When we picture “working” or “getting a job,” many people immediately conjure up images of sitting at a desk, typing away at a computer. And yes, that’s how a lot of people spend their days, but not the only way. There are actually plenty of other options that don’t involve offices at all—or, at least, a lot less than most jobs.
I am someone who truly hates the idea of working in an office setting. It’s the predictability that bothers me—there’s something about knowing where you’re going to be, every single day except weekends and holidays, that in my opinion is just a roadmap to the grave.
Fortunately, I’ve always been able to make a living in fields not tied to offices, and that kind of flexibility is even more available to young people these days: “We are seeing a preference to work remotely, or in the gig economy, and that’s especially true for young, educated millennials in cities—and that’s usually the first place we see the evolution of the economy,” Andrew Hanson, a senior research analyst at the Center for Education and the Workforce at Georgetown University tells Lifehacker.
So that got me thinking: What are the best fields for people who don’t want to be tied to a desk?
According to Anna Bray, a career counselor at Jody Michael Associates, a Chicago-based firm that provides career coaching, that answer largely depends on why you don’t want to work in an office: Are you not a computer person, but still like working with a team? Is it commuting that bugs you? Is it something as apparently minor as spending the day under fluorescent lights? “Some people don’t want to be tied to a desk, and some people want to be outdoors or at least have some outdoors elements in their day,” Bray tells Lifehacker.
Bray spends her day teasing out the nitty-gritty of exactly how people want to spend their working lives and what they’re trying to avoid, and sometimes her clients surprise themselves (and her) by stumbling on career paths they never knew existed. If you, or your kid, are casting about for direction, consider the ideas below, culled from the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ ratings for “outdoor work” and “general physical activity” and from our discussion with Andrew Hanson.
For good measure, I’ve included BLS’s employment outlook—but take this with a grain of salt. It projects that the field of “actor” will increase by 10 percent, faster than the national average, and I can’t see encouraging a child to get into theater by telling them that it’s a secure career.
Gardening, grounds-keeping and nursery and greenhouse managers
Nursery and greenhouse managing has a “bright outlook” rating from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, with 91 percent of those in the field reporting working outside every day. Landscaping and groundskeeping work means even more time in nature: 99 percent to be exact. Grounds maintenance is projected to grow by eight percent by 2024, which is above average. If you’re a green-thumb kind of person and like being outside, this might be the career for you.
Hospitality, or working in restaurants, hotels, and tourist destinations, is for those grads who dislike office jobs but are still pretty social and like being part of a team. The Cornell School of Hotel Management offers undergrad and graduate degrees in hotel management, which will give the applicant a leg up. (One note: hospitality doesn’t tend to be very recession-proof.)
If you’re doctor, a nurse, a physician’s assistant, an occupational therapist, a speech-language pathologist, and so on, you could spend a lot of time in an office, if you want to. But you can also be in a hospital setting, a school, or on the go as an EMT or paramedic. “Healthcare is the fastest-growing sector over the last decade,” says Hanson. “Nursing is huge and one of the most lucrative. And some of the allied health fields (respiratory therapists, phlebotomists, etc.) don’t require bachelor’s degrees.”
Most practicing medical professionals aren’t desk-bound. For example, according to BLS statistics, EMT/paramedic professionals spend 85 percent of their time outside, and the job was rated as having a bright outlook. Physical therapy is even brighter, with 22 percent expected growth by 2028, and physician’s assistant clocks in at 31 percent.
Construction and the trades
Want to be outside and not be bothered with water-cooler chat? “Even with the decline in manufacturing, there are still a lot of blue-collar jobs,” says Hanson. “Many do require some post-secondary education, like a certificate, or if you want to be a supervisor, you’ll need a bachelor’s or an MBA.”
Or be a roofer, to which BLS assigns a “bright outlook” and notes that you will be outside 98 percent of the time. Because you’re putting on a roof! My family was in construction trades; just the other day I was lamenting my desk-bound job and wishing I spent more time sitting on the roof. There aren’t a lot of women represented, but that’s changing: There are programs that prepare women for non-traditional employment and the government sponsored registered apprenticeships for the skilled trades.
Mechanics also get to avoid the office and work with their hands; if I had a mechanically inclined, office-averse kid, I’d suggest they look into being a wind-turbine service technician.
Teaching, at the K-12 level and beyond, is great for people who want to be part of an institution and a community but don’t want to be trapped at a computer filing TPS reports. Both elementary and high school teachers have an average job outlook, while adapted physical education teachers (creating and implement a PE curriculum for children with disabilities) has a particularly bright outlook.
The field of post-secondary teaching is projected to grow 11 percent by 2028, faster than average. However, it is noted that hiring likely will be for part-time (like adjunct) faculty, and also, university-level teaching does actually involve a lot of administrative work (more than you think!). But since so many of the newer hires in this area are adjuncts, you don’t need to worry about spending too much time in an offie, because you won’t have one.
Conservation scientists and foresters have an average job outlook and good ratings on BLS for outdoors work. This sounds particularly awesome if you’re an outdoorsy, tree-hugger kind of person, and are willing to gamble on there actually being forests and parks in a few years.
I once knew a family of field biologists who spent half the year on research expeditions and the other half teaching and writing for grants. It seemed like a pretty great life (one was a tropical marine biologist, if you want to feel some major envy.) BLS has environmental scientists and specialists at an eight percent growth (faster than average) and zoologist and wildlife biologist at five percent growth, or about average. But if you’re choosing between science and acting, I’m going to say science is probably the safer bet.
Travel and transportation
Bus drivers and truckers are projected to grow at about an average rate, so if you’re fine with the sitting but still not especially social, this could be the job for you. (It looks like not a few truckers travel with a co-driver and their dogs, which might be an upside.) Flight attendants obviously don’t work in an office, but nonetheless have to be social, wear uncomfortable clothes, are not outside, and certainly have commutes. BLS projects their job rate at 10 percent, which is not only faster than average, but will also allow you to see a lot of cool places.
Police work/fire fighters/law enforcement
A good deal of law enforcement is paperwork, but one is also out and about in the community. It’s stressful and demanding work, and BLS projects it will grow at five percent (which is average) but notes that “the continued need for public safety is expected to lead to new openings for officers, although demand may vary by location.” Police work also offers the opportunity for humanitarian and social work that shapes public policy: I was intrigued to see this story on how police officers are fighting the opioid epidemic by using more humane and community-oriented strategies than mass arrests.
The retail sector has grown as the manufacturing sector has declined, says Hanson, but while there are a lot of jobs, they aren’t necessarily good jobs. Retail workers haven’t benefitted from the protection of unions the way that manufacturing workers did.
“You have to be a superstar to get a good job in retail,” he says, “but there are still a lot of good jobs in management and finance.” So if you like retail—being on your feet, helping people, working with a team—and feel like this the career for you, you might want to 1) get the bachelor’s or MBA that will help you move up the ranks, or 2) get really good at union organizing. Even the recent moves toward increasing the minimum wage, Hanson says, “is not a substitute for a union wage.”
No, this doesn’t mean being a stage actor. But according to Hanson, “We’re seeing the rise of video and film outside of the major production companies”—from advocacy groups to media organizations to advertising. He notes that the people filling these jobs are not only creative types (arts and film majors), but also “a lot of folks with communications backgrounds, or social media marketing backgrounds.” If a job seeker wants combine creative skills, teamwork, and digital film and TV experience, this might be a path for them. BLS puts film and video editors and camera operators at an 11 percent, or above average, growth.
So here’s something interesting: When I asked Hanson and Bray their one piece of advice for job seekers, they both said the same thing: Be flexible. Bray had a client who didn’t want to be tied to an office who came up with two equally interesting career paths for himself: green-energy jobs, or opening up a bar/restaurant destination in the Caribbean. (My opinion is: Always take the career path that puts you in the Caribbean.) Another client, a games aficionado, is trying out designing and operating escape rooms. Bray says, “have fun with the process. The more you relax into it and have fun, the more possibilities will start to exist.”
Hanson has a similar mindset, with the added caveat to maybe just forget about the whole “passion” thing: “Our bias is to ‘follow your passion,’ but when we enter the workplace, we get surprised at the day-to-day grind of it. Passion builds over time when you do something you’re good at. Be ready to be surprised, to be flexible. Do something that can provide value for others.”
This story was originally published on 6/15/17 and was updated on 10/11/19 to provide more thorough and current information.