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Photos: Wi-fi in the great outdoors

St James's Park - welcome to the open air office
By Natasha Lomas, Contributor on
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1 of 12 Natasha Lomas/ZDNET

St James's Park - welcome to the open air office

Outdoor office: A quiet corner of St James' park in London was turned into an outdoor office last week by tourism and visitor promotion organisation, Visit London.

The outdoor office was free to use and came complete with desks, chairs, coat stands, a water cooler and of course lashings of free wi-fi. Desk space could be booked for two hours at a time - and there was also a boardroom and 'creative zone' up for grabs where office workers could indulge in a little 'blue sky thinking'.

silicon.com reporters Natasha Lomas and Tim Ferguson went down to the park for two hours to see how much work they could get done away from the office.

Here Tim is pictured hard at work on an article, while trying to ignore two curious tourists - and the noise coming from Buckingham Palace - in the background.

Photo credit: Natasha Lomas

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The sun is shining: It's a perfect day to be in the park: sunny with plenty of fluffy clouds and a pleasant breeze. However conditions are not quite so perfect for mobile working as the glare makes it very tricky to see what's on my laptop screen - apart from the dust that is.

After squinting and peering hopelessly through years of screen grime, and finally resorting to moving desks to gain shade from a nearby tree, I'm eventually up and running, and connected to the wi-fi.

However, it still takes me a good half an hour to get settled in the outdoor office as unfamiliar surroundings are inevitably distracting. And while I did remember my sunglasses, I start to wish I'd brought some sun cream or at least a hat...

Photo credit: Natasha Lomas

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Debugging: I've barely started tapping away transcribing an interview, when a new distraction creeps onto the scene - a small brown bug which I find crawling over my chair.

A short while later I remove a money spider from where it's busy getting acquainted with my arm.

Photo credit: Natasha Lomas

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Office as zoo: The biggest distraction is definitely manmade however: a steady stream of tourists stopping near the 'office' to gawp, take photos and even wander in between the desks for a closer look - or to ask us what on earth we're doing.

Now I know what it feels like to be in a zoo.

Photo credit: Natasha Lomas

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Noise pollution: There may be no annoying hum from air conditioning units but there's plenty of noise from the heavens as several planes and a helicopter pass over.

Buckingham Palace also adds to the mix when music strikes up.

Photo credit: Natasha Lomas

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Worker 2.0: But some high tech workers are accustomed to working outside an office. Web designer Frederic Marc spends a lot of his time working remotely - in wireless coffee shops or seeking out wi-fi elsewhere in London.

"I do work better [outside an office], actually," he says. "I think your thinking is better because it's not so boring - you don't feel stuck in one place. Because you feel freedom actually you can think better."

The gadgets Marc uses to keep productive when out and about are a MacBook and a portable hard drive for back-up.

Photo credit: Natasha Lomas

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7 of 12 Natasha Lomas/ZDNET

Fresh air: Accountant Mark, who normally works in a home office, is also convinced of the benefits of changing the working environment.

He says: "It's better - fresh air. It's stuffy in an office. Better for free thinking. Good for change."

Though he adds: "There's nowhere quite as comfortable as your own home office."

Mark says he would need a printer "to work properly" - but reckons he could do without his mobile. "I could get by with email. I've got skype on there [the laptop] as well so I can take phone calls."

He adds: "I go away on holiday and take my laptop to keep in touch with people anyhow."

Photo credit: Natasha Lomas

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8 of 12 Natasha Lomas/ZDNET

Exposed to the elements: Every desk has been furnished with its own umbrella - in case the rain returns - but thankfully the sun continues to shine on silicon.com's slot in the outdoor office.

However, halfway through the afternoon a freak gust of wind hurtles between the desks and fells all the pot plants.

Freak weather events aside - and after the initial 'settling in' period - I find the outdoor office is great for productivity as there are actually fewer distractions (notably no office phone ringing all the time). I've also avoided logging into Outlook so am not being interrupted by email pop-ups as new mails arrive. Nor are there any colleagues wandering over to my desk to chat or ask questions - and Tim seems as happily productive as me.

In an hour and a half outdoors I finish what I'm working on, just before my laptop battery gives out.

And my top tip for working in the glare? Increase the font size in Word...

Tim also reports a productive afternoon. "The couple of hours spent working in the park was surprisingly productive," he says. "Despite the tourists staring at me, I think the sun inspired me to get quite a lot of writing done."

He adds: "The lack of power was a slight problem as my laptop packed up after about 90 minutes, and the wind blowing everything off the desk proved a bit annoying but all in all it was a pretty good experience."

Photo credit: Natasha Lomas

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Tree of knowledge: Advertising agency Archibald Ingall Stretton, perched atop bean bags in the creative zone.

Photo credit: Tim Ferguson

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Any other business: Senior execs from park management organisation, The Royal Parks, finally finish a boardroom meeting which lasted all morning. At the height of the rain, the boardroom table had to be moved under a tree for shelter.

Other companies taking fresh air today include Corrupt Management, Energy Saving Trust, GLT Global and Premier Inn.

Photo credit: Natasha Lomas

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11 of 12 Natasha Lomas/ZDNET

Wi-fi: Up to 11Mbps wi-fi is served to the outdoor office via an airPoint-PRO Outdoor access point, tethered to a nearby tree. The box has a weatherproof casing, and the kit is built to withstand temperatures between -40 C and +55 C.

Photo credit: Tim Ferguson

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Up-link: A satellite uplink completes the wireless connectivity.

Photo credit: Tim Ferguson

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