Forget unassigned seating at the office or the miniature golf course inside a mall, the biggest innovations at many commercial properties are occurring outside. For example, Facebook’s headquarters has a 9-acre green rooftop that has been described as more like a park and includes a walking trail and hammocks. A 40-year-old Houston mall was credited with reinventing itself with a large outdoor expansion that has an open-air section of stores and outdoor space for hosting movies, concerts and community events. Type “new Apple campus” into a search engine to see what it looks like when one of the world’s most innovative companies embraces the trend. The point is, companies and retailers are looking outside for ways to inspire and excite employees and customers.“Companies want to get employees more engaged and happy so that they stay there,” says Julia Lundquist, global account manager at Legrand, a global company that specializes in electrical and digital building infrastructures. “From a retail perspective, they know if they can attract people and keep them in the stores, people will spend more money.”
There are large-scale examples like Apple, Facebook and a mall, but facilities of all sizes are buying into this trend. Think of the 50-employee office that adds a courtyard, or the coffee shop with outdoor seating and free Wi-Fi.
One of the reasons for the trend toward the great outdoors, as Lundquist points out, is that employers and retailers want to attract and retain people, whether they are workers or customers. Enhancing outdoor space is one way to do so.
Today, technology is mobile and ubiquitous. A worker doesn’t need to be tied to a desk to be productive. With a laptop, cell phone and wireless internet connection, he or she can head outside and do just about anything that can be done in an office. And shoppers want to be able to use their phones and other devices to compare prices and share items with friends no matter where they are.
The stakes are high for employers and retailers in these fast-changing times. When it comes to workplaces, the competition for the best employees is fierce. “With large tech companies, for example, employees are constantly leaving for whoever has the best deal,” Lundquist says. “That costs companies a lot of money every year. Keeping employees happy, keeping them productive and keeping them believing you are the best company to work for is important.”
Having an innovative workspace is one way to appeal to employees. That’s why many offices are ditching cubicles for open, attractive floor plans. Or they’re adding games to the breakroom, lunchtime yoga sessions or enhancing their outdoor spaces. These perks appeal to all employees, but companies are particularly keen to appeal to millennials. They are now the largest share of the U.S. labor force, and by 2025 millennials will make up three out of four members of the workforce, according to a study by Forbes magazine.
A 2016 global survey by Deloitte found that flexible working arrangements rank high on what millennials value when evaluating job opportunities. Offering creative working conditions, like outdoor workspace, is one way employers are trying to entice this coveted group. There’s also research that suggests that getting outside during the work day can increase productivity and creativity while reducing stress.
With retailers, it’s no secret that brick-and-mortar stores are competing against online shopping. One way these stores are trying to attract customers is by making their physical locations a destination worth visiting and, in some cases, more than a place to shop. Another potential benefit is the longer people spend at a location, the greater the chance they will spend money.
“People go to Starbucks to work because it’s a change of pace from the office and they can get a drink and food,” Lundquist notes. “And Starbucks wants you to be there. They want you to stay.”