If there is one company I don’t expect to provide workplace advice, it is L.L. Bean.
The famed Freeport, Maine, provider of outdoor gear and garb has great credibility when it comes to selecting the right snowsuit for a trip up Mt. Everest or picking the right canoe for your trip down Niagara Falls, but when it comes to getting ahead in your job, one has to skeptical. Let’s face it — will you really be more successful climbing up the org chart on the backs of your co-workers if you’re wearing L.L. Bean’s waxed canvas Maine hunting boots?
Which is why I was surprised by a L.L. Bean billet-doux that recently arrived in my inbox.
“The Work Outside Movement Has Begun” read the subject line of an email inviting recipients to “Be an Outsider at Work.”
Of course, you are already an outside — if “outsider” is defined as “creepy weirdo who scares everyone.” But what the Bean bunch is saying, in the email and in a downloadable PDF handbook, is that certain office functions function much better if moved from inside to out.
The basis for this belief is research from three universities and 1,000 survey participants, which shows that “spending time outside makes us more productive, more creative and happier.” In other words, science has now proved what we’ve always suspected — going on vacation is better than going to work.
As part of a series of “Work Outside Tips,” L.L. Bean suggests interviews should become “outerviews.”
“Put the view back in interview by hosting them outside,” the company suggests. “It will reduce participant anxiety, feel like more neutral territory and encourage open dialog in the open air.”
I like this approach. Just be sure to schedule an unexpected outdoorsy event about 20 minutes in. The sudden appearance of a hungry grizzly or an attack by angry bees will show how the candidate performs under pressure. It will also show the candidate’s perceptive abilities when the interviewer shows up in a full-body beekeeping suit carrying a can of bear spray.
Another activity best conducted outside is the “Blue Sky Brainstorm.” Freed from the confines of walls and a ceiling you can “watch the ideas pour forth.” You can also watch the rain pour forth if you schedule your brainstorm in a thunderstorm. (Pro tip: Any employee who will not stand in the middle of a field in a thunderstorm, holding an umbrella over their manager’s head, is not to be trusted.)
“Weekly Check-Outs” is an integral part of the al fresco workstyle. “Being in nature can make us more open, talkative and focus on one another” is the insight behind moving inside check-ins outside. Inside the office, “efficiency is compromised by office distractions.”
How wonderful to sit with your supervisor in a sylvan glade while a litany of your mistakes and failures are shared with you. You definitely can focus, when you don’t have to worry about your co-workers watching you weep. The supervisor also gains an important advantage. If the meeting is conduced outside, it isn’t necessary for the employee to go back inside, ever. Severance is an L.L. Bean Toboggan with cushion and buffalo plaid cushion cover, which the employee can use to transport themselves and their stuff directly to the unemployment office.
Going outside also has advantages when bringing new hires up to speed. “Outdoor on-boarding will put new and existing employees in the perfect headspace to start new relationships,” is the claim and I agree 100 percent. Anyone who comes to work at your company has, no doubt, emptied some of their headspace before they signed on. Spending time outdoors with senior managers will help these new hires understand exactly how vacant their headspace will have to be if they want to succeed.
While I may seem negative about the entire outsiding process, that is not at all the case. If you can stop replacing your designer wardrobe every season and start wearing long-lasting togs from L.L. Bean, you will save beaucoup bucks.
But instead of taking the inside outside, why not take outside inside? Set up your Microlight UL one-person backpacking tent in your cubical. Unroll your heritage Maine guide deluxe sleeping bag under your desk. Warm up cold meetings with a BioLite campstove 2 and make casual Friday truly casual by insisting everyone wear L.L. Bean wicked warm two-layer union suits.
It’s the best of both worlds — right? You get all the advantages of the L.L. Bean lifestyle without ever having to go outside.
Bob Goldman was an advertising executive at a Fortune 500 company, but he finally wised up and opened Bob Goldman Financial Planning in Sausalito, California. He now works out of Bellingham, Washington. He offers a virtual shoulder to cry on at email@example.com.