Work from Nature
By Li Fan
Like many people in the pandemic, I spent an increasing amount of time outdoors and discovered nature to be a respite for the eyes and inspiration for the mind. One day while strolling down a dog park in Brookline and soaking in the beauty of the bushy trees, a thought came to me — why not set up my office desk out here?
Imagine a co-working space where pop-up desks encircle tree trunks. The canopy of the surrounding trees would offer plenty of shade to avoid glare on the computer screen, and a series of “tree desks” would be height-adjustable for standing and sitting positions.
Not sure how to actualize this idea myself, I reached out to Aaron and Eric from CultureHouse. They hosted me at their monthly hack day to explore how to increase livability in urban settings by bringing our work outdoors.
The Hack Day
We started with bringing our laptops to work at the picnic tables in the heart of Union Square. We evaluated our experiences based on criteria and noted the things we liked and things that could improve the experience. We all found it challenging to do deep, focused work by a busy street bombarded with construction noise and traffic. The summer bugs also welcomed us with their frequent landings. Despite the setting being distracting, I found it energizing to co-work with others coming out of the pandemic. The outdoor space seemed conducive to creative work, i.e., brainstorming and light tasks, i.e., brief research and correspondence.
After debriefing our observations, we proceeded to a local community park for ideation and prototyping. Some of our ideas included a work truck with all of the supplies needed for working outdoors, variations for outdoor desks, and foldable furniture. We narrowed down our ideas to the “tree desk” and went back to CultureHouse HQ, where Eric came up with a cardboard solution for a tree-attachable standing desk. This portable laptop stand could fold like a briefcase and be tied around the tree, or any verticals, using bungee cords.
I later tested out the prototype in the park, replacing the cardboard support with a wooden stick so it would hold the laptop, and it worked! I could read and type on the laptop with relative ease. A couple of notes for improvement:
- I had to press the laptop against the surface so it wouldn’t slip. It’d be great to instead have the laptop sit firmly on the surface.
- Tree trunks turn out to be not 100% perpendicular to the ground. So a versatile solution that would fit different degrees of obliqueness would be essential. (Or placing a stick at a desired angle could work too.)
My latest iteration of the “tree desk” involves a cardboard box and a couple of bungee cords. This is a DIY hack that everyone with a surplus of delivery boxes could easily do at home and bring it out to your favorite tree for the day.
The step are as follows:
- Use a scissor to cut openings from 2 sides of the box.
- Pass the cords through the box and attach them to the tree at your preferred height.
- Grab a seat or stand up tall and enjoy the great work (out)!
Many thanks to CultureHouse and my friends for contributing to the ideation and prototyping process. I am excited to continue this journey of bringing the indoor out, and welcome others to join me.
About the author: Li is passionate about creative placemaking that cultivates a sense of belonging and interconnectedness among communities and the environment. She can be reached at email@example.com for follow ups and collaboration.