Mimi Kirk is a contributing writer to CityLab covering education, youth, and aging. Her writing has also appeared in The Washington Post, Foreign Policy, and Smithsonian.
A San Diego company gets workers out of city cubicles and into nature.
As the number of freelance workers rises in the United States, so too do co-working spaces. Found in cities both large and small, often in their most central neighborhoods, these spaces have begun to vie for workers by offering more than a basic shared desk, coffee, and wi-fi. In Austin, Link Coworking boasts perks such as ergonomic furniture; Chicago’s The Beta at BKB provides access to an on-site climbing wall; a WeWork location in Washington, D.C., sports a game room and open-air patio. Membership at these chic spots can run a free-range worker upward of $350 per month.
If one can afford them, such spaces furnish a less lonely and more pleasant place to toil than an apartment or noisy coffee shop. But they’re still work areas in city buildings. A new San Diego-based company, One Wild Life, aims to change the co-working experience—and the lives of co-workers more generally—by parking a “mobile office adventure bus” at beautiful locales where users can enjoy nature before, during, and after work. Better yet, the service is donation only.
Co-owners Tim Stempel and Ryan Woldt started offering the unique space about a month ago. They drive the bus to whatever landscape is on offer that day—a beach, a trailhead, a lagoon. Users make their way to the location by foot, bike, or car, and take breaks throughout the day to surf, hike, or simply sit outdoors—anything to get away from their screens. The bus provides wi-fi, printing, and coffee, and features faux wood floors, comfortable seating, and built-in desks situated to ensure scenic views out of large windows. “We generally keep the double doors in the back of the bus open, too, so being in the bus is also kind of like being outside,” says Woldt.
Stempel and Woldt are able to offer such a sublime co-working environment for a donation because they make a profit through other bus-based services, such as corporate retreats and mountain biking trips. Stempel says he’d like to keep the co-working donation-based for as long as possible. “A major driver for us is to create a community of people who want to spend more time outdoors,” he says, adding that once people get outside and away from their cubicles, they benefit from nature. “Studies have shown that spending time outdoors lowers stress levels and boosts productivity and creativity,” he says.
Woldt notes that he doesn’t see One Wild Life as a means for people to escape the city, per se. To him, it’s more about showing San Diego’s residents the great spaces that exist around the city and encouraging them to explore them on their own as well. “People assume we live in the city or the country, that it’s a zero-sum equation,” he says. “But the reality is that we have access to both.”
Stempel and Woldt envision expanding the business with more mobile offices, and possibly setting them up in other West Coast cities, such as Seattle, Portland, and Denver. But they feel that their service could appeal to people in other parts of the country, too.
“A lot of it has to do with people creating their own story and lifestyle and being closer to the places they want to be every day,” says Woldt. “That’s a practice that can catch on anywhere.”