Guest Post by Ruta Patil, Director of Global Workplace Strategy, Microsoft

As companies adapt to the new hybrid work model, the challenge for commercial real estate professionals is to balance employee productivity and choice. Employers need to provide a range of compelling work environments and experiences that focus on health, well-being, and community to make returning to the office worthwhile.

How and where we work has evolved over the last 18 months, and our choices have expanded exponentially. Thinking about the future of our workplaces and what makes them compelling gives us an opportunity to reimagine the boundaries of our buildings and consider how workplaces can expand into outdoor spaces to create healthy, flexible, and collaborative environments for a diverse, hybrid population.

According to Harvard physician Eva M. Selhub, co-author of Your Brain on Nature, research shows that connecting with the outdoors reduces stress, enhances creativity, and helps us think more clearly. Conversely, the lack of access to nature can have a damaging effect on mental and physical health and hinder productivity.

This understanding guides how we think about workplaces at Microsoft, and how we can seamlessly connect our interiors to the outdoors through landscaping, accessible courtyards, decks, and outdoor spaces that support a variety of work modes and engagement.

Some key principles to consider

  • Spaces should be accessible so they can be enjoyed by all.
  • There should be variety to support individual experience, small group gatherings, or large team events. Choice is important!
  • Extend the use of outdoor spaces through the seasons by providing shelter, heating, and cooling.
  • For outdoor meeting spaces, prioritize access to power, secure WiFi, and provide tools such as white boards so we’re ready when inspiration strikes.

People have always thought of home as a haven from the stress of the workplace, but for people who live in crowded urban environments, an office that connects them with the outdoors can be a haven in its own right. As we usher in a hybrid work model at home and the office, this is one more compelling reason to see outdoor spaces as an essential element of the workplace.

Ruta Patil is Director of Global Workplace Strategy, Microsoft