Whitney Hoffman opened her MacBook Air and started pedaling while on a stationary bike-turned-office chair to get exercise she wouldn’t normally have time for during work hours.
The Chadds Ford resident looked to her right and noticed the collapsible office space equipped with desks, meeting space, and a white board. In front of her was a bench outfitted with power outlets and arms that worked as laptop tables. There were also four more casual, comfortable chairs around a circle table near a bench.
Hoffman, 52, was outside at the Navy Yard as part of the traveling coworking space retailer L.L. Bean, along with coworking provider Industrious, is bringing to cities as part of Bean’s “Be an Outsider at Work” advertising campaign to lure people out of their air-conditioned cubicles and into fresh air, with WiFi, of course.
“It’s really kind of the best of both worlds,” said Hoffman, one of the first users of the pop-up space’s three-day availability this week. As the Kennett Township supervisor, she thought about how she could bring a similar space to one of her local parks. Looking around, she thought, “OK, this could be a thing.”
TD Bank employees (center) host a meeting in the Be an Outsider outdoor conference room at the Navy Yard as employees of other companies work alongside them (left). L.L. Bean and Industrious claim that workers are happier and more productive when outside.
While coworking was first seen as appealing to young professionals, freelancers, and start-ups, the flexible office space has gained popularity among more established companies where all an employee needs to work is a laptop, internet connection, and mobile phone.
Bean aimed to target professionals spending most of their time working, and the growing coworker sector, in its campaign to encourage workers to enjoy the outdoors during the day, said Eric C. Smith, a spokesman.
Coworking has been growing in Philadelphia, with three new companies signing leases for downtown office space in 2017, joining 14 companies already located in the city, according to a 2017 year-end report from real estate firm Cushman & Wakefield. There are at least 26 coworking sites in the city, including one from Industrious, the company partnering with Bean for the Navy Yard pop-up, which has a coworking space at 230 S. Broad St.
The firm predicted in the report that the market would grow from more than a dozen coworking companies to 21 by the end of this year.
“Philadelphia’s coworking sector continues to grow and become more competitive,” the report stated, “and is showing no signs of slowing.”
The Bean and Industrious traveling coworking space launched in Madison Square Park in New York City on June 21 and about 700 people visited over a day and a half, Smith said. The company expects about 2,500 visitors over the tour, which includes stops in Boston and Madison, Wis., in addition to Philadelphia, Smith said.
Industrious CEO Jamie Hodari said the pop-up space was a way for the company to test its thesis that people would like working outdoors, if given the proper setting to still be productive. In the company’s former headquarters in Brooklyn, there was a roof deck where employees enjoyed taking meetings and holding brainstorming sessions. When the company moved to its Manhattan headquarters, Hodari said, one of the defining things it looked for was proximity to a park.
Employees soon realized how difficult it was to hold a meeting on a park bench, he said. So pairing with Bean for the pop-up park was a way to see how people would use outdoor space that was optimized for a work environment.
The results Hodari saw at the New York space were “overwhelming,” and proved there was an “appetite for this.” Now, the company is thinking about its next steps.
“Industrious provides outdoor workplaces in private settings where we can,” Hodari said, “but is looking very hard at working with cities to see if we can provide it in public settings.”
Martha Macinnis (left) and Shannon Springer of TD Bank host a meeting in the Be an Outsider outdoor conference room at the Navy Yard. The conference room featured glass walls, openings for the breeze, and outlets for computers.
Three employees from the TD Bank architecture and design team reserved the meeting space, outfitted with high chairs, a table, and white board, and discussed ways to design their corporate and retail spaces. Bank design director Martha MacInnis, who commutes from Elkton, Md., said they frequently leave their office park in Mount Laurel and research different ways of designing workplaces.
While their current office space has an outdoor area with picnic tables, MacInnis and her colleagues pointed out that there are no power outlets, no shade, and no wi-fi, making it “not conducive to work,” she said. When her computer battery ran out while at the pop-up outdoor space, she was able to plug it in to a nearby power outlet and remain at the high table for her meeting.
Amy Barnes Elliott (left) and Joyce Oh, of L.L. Bean and Industrious, respectively, pedal at the bike tables at the outdoor co-working space their companies sponsored at the Navy Yard.
“In the office, it’s really important to make every space functional for the way people work,” MacInnis said. While surveying the different work stations at the pop-up, she said, “all of these spaces are kind of nice because they’re very simple, but they gave just the right amount of stuff, power, the right kind of table … good variety.”
The Navy Yard coworking pop-up is free to use with a reservation for each desired space, whether it be the bike desk, team building activity, or a conference table, during a one-hour slot between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. through Thursday.
“We’re on a mission to get people outdoors more,” Smith said. “It used to be that technology would bring you inside … and now that technology is allowing you to be anywhere.”
Aisha Cooper, the human resources manager for an automotive repair and collision company, usually works from the Industrious coworking space in Philadelphia, but decided to try the outdoor pop-up with coworker Maricarmen Rivera on Tuesday. While answering e-mails, Cooper, 38, of Drexel Hill, pedaled on the stationary bike and checked her Apple Watch to see how many calories she was burning.
“I’m not distracted by the atmosphere at all,” she said. “I’m getting just as much work done as in the office.”
The only thing stopping her from working outdoors other days is the lack of reliable WiFi and office seating. But the pop-up space was “just an office that is outdoors,” she said.
Rivera, 26, of Coatesville, agreed: “It’s a little bit of everything.”