Working in the Great Outdoors

Jackie Mantey

The great outdoors are renowned for inspiring mental health benefits—lower stress, higher concentration, creativity—and the list is growing faster than tulips in May. While individuals have long been encouraged to take advantage of a well-timed breath of fresh air, the strategy has started to take root with employers. They want to give team members a way to take that break outside together.

“This is not a trend,” says Carol Allerding, director of events and sponsorship for Experience Columbus. “I think it's more of a movement.”

A movement we probably owe to the millennials: A 2016 Gallup pollfound that nearly six in 10 want a job with a work-life and well-being balance, and they seek jobs that actively promote employee wellness.

“Columbus is looking to be more healthy, and companies are trying to fulfill the needs of all their employees,” she says. “They want to keep that young skilled workforce engaged and in Columbus. Outdoor experiences help the overall work experience. Healthier staff, happier workplace.”

Here's a look at some of those experiences that planners can find for their teams right in their own backyard. “It's exciting people are recognizing this movement, and Columbus is becoming one of those cities to lead it,” Allerding says. “There are a lot of opportunities are out there.”

Columbus Attraction

An outdoor event can double as a way to introduce or re-engage employees with Columbus' greatest hits. The Columbus Zoo and Aquarium provides gamified team-building exercises where groups explore the zoo while working together to gather clues.

COSI also offers outdoor spaces featuring interactive exhibits where corporate groups can learn and grow together just as much as kids.

COSI's spaces are enhanced by their proximity to the Scioto Mile's walking paths, which are just steps away.

Something else that's just steps away? The facilities. “Restrooms and rain. The double Rs,” are what COSI President and CEO Frederic Bertley calls the two biggest things to plan for when booking an experience outside. “Luckily, COSI's outdoor spaces are closely attached to the building, and there's nothing better than having an instant indoor-accessible site in case of rain. We've got 330,000 square feet and can accommodate a change on the turn of a dime.” Or a downpour.

Play Outside

A trip outside can be as intense or laid back as your team would like.

Summit Vision is a ropes course campus in Westerville that offers ground level problem-solving activities designed specifically for corporate clients. Creative mental and physical challenges (with names like “Poseidon Adventure” and “The Heist”) ask teams to work together in a fun format. You also can find a ropes course 55 feet above the ground; “Amazing Race”-style challenges with climbing walls, zip lines and giant swings; and specialized corporate programs complete with a picnic, trust falls and platform jumping.

If it's easier to have the outdoor adventure come to you, Columbus-based luxury adventure brand The Campfire Experience can design upscale campground-style hangouts and tents at corporate headquarters—for fundraising, VIP events or team building experiences alike.

Columbus Parks and Recreation has spaces across central Ohio for organized events and hikes.Groups can call ahead to rent facilities to go boating, fishing, gaming or golfing as a group. Raymond Memorial Golf Course can host up to 200 guests and is popular for corporate meetings.

Customize an Event

The Columbus Museum of Art has customizable programs that can be held outside in the Patricia Jurgensen Sculpture Garden. “We'll ask a manger, ‘What's the goal of your event? What are the three messages you're trying to have your guests go home with?' ” says Susan Brehm, director of special event sales. “We work from what you're trying to achieve and design something that can reinforce the goals of the meeting. It's about getting the team working together and thinking together.”

The CMA's activities can also be customized by discipline or theme like the communications department that wrote headlines based on artwork they found inspiring during a visit.

The Franklin Park Conservatory and Botanical Gardens offers docent-led tours relating to current exhibitions at $50 for up to 25 guests, and the venue has four different rental options that appeal to corporate clients, says event sales manager Carrie Thiel, all of which are paired with an outdoor space. “This gives corporate clients the opportunity to host part or all of the event outdoors depending on the venue,” she says. “It also gives them the peace of mind that they have an indoor rain backup space if needed.”

At the Scotts Miracle-Gro Community Garden campus, groups of 50 attendees or less can get a group culinary or horticulture lesson. Larger groups (up to 250 guests) can use The Wells Barn and Celebration Lawn for cooking and gardening classes.

Plan a Workshop

The Conservatory also offers workshops where teams make living wreaths (10 to 25 people, $65 per person) or colorful container gardens (10 to 25 people, $55 per person).

If your team would rather dig in the dirt themselves, local succulent shops have just the thing. “Working with soil using your bare hands releases all those happy endorphins,” says Jessie Laux, owner of Planthropy.

Planthropy will come to offices and lead succulent arrangement workshops. “It's so nice because we get them away from their computers,” Laux says. “A lot of times we're working with teams that have just came off a really hard project that drained everyone or they just need a reset. Working with plants can be a real morale booster.”

Stump Plants also offers private succulent planting and terrarium-building workshops for teams in its Italian Village location. The workshops are available throughout the year and are especially popular in the summertime, where they are held on the shop's private outdoor patio.

“It's like making art in a way, but people don't feel as much pressure,” says Stump co-owner and founder Emily Kellett about the workshops. “You can put your own spin on your arrangement.”

Jackie Mantey is a freelance writer.