The benefits of working ‘outside’ (Madeleine Kendrick)

Photo by Madeleine Kendrick
I need to start this post with a small disclaimer: I live in Perth, Western Australia.

It's a place that's often described as ‘relentlessly sunny’. The sunny days of mild weather and gorgeous sparkling water vastly outnumber the rainy days, and even the rainy days have their own noir-style charm.

Ever since I moved to Perth to live with my husband, I've been tempted time and again to work ‘outside’ despite growing up indoors, tethered to a desktop PC.

As an academic student, my definition of ‘outside’ is not quite as stark as, say, a fitness instructor. I still require some form of table, electrical outlet, and wi-fi to conduct my work, which limits me mostly to cafes (I’m not complaining at all).

Thankfully, Perth has these by the handful!

The cafes I prefer typically have airy dining areas with natural sources of light, air-conditioning, and a generous coffee-per-hour system for people like myself who camp out on a table looking incredibly hipster. My hipster camp-out sometimes boosts the popularity of that cafe purely by appearing appealing to hipster-types. Occasionally, my local area won’t have a cafe that has my necessary ‘work trifecta’ of powerpoint, wifi and table to work on. When that happens, I shrug and trundle over to a tavern, which will usually suffice with the same provisions. Taverns tend to get a little rowdy on Thursday to Friday, but I don’t mind a little background noise.

Working 'outside' provides a stark contrast to many everyday academic contexts.

Imagine the typical scenario of a researcher locked in a small cubicle with no music, no human interaction, and little natural light. Coop me up in those conditions, day after day, and you’ll notice my morale and pep start to struggle. I’ll start wildly overcompensating with loud outfits, soup mugs full of tea and a barrage of memes printed out to decorate my desk. While I’m still productive, I’ll get bored and – usually – a little destructive. By ‘destructive’ I mean I’ll start to organise ‘team outings’ and consider a side-career in university radio, neither of which is something my supervisor would want me to focus on. This ‘destructiveness’ usually annoys my colleagues as I search desperately for mental stimulation.

Now imagine this: A researcher on her laptop, sitting at a well-appointed table. A gentle breeze on her face, quiet jazz music in the background, and constant movement to inspire and invigorate the researcher during moments of thought. This scenario usually boosts my productivity by 150%, as I have something to focus my attention, and I'll make the most of my spot in the cafe by wasting no time. I feel intrinsically happy and motivated by the hustling baristas, the chirruping of nearby birds, and the occasional dog walking past.

My physical absence from the office doesn’t make me ‘absent’ from my work; rather, it's the opposite! I have my mobile phone next to me, my emails in an open tab, and am infinitely approachable by anyone walking past. Student, academic staff, or member of the community, I am genuinely happy for anyone to tap me on the shoulder and say, ‘Can I ask you something while you’re working?’. Provided that they don’t mind my occasionally tapping away at my keyboard (because let’s face it, you didn’t book a meeting with me), I’m happy to engage with anyone who walks past. I look like a student on an average day, thus reducing the power-distance between myself and those I teach, and watching me bop along to the beat in the cafe tends to reinforce that I’m genuinely an easygoing person despite my unfortunate tendency to display resting bitch face while concentrating. It’s hard to feel apprehensive approaching an authoritative-looking person while they’re wiggling to the beat of ‘Bossa Nova Baby‘.

So, if the benefits of ‘working outside’ are so marked, why don’t more people do it?

Well, partly it's because different people require different working environments, and it doesn’t always ‘look’ professional to have all your lecturers on laptops in a student cafe.

As a PhD student, and in most possibilities where I imagine myself working in the future, I am afforded the luxury of laid-back, self-directed work where I can operate very publicly with no productivity drawback. My work is not (as yet) confidential, nobody’s privacy is invaded, and my current output requires a level of creativity and lateral thinking that benefits from, say, a conversation with a heavily-tattooed barista. I really enjoy this mode of working, to the point where it hardly feels like work despite the fact that I’m combing through pages of dense academic writing for methodologies, findings and insights into my field. My average output on a good day – i.e., in an outdoor cafe environment – is about 10 – 16 papers fully read, annotated, recorded in both a spreadsheet and a word document, and filed into Endnote, plus time for email, social media and about 2 hour-long meetings.

This is why you’ll find me working so often out of my office, and I’m really happy with that.

The original version of this post published at Madeleine's blog: 


Madeleine Kendrick has experience in a range of sectors including fast food, radio presenting, high-end retail and blue-collar recruitment. Currently, she is a La Trobe Business School PhD student researching the topic of Hospital Governance and Resilience. She enjoys spending time reading, writing, watching documentaries, and bothering professors. 

She also runs a personal blog, Research and Beyond to complement her attempts at winning awards and publishing papers. 

Her research interest include managing hospital staff, managing interdisciplinary teams, corporate governance, multi-level resilience, innovation, autonomy, expert leadership and high performance work systems. 

She also appreciates learning new things from other fields. Madeleine tweets from @MIKendrick94.