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The Outdoor Office Revolution Has Arrived Just in Time for Summer

Pop-ups in the U.S. and Amsterdam are bringing the workplace into the sunshine.

Outbox in Downtown Silver Spring. (Clark W. Day)

In the summer, there is something acutely bleak about walking from a sunny street into your overly air-conditioned, fluorescently lit place of employment.

But a handful of programs are bringing work into the outside world for the year’s prettiest months.

Downtown Silver Spring, Maryland, unveiled Outbox in June. A brightly colored workspace designed to seat 20 people and equipped with wi-fi and outlets, it popped up in the plaza at the center of the arts and entertainment district. From 10 a.m. through 7 p.m., passersby can drop in with a laptop and hammer out tasks without the distraction of wishing they were out of the office.

Since its launch, Outbox has drawn crowds, says Laurie Yankowski, the regional marketing director for the Peterson Companies development firm, which has worked with Downtown Silver Spring on a number of initiatives. According to Peterson Co., Outbox is the first space of its kind, and “it’s answered a real community need,” Yankowski says. Integrating a creative workspace with the Downtown area has knitted together the district and provided an unconventional alternative to the typical office or work-from-home desk.

Outbox, which was designed by a group of architectural technology students at the nearby Montgomery College in Rockville, Maryland, will remain open during business hours through October (or whenever the weather ventures back toward freezing), Yankowski says. She absolutely anticipates it will return next year. Outbox, Yankowski says, fits right in with the boom in little activations springing up in urban areas—pop-up shops, parklets—that re-imagine public space and get people talking.

An Amsterdam-based startup is on the same wavelength. Popices, currently running pilots throughout the Dutch city, will install small canopied offices this summer in “unused spaces,” like rooftops, parks, or restaurants and cafes that are closed during the day, says co-founder Daniel John Baker. The idea, he adds, is to “offer people a cheaper version of co-working but with a hint of the unusual.”

Working in start-ups and often remotely, Baker found himself “in isolation, missing out on the beautiful summer and also the normal social interactions that come with an office,” he says. Popices, he hopes, will counteract that trend. Companies will be able to rent out Popices for a day or two to bring their team outdoors and shake up the routine; individual workers can reserve a desk through a ticketing system on a first-come, first-served basis.

Like Outbox, the outdoor offices will operate only in the warm months, but Baker hopes to build up enough collaborations with local restaurants to host pop-up workspaces there in the winter. Workers would have access to the venue’s wi-fi, restrooms, and other amenities, and the participating spaces would rake in some additional revenue from hosting Popices.

Unlike strolling into a coffee shop with a laptop, the pop-up office format maintains the integrity of a workplace in novel spaces throughout the city; it’s the usual routine, displaced and spiced up. “To use a cliché,” Baker says, “we would become the Airbnb for desks.”

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