Outdoor Meeting Spaces: How The Nature of Meetings is Changing

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Although meetings were traditionally reserved for the conference room, and still are to an extent, there’s a rising demand for flexible outdoor meetings that promote wellbeing and increase engagement without distracting people from the task at hand.

Breaking routines – like where and when you conduct meetings – can help spark new ideas and get people thinking outside the box. 

When new methods and environments are used to convey information, our brains are more receptive and we’re more likely to tackle things creatively. 

In this video, business innovator Nilofer Merchant talks about how an outdoor meeting with a client inspired her to make a positive change. 

Nilofer Merchant: Got a meeting? Take a walk

Nilofer Merchant suggests a small idea that just might have a big impact on your life and health: Next time you have a one-on-one meeting, make it into a “walking meeting” — and let ideas flow while you walk and talk.

Let’s take a look at some of the benefits outdoor meetings can bring.

1. Improved communication

Truth be told, people often feel more relaxed outdoors in nature than within the confines of a corporate office building. 

Participants are more likely to contribute ideas and express themselves in a more authentic way. 

Holding meetings outside helps dismantle the often restrictive employer-employee barrier and facilitates better communication within teams. 

2. Fewer distractions

In an office-based meeting, participants are more likely to be distracted by technology – checking emails, scrolling through social media…you know the deal. 

They are less likely to do this and are more likely to stay engaged for longer periods in an outdoor context where they can’t sneak a peek at their phone under the desk. 

University of Michigan research shows that being outside improves memory and attention.

It might seem counterintuitive, but outdoor meetings in public places also have fewer interruptions and you don’t have to worry about overrunning into another business’ booked time. 

You’ll probably find that you’re more productive outside than in!

3. More energy

We’ve all experienced the post-lunch work slump. 

It usually happens at around 2 o’clock and no amount of coffee can alleviate it. 

What better way to tackle it than with a restorative meeting in an open space. 

A change of scenery can help wake people up by getting the endorphins flowing, thus enabling them to refocus better.  

According to a series of studies in the Journal of Environmental Psychology, spending time in nature leads to increased vitality.

4. Healthier lifestyle

Around 8-in-10 office workers spend four to nine hours a day sitting at their desks; the equivalent of about 67 sedentary days per worker annually. 

According to one study, 26% of those polled said it had a negative impact on their productivity.

Being sedentary at work can lead to a number of health conditions, both mental and physical (including chronic illnesses).

Helping employees integrate exercise into their working day by travelling on foot to a local outdoor meeting space can only be a good thing. 

5. Larger capacity

Some workspaces simply aren’t able to accommodate large teams for events or conferences. 

They may only have a couple of meeting rooms for, say, four or six people. 

Outdoor venues are often seen as an attractive solution because they provide lots of space for people to move about freely within. 

6. More enjoyable

Getting out and about can work wonders for team morale, especially if everyone’s been cooped up in the office all week working on a big project. 

Enabling people to work together outdoors can help people recuperate and come back stronger than ever. 

Spending 20 minutes in an outdoor space such as a park is enough to improve an individuals well-being, according research published in the International Journal of Environmental Health Research. 

7. Removes tension

Meetings outside can feel more informal than those held in a corporate conference room, which can be a positive thing on many levels. 

Firstly, it makes for a more relaxed atmosphere so people feel more at ease contributing and interacting. 

Why not go the extra mile and combine your next outdoor meeting with a picnic (weather permitting), and allow your employees to dress casually?

Things to consider when planning an outdoor meeting

If there’s only going to be a few of you and the meeting can be conducted tech-free, you don’t really have much to think about. 

If this isn’t the case, there are a number of things to consider – but the following three should definitely feature in your planning. 

1. Audiovisual

For meetings requiring a lot of audiovisual equipment, it might be worth staying indoors. 

Consider the extra costs and time involved in setting up projection screens, microphones and laptops. 

Also keep in mind that it can be difficult, or in some instances impossible to control lighting and ambient noise. 

2. Backup plan

Have an alternative venue in case, for instance, the weather turns bad.

Make a note of local hotels, cafes and coworking spaces that might be able to accommodate you on the day. 

3. Expect the unexpected

If you intend on hosting your outdoor meeting in a public place, bear in mind that distracting things might happen – shouting, laughing, a frisbee in the face (okay, hopefully not that). 

In a way, this could help set people at ease and kickstart creative engagement. 

If for whatever reason holding a meeting outside just isn’t viable, why not compromise by bringing the outdoors in?

If possible, make use of your office’s roof terrace, fill your meeting space with plants or simply allow participants to take a short break outside.

Get out and give it a try!

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