Look, it’s your new office! (Author photo)

Back in the early part of the lifetime that this pandemic has surely lasted, I posted about working from home. What if you want to do that outside, and take advantage of this global emergency to conference call in the fresh air? 

Plenty of people I know are asking a similar question about spaces for their kids to do school work outside, at home. Good news: it’s a pretty similar set of requirements, regardless of the size or age of the worker. So what do you need?

A good school/office workspace outside needs:

Freedom from distraction, especially noise.
Don’t face traffic. Think about where the air conditioner is and don’t sit right next to it. If you’re going to be on the phone or talking via Zoom, put yourself somewhere you don’t feel like you’re constantly being overheard. Consider investing in a speaker or two to boost your computer’s sound, in case of neighboring lawnmowers or other loud phenomena. 

Comfortable place to sit.
Better yet, a selection of comfortable places to sit, each suited to a different task or time of day. Maybe a chair for using a laptop, a soft seat for watching videos or interacting via Zoom, and a lounge or hammock for reading. The material of these seats makes all the difference in how comfortable they are in different conditions: metal is cold yet also hot; plastic is neutral (though not as durable); cushions are far more comfortable in cooler weather (but take them in when it rains).

Table or other stable, flat surface for laptop, books, writing, and so on.
The right height for this is essential, and the relative height of chair and table is also essential. It’s the difference between fatigue and hours of comfortable use.

Good light.
That means no glare in the direction you are looking, no baking in the sun, but also enough focused light to read and do other non-screen tasks. Even during the day, a comfortably shady spot can be a bit dim to read in. Outdoor lamps exist, but lanterns or even headlamps can be fun alternatives that will be easy to repurpose when all this is over (or light your way through the zombie apocalypse, whichever).

Not too windy, not too stuffy and still.
Since this is personal taste and can vary with the day’s weather, the best way to handle this is to let the worker customize shelter to suit his/her tastes at the moment. Freestanding screens can work. Making the various chairs and seating themselves mobile will work, too, since it lets them be shifted to a warmer or cooler spot. 

Electric outlet(s) and solid wifi + cell service.
Providing an outlet can be as easy as plugging in an outdoor-grade extension cord. If you do, take the time to route it where it won’t be easy to trip over and/or tape it down. Fun additional resource: a solar bank charger, probably useful even on cloudy days, and another way to sneak a bit of science into the home-school day. (Also handy the next time the power goes out. Ask me how I know.)

Last bit of advice: ergonomics matter outside, too. No one wants carpal tunnel as a souvenir of the pandemic.

More tips coming soon in Part 2!

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