How Rosslyn’s Outdoor Office Is Enticing People Back to the Workplace 

Q&A with Rosslyn BID President Mary-Claire Burick on the evolution of the installation

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In the fall of 2020, the Rosslyn Business Improvement District (BID) launched an outdoor office space in the public Gateway Park in Rosslyn, Va. 

The O2: Outdoor Office was designed to provide  the Rosslyn community with a safe, collaborative space during the COVID-19 pandemic.

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Focused on helping people get out of their homes, O2 offered an extension of the office environment with the opportunity for safe collaboration that people were missing. The space prioritized health and safety with signage, properly spaced workstations, one-way flow of traffic, and a cleaning schedule to sanitize each workstation between uses. Additionally, an online reservation system helped streamline operations, control capacity, and ensure a seamless experience.

O2 recently won the Pinnacle Award from the International Downtown Association during the organization’s 67th annual conference.

Rosslyn BID President Mary-Claire Burick believes that activations like O2 are not only helping to create an active, and connected community, but continue to demonstrate that Rosslyn is leading the way on the future of work.

Commercial Observer spoke with Burick about the innovative program and other efforts by the Rosslyn BID to help people get back to work.

Commercial Observer: How has Rosslyn BID’s O2 program helped workers adjust to returning to work?

Mary-Claire Burick: Since its inception, O2 has evolved to keep pace with new needs and encourage the region’s employees to return to the neighborhood. We’ve hosted frequent giveaways and events in partnership with local retailers to help keep employees engaged in their community, including treats from [pâtisserie] Eclairons for Breast Cancer Awareness Month [in October]; free hot chocolate, mugs and s’mores kits for National Chocolate Day [observed on Oct. 28]; and more in the works.

Programming at O2 also included giveaways from local businesses and free workout classes to promote the physical and mental wellbeing of O2 users. Not to mention, [we have hosted] happy hours to help colleagues and friends reconnect. We strategically staggered these giveaways and events throughout the day to encourage employees to not only return to the neighborhood, but to remain through the workday.

How has O2 evolved since its inception?

Businesses and communities everywhere are still trying to figure out how to optimize the hybrid workplace while balancing employee wellness and productivity. The goal for O2 2.0 is to help provide that critical link between holistic wellness and productivity to better meet the evolving needs of workers in Rosslyn and beyond.

O2 2.0 incorporates year-round amenities into Gateway Park to make it more comfortable and conducive for individuals to use the park as a fresh-air workplace, even when it’s not specifically staffed by the BID. For programming, we took lessons learned from previous iterations and incorporated more features that would encourage workers to return, like more frequent midday exercise classes and end-of-day happy hours, portable chargers, blankets, free public Wi-Fi and more permanent furniture, to name a few. We’ve also helped local businesses plan events to celebrate being back in the office or help them test the waters of a return — we just hosted exclusive happy hours for POLITICO and the Washington Business Journal

What else has the Rosslyn BID been planning?

O2 is just the beginning. The Rosslyn BID team has committed our efforts to incorporating wellness and balance into the community as we help usher in the future of work. The organization has expanded amenities in a variety of public outdoor spaces, bringing Wi-Fi to Rosslyn’s Central Place Plaza and Dark Star Park. 

We’ve heard from O2 users that the outdoor office has been a valuable part of their ability to find balance in the workweek, and that access to an outdoor space has made a huge difference in productivity. Since the inception of O2 last fall, we’ve received calls from property owners, communities and BIDs all over the U.S. and beyond including D.C., Pennsylvania, North Carolina and Canada asking for guidance on the development and launch of an outdoor office for their own communities and tenants.

How would you characterize the hybrid workplace environment as we head into the end of 2021? How prevalent is it?

Three things have become increasingly clear: Employees want to rebuild community in their professional lives, work-life balance is a major priority, and employees are driving the evolution of the workplace. 

Remote work has been an overwhelming success for both employees and employers.  However, the role of the office is evolving. Employees have come to appreciate the flexibility of working from home and that’s not going away anytime soon. What we’ve heard from local property owners is that more and more tenants are back in the office, and more than half are in flexible, or hybrid, models, rotating in and out of the office to work in different environments like home, coworking spaces or outdoor spaces. 

However, there are challenges with continuing to build office culture, collaboration, and preventing isolation within members of a professional team if an in-person/remote balance is not established. If business leaders continue listening to the needs of their employees and provide creative resources that can increase productivity and collaboration, such as an outdoor workspace or other amenities that support a hybrid model, it is our experience that employees will be more inclined to return to the office more regularly.

What are the challenges of a hybrid workplace?

A recent study by McKinsey showed 39 percent of employees struggled to maintain a strong connection with colleagues during COVID as informal social networks weakened. This is something that a return to office would help remedy, in addition to offsetting feelings of fatigue or disconnection and isolation that employees might be experiencing. 

The pandemic helped many companies learn that positive mental health is essential in the workplace, and prioritizing programs to boost wellness helps boost overall productivity. In many cases, business leaders are trying to find that balance between maintaining flexibility, culture, productivity and employee wellness which is no easy feat.

What can property owners do to help workers adjust?

The reason Rosslyn is making good progress coming out of the pandemic so effectively is because we are all working together — business leaders, property owners, residents and employees. The best thing we all can be doing right now is listen to the needs, challenges and ideas of those around us. Not all employees, businesses or industries are the same and the future of work will look slightly different for everyone. Our property owners are doing an excellent job of exploring new and innovative ways to accommodate the evolving needs of employees, such as looking into adaptive reuse and retrofitting of office spaces and making design choices as flexible as possible.

Because maintaining culture and collaboration continues to be a concern among tenants, property owners are having discussions about what a hybrid work model entails and how they can help tenants accommodate flexible options for their teams. I think that many of the building amenities property owners have implemented across their portfolios provide unique spaces for employees and visitors to connect and collaborate, while still taking safety concerns into consideration. These flexible options allow for various hybrid collaboration sessions between in-office employees and their remote team members, and open areas that can be easily configured for ad-hoc team collaboration and employee socialization.

For example, we have seen that property owners have enhanced and added more outdoor tenant amenities like rooftops, green space and flexible outdoor furniture — perfect for employees to work with the backdrop of Rosslyn’s iconic views! 

How will O2 operate in the winter months?

Gateway Park is a public park facility, so while we won’t have Rosslyn Ambassadors regularly staffing O2 in the winter months, it will stay open and available to anyone who wants to use it. Wi-Fi will also remain. However, our team is available to accommodate specific requests for office space or setups, as well as any additional amenities.

The Rosslyn BID team continues to work closely with Arlington County Parks and Recreation to ensure that Gateway Park is welcoming and comfortable for visitors year-round. 

Any other efforts on tap for 2022?

In the next week, we’re going to launch survey data from a poll we commissioned about workplace benefits and the future of work that we hope will highlight the needs of employees and provide information that business leaders can use to more effectively attract employees back into the office on a more regular basis. 

At the end of the year, the Rosslyn BID team is going to be focused on our “Holiday Cheer” activations, starting with a tree lighting in Central Place Plaza on Dec. 9to kick off the holiday season in Arlington! We’ll also be hosting our holiday market from Dec. 10-11, where we’ll have local vendors, family-friendly games and more available for the community to enjoy. 

As part of our “Rosslyn Cheer Gift Buying Guide,” we’ll share ideas featuring Rosslyn’s local restaurants and retailer options to encourage folks to shop local this holiday season. 

A major part of our holiday initiatives includes our annual Rosslyn Holiday Clothing Drive benefiting My Path Forward [a program for kids that have aged out of foster care]. We’ll be collecting donations at our tree lighting and throughout the season. 

Keith Loria can be reached at Kloria@commercialobserver.com.