract you, not to mention the pile of laundry that was easier to forget when you spent 40 hours a week in an office. Sure, you may have gotten rid of the 3,000-pound relic of a desk from the ’70s, but working from your kitchen at the cluttered breakfast nook that’s covered in utility bills and spilled Cheerios isn’t much better.
Now for the big revelation: Did you know that you could do all of your work outside? The typing, the web browsing, the Excel sheets, the Zoom meetings. All of these tasks can be accomplished just as effectively from a scenic outdoor setting, where you can enjoy the sounds of birds frolicking, with nature swirling all around you. In fact, you’re likely to be even more productive out there. Research has shown that people who spend time outside concentrate better, think more clearly, and make fewer mistakes. Being outdoors also lowers your blood pressure, reduces stress, and bolsters your mood. It improves your happiness and boosts your health. Plus, it just feels better.
So how do you do it? Is it as simple as folding up your laptop and walking out to the garden? The answer is: sort of. Working from an outdoor office is indeed pretty simple (and increasingly popular since the pandemic), but there are still some important considerations to keep in mind to ensure a smooth, trouble-free transition. Find answers below to the most common questions people have about how to make the move outdoors.
How will I get power?
For shorter adventures, the best options are typically power banks or portable power stations. Devices like these come in all sizes, from small handheld devices (primarily USB ports) to larger blocks with 12-volt and 110-volt options. The handheld devices are usually measured in milliamp hours (mAh), ranging from around 10,000 to 30,000, while the bigger ones are measured in watt hours (Wh) that range up to about 600 Wh. Both types of gadgets come in electric, solar, and hybrid versions.
If you want to stay off the grid for an extended period of time, another option is to purchase portable solar panels. Unlike the giant metal contraptions that mount to the roof of your house, these are smaller versions that are available in easily foldable sleeves as well as briefcases and hanging window devices.
For exceptionally remote outdoor spaces, you might consider a gas generator. This is the largest, heaviest, and loudest option, but it provides significantly more power for its size than solar panels, and does so instantly. That means you don’t have to wait for batteries to charge or panels to fill with energy before booting up your computer and other electronics.
Helpful power options:
How can I make my internet stronger?
Other helpful devices for improving your internet setup include Wi-Fi extenders and cell phone signal boosters. Keep in mind, however, that neither of these devices provide internet coverage in their own right. A Wi-Fi extender expands existing Wi-Fi networks, so if you’re working from your backyard, this can be helpful. A signal booster strengthens the signal of your phone if you have it tethered to your laptop or other device. Neither, however, will create a signal that’s not there, so if you have two bars, you might get a bump up to three, but zero bars is always zero bars. Lastly, it can be helpful to have a two-way satellite communication device, particularly if you are in a more remote location. This won’t improve your internet but it will strengthen your communication with the outside world, especially in an emergency.
Helpful internet options:
How do I deal with computer glare?
None of these devices will completely eliminate sun glare, though, so if you’re in an especially sunny location, you may need to find a place with some genuine shade, or at least perch yourself under a tree. If that’s not an option, there are portable tents and UV shade covers you can choose from. These are a bit bulkier to drag around, but if you’re at a beach, desert, or other location where natural shade isn’t readily available, it may be worth the hassle to keep your computer screen glare-free.
Helpful shade options:
Is there anything I can do about background noise?
That said, trekking into the woods Monday through Friday isn’t practical for everyone, and even in campgrounds or other natural settings, there’s usually some degree of noise. Given that, noise-cancelling headphones can make a big difference. If you’re sensitive to background noise, keep a good pair of high-quality headphones in your work bag, along with a simple set of earplugs. If music distracts you, try connecting them to a white noise radio station.
Helpful background noise options:
How can I make myself more comfortable?
Lastly, don’t forget your body. It’s important for your desk and chair to be comfortable, but you also want your body itself to feel good. If you’re in a chilly climate, wear warm clothes and designate a special winter jacket that will keep you comfortable if the temperature drops—you don’t want to have to go inside just because the weather changes. Conversely, if you’re in a hot climate, make sure you have high-quality work clothes with UPF sun protection that will keep you cool so you don’t sweat to death at your new outdoor office setup. And don’t forget things like sunscreen and bug repellent. You can opt for regular insect spray, or get one of those special bug-repelling USB devices to keep on top of your outdoor desk.
Helpful comfort options: