Women with camper van

How To Set Up an Outdoor Office

Whether embarking on an off-grid adventure or simply stepping into the backyard, here’s everything you need to know about creating the perfect outdoor workspace

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. 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. 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 spending time outside enhances creativity, improves concentration, and helps people think more clearly. 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.
Ariel shot

How will I get power?

With today’s work devices, power is obviously something you’ll need in your outdoor office. The method you choose to power them, however, will depend on where you’ll be and how long you’ll be there. If you’re just going into the backyard, for example, the solution can be as simple as an extension cord. But if you’re going out deep into the wilderness, you’ll need something more self-sufficient.

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 petrol 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.

Man on laptop

How can I make my internet stronger?

In addition to power, you’ll likely need an internet connection when you’re outside. You can often tether your phone to your laptop and use your phone’s mobile hotspot to work. However, if you have a lot of virtual work meetings (or if your job involves lots of downloads), you may not have enough bandwidth for this. Most phone plans throttle (i.e., get slower) at around 15 gigabytes per month, so if you attend a lot of Zoom meetings, you’ll go through this quickly. If that’s the case, you may want to consider a mobile hotspot like Skyroam Solis X or Netgear Nighthawk M1 Router. These offer portable internet connections wherever you go—you simply purchase a plan and connect it to the hotspot.

Other helpful devices for improving your internet setup include Wi-Fi extenders and mobile 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.

How do I deal with computer glare?

Computer glare is one of the more challenging issues to working outside, but it doesn’t need to be a deal-breaker. There are lots of contraptions out there that can attach to your screen to reduce glare if you find yourself in a sunny location. Some options stick to your screen, while others look like miniature tents for your laptop.

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.

Working outside

Is there anything I can do about background noise?

As with computer glare, background noise is one of those things that’s difficult to eliminate completely when you’re working outside, particularly if you’re in a backyard or other urban area. Headphones definitely help, but if you like to work in silence, they typically just trade one distracting sound for another. The best thing you can do to reduce background noise is leave the city completely and get out in nature. Go somewhere off the grid where the only sounds you’ll hear will be birds chirping or trees rustling in the wind.

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.

Working from a tent

How can I make myself more comfortable?

When you’re working in your garden, you can choose any desk or chair that’s comfortable to sit in. However, folks who choose to work from parks, nature reserves, campgrounds, national forests, beaches, and other scenic areas need to have more portable setups that are lightweight and comfortable. This is where a convenient folding desk and lightweight chairs come in handy. To avoid back pain, you may also want to look at ergonomic setups like special keyboard lifts and computer mouses that prevent you from hunching over or sitting improperly.

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 devices to keep on top of your outdoor desk.

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