L.L. Bean is doing its best to turn the concept of being “out of the office” on its head.
On the first day of summer on June 21, the Maine-based outdoors retailer took over Madison Square Park in New York to launch an innovative initiative it called “Be an Outsider at Work.”
Bean partnered with Industrious, a coworking company similar to We Work with more than 35 locations in 28 cities, to create what it billed as the first-ever outdoor coworking space. For two days, Bean and Industrious set up conference rooms, individual workspaces, comfortable plush chairs and even cycling desks in a corner of the park and invited people to work outside.
It was easy to book an appointment online on a dedicated web site, and once in the park, there was plenty of comfortable space and privacy to get work accomplished while enjoying a breeze and some sunshine filtered through the tall trees. There were power strips and Wi-Fi as well, providing everything needed for creating an outdoor office.
After New York, Bean brought the concept to Boston, where the brand just opened a store. It will set up in Philadelphia from July 17-19 and then in Madison, Wis., from July 24-26.
“So many of us love spending time outdoors and appreciate the benefits, yet for many people outdoor time is only spent away from work and on weekends,” said Steve Smith, president and chief executive officer of L.L. Bean. “We hope that the ‘Be an Outsider at Work’ initiative will inspire employees to be creative in finding new ways to incorporate outdoor time in their day. We also hope that by demonstrating the benefits, employers will be supportive of this idea.”
Jamie Hodari, ceo of Industrious, added: “Companies are beginning to realize that the digital transformation is making the workplace more flexible, collaborative, and open than ever before. People thrive in coworking spaces and we think there is potential for even greater benefits if they work together outside.”
As part of the initiative, Bean also commissioned a survey about the outdoors, which found that while 87 percent of indoor workers consider themselves someone who enjoys the outdoors, 75 percent of them rarely or never work outside.
Other findings of the L.L. Bean 2018 Work and the Outdoors Survey found that 86 percent of indoor workers would like to spend more time outside during the workday and 65 percent said their job is the biggest barrier to them getting outside.
Interestingly, only half of the respondents said their colleagues or bosses would keep them from working outside as long as the tasks got done. And there are tangible benefits to working in the great outdoors, workers believe, including 74 percent who said it would improve their mood, 71 percent who said it would lower their stress level, 69 percent who said it would provide relaxation, 66 percent who said it would promote health and wellness, and 64 percent who said it would increase happiness.
Among those who do, or would, work outside, it’s those in the creative fields who are more likely to embrace the concept. Only 41 percent of respondents who do computer-based work and 32 percent who often conduct conference calls would be comfortable working outside, the survey found.
Bean did its best to address those issues with its outdoor workplace set-up. On the first day of the New York installation, a group was camped out in the conference room having a brainstorming session with laptops and cell phones at the ready — and even a dog resting on the floor for inspiration. Others were typing away on laptops or using tables to take notes.
The survey was conducted in partnership with Leigh Stringer, author of “The Healthy Workplace: How to Improve the Well-Being of Your Employees — and Boost Your Company’s Bottom Line.”
“As humans, we have a preference to be in and among nature over man-made environments, so why not adopt the notion of working outside,” Stringer said. “Our survey revealed there’s a strong desire to spend more time outside during the workday, and our goal with this initiative is to show that there are many different ways to do so — we’re turning the workspace inside out.”
A Bean spokesman said that for more than 100 years, the company has had a mission to get people outdoors and try to “reduce barriers” to that happening. “And we’re showing that if work is seen as a barrier, it doesn’t have to be.”