The past few weeks have been evenly divided between time spent in the lovely moss studio and time spent on the lovely moss patio. As the weather has warmed, I’ve found the latter more difficult to resist.

Outdoor offices are kind of an oxymoron, right? Computers, buzzing phones and suits don’t belong on a grassy plain. At least, not yet.

As this Fast Co article explores, why aren’t we taking our work outside? Our increasingly digital lives supposedly enable us to work from anywhere; why must that place necessarily have windows and four walls? Though there are tasks that need to be done from inside, there are those sunny, gorgeous days that it feels criminal not to enjoy. Until offices like the one below are commonplace, here are our tips for unplugging and working outdoors.

outdoor office

Sitting right

I have long ago accepted that unaided laptops were not intended for prolonged use, and have the chiropractor to prove it. And as great for our health as working outdoors is, hunching over one’s lap in a deck chair is not.

Try and find a table that’s high enough to encourage good posture. If you can swing it, bring a laptop stand, though a couple of books, or even a cardboard box from some summer shopping will help. Get yourself a seperate mouse and even an external keyboard if you can find a reasonably portable one. A trackpad is also nice to have if you’re dragging your mouse over a super textured or slippery surface, but in a pinch, a post-it or piece of paper will do. The diagram below depicts the ideal work laptop set-up, but it’s probably a platonic ideal if you’re outdoors. Regardless of the number of accessories you’ve got, make sure to break frequently, breath in the fresh air, and appreciate that you’re not in a freezing office (also stretch out your neck and shoulders.)

ergonomics laptop setup

Visibility

Unless your work is on physical paper, you’ll notice a dramatic difference when you’re in the shade vs. the sun. You’ll also drain your battery faster cranking up the brightness to combat glare, which is another drawback, especially since the great outdoors still doesn’t contain power sockets (though my inner cynic says it’s only a matter of time). If you can find a café or table with an umbrella, set up shop under there (hello The Grind and The Bourgeois Pig). On that note, check out this fantastic solar powered parasol/charger design by Ombrellone Solare. I hope some arrive in Millenium Park asap.

Gigaom has some great tips for using laptops outdoors, including getting a sunshade for your laptop. The low-tech solution below was found in the comments section.

outdoor office laptop

Janky, but functional. Shades for your eyes work as well. And if you still can’t see, there’s always Sternlab’s Compubody sock.

Alternatively, you can just pack an umbrella or parasol with you (shame on her posture though):

working outside laptop

Battery Life

There are tricks for saving battery life, like turning off wi-fi, bluetooth and background tasks, but a couple good extension cords can easily get you into the backyard if your battery is on the verge of death every 20 minutes.

Regardless of the state of your battery, keeping external USB devices to a minimum will extend its life while you’re chargerless. I usually just work with a small USB mouse. For some more meticulous tips, read Fried Beef’s article here. 

Laptop Safety

If you’re on a patio under a nice shady tree on a perfect day, your laptop is probably fine. But this is not always the case. Things can get too hot, humid, or rainy to safely operate your sensitive machine outdoors. The best way to prepare against this is to follow Apartment Therapy’s advice and know the safe ranges. Anything above 80% humidity or 95 degrees F is a risk to your hardware: expanding parts and condensation can compromise your laptop and data. There are cheap programs that can monitor your computer’s temperature in the top menu bar, but admittedly I just use the touch test: when it feels too hot, I move.

Of course we all know that water and computers don’t mix, but if caught in an unexpected drizzle (or plunking down on a table where something might be spilled) it’s a great idea to have protection in place. Covers of varying materials and ruggedness can be snapped onto your laptop to give it an extra shield.

Air circulation is important to prevent overheating, especially if working on surfaces that tend to get scorchingly hot. This is another reason why a laptop stand is good, but if you don’t have one, propping up the back end with any old object will help encourage airflow and keep things cool.

Security

Of course, protecting your computer does you no good if it gets stolen. Working outdoors somewhere that’s not your own patio is a little safer with a buddy who can watch your stuff while you take a bathroom break. And just in case any of the above goes wrong, back up your data first.

Special thanks to narayan for sprucing up ergonomics with his illustration.
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