In 2017, when Ellen Zachos and I started our podcast, Plantrama, we included an occasional feature called Your Outdoor Office. We knew that given “the gig economy,” more people were working freelance, and many of them were doing so from home. It made sense to encourage them to spend part of their workday where they could feel the breeze, look at beautiful plants and be away from their normal indoor surroundings. Little did we know that in 2020 millions of people would be working this way because of the pandemic and many are likely to continue to do so.
Because of COVID, work-from-anywhere jobs have become almost commonplace, and this signals a trend that our industry should be jumping on. In addition to helping our customers plant vegetable gardens and furnish their outdoor living spaces, we can assist them to create outdoor workstations. The Outdoor Office is here, and IGCs can provide what home-workers need to enhance their routines.
An outdoor office can be simple or elaborate. Basically, what most people need is a wireless signal, a place to put the laptop, a surface to hold a phone and a beverage, and some shade so that they can easily see their screen. My front farmer’s porch is an example of a space that contains the essentials of an outdoor work area. There is a roof overhead for shade and comfortable Adirondack chairs to sit in. The wide arms on these seats hold my iced coffee and phone, the computer is on my lap and I’m using the Wi-Fi signal from the house.
You might already be offering your customers the necessities for an outdoor office. Perhaps your IGC sells awnings or lathes that can be used to create some shade. If furniture is part of your inventory, look at your stock and evaluate which pieces would be appropriate for an outdoor workstation. Shady arbors are not only inviting for meals or cocktails, but can be promoted as work areas as well.
Most homeowners don’t have endless space to set up an office as well as outdoor living areas, so we need to show them how to have both in a small area. High tables can serve as a standing desk during the day and a bar in the evening. Regular tables can be used for meals or as a place to put the laptop. And a sturdy, short table can be placed next to a chair to hold accessories or in front of a seat to serve as an ottoman. Displays that show how the products you sell can be used either for work or entertaining purposes will spark ideas and open options for your customers.
Structures and outbuildings
Just as furniture can do double duty, so can outdoor structures such as gazebos, screened porches and garden sheds. These can become workspaces in addition to functioning for entertainment or storage. A shed that is large enough could be divided into part office, part tool and pot stowing, for example. Flexible-use furniture could fill a gazebo. Talk to your clients about the advantages of installing ceiling fans for ventilation or screens on shed windows.
This is the fun part for garden centers: We can talk about what particular plants bring to the outdoor office. We might tell the tale about looking up from your computer screen and watching the wind create a ballet in the ornamental grasses or the King Tut papyrus. We can tell them about the pleasures of seeing hummingbirds come to the Cuphea that’s in a pot only a few feet from the computer. We could remind people that a container of lemon verbena will provide aromatherapy when their Zoom meeting goes on for a just bit too long. And we can encourage them to grow a Meyer lemon in a pot for the fragrant flowers and cocktail ingredients at the end of the day. The outdoor office is a workspace with life-affirming benefits.
Sharing the vision
Although we easily picture the ways people can create outdoor work spaces, it’s up to us to communicate that to our customers. Here are a few suggestions:
• Use #YourOutdoorOffice in social media posts, along with photos of furniture or plants.
• Write about outside work areas in your blog or newsletter. (And please, feel free to share the ideas in this article!)
• Post #YourOutdoorOffice on signage that’s attached to appropriate plants and products.
• Write a press release about this trend and send it to your local media outlets.
• Put up periodic posts about this movement on local gardening Facebook groups, and ask others to take photos of their outdoor work areas.
• Schedule a talk — virtual if necessary — on the topic, and explain how your business can help make remote work more enjoyable.
There are opportunities for IGCs in this your-office-can-be-anywhere age. Let’s get to work.