I Tried Philly’s Outdoor Co-working Space — Here’s Why It Works

The pop-up experience from L.L. Bean and Industrious helped me think differently about being productive outside. But some setbacks could jeopardize the novel concept.

Photo: Lauren Earnshaw

This week, working Philadelphians were able to book some much-needed time outside. An outdoor co-working space was stationed at the Navy Yard from Tuesday to Thursday — the brainchild of a collaboration between L.L. Bean and the co-working chain Industrious.

I was one of those lucky Philadelphians who got a moment to get comfortable in the sun on Wednesday.

When I got to the Navy Yard, L.L. Bean’s “Be an Outsider” motto branded the space and created an open and welcoming environment. And we had a few areas to choose from, with cycling desks and conference rooms scattered around the area.

Photo: Lauren Earnshaw

I spent most of my time in a conference room that I previously scheduled. The space had a large table with high chairs and a smaller table with more comfortable chairs on the opposite side.

I, and probably many other people, had a lot doubts about this idea: Would I really be able to get work done? How would I not get distracted by falling leaves, squirrels or the Navy Yard’s epic scenery?

The experience ended up mostly changing my mind about what it would be like to be productive outside. Here’s why:

1. People took it seriously

Photo: Lauren Earnshaw

From my observations, people were hard at work in each section of the outdoor co-working space. In the conference area, coworkers held full-fledged meeting and were using the space to its fullest — writing on the white board and filling every chair.

And though people were collaborating all across the space, the noise level was minimal. The natural area itself was very peaceful. And because there was a sizeable distance between each work area, distractions were further limited.

Lucy Gubbins, 29, a Revzilla employee, speculated that one thing possibly keeping people from focusing is the fact that we were all compelled to talk about the idea itself since we were all there to try something new. And since this was a pop-up, there was definitely an urge to discuss its novelty with those around you.

2. Participants seemed satisfied and upbeat

Photo: Lauren Earnshaw

People seemed happy to be there, happy to be working, and happy to be experiencing a new, innovative idea.

Seth Weil, 28, talked to me about how relieved he was to be in the space. He explained, “I work from home. My home office is in a basement, and it’s windowless.”

The joy in the environment felt contagious and seemed to contribute to everyone’s productivity.

3. Some setbacks could hurt the concept

Photo: Lauren Earnshaw

I took a 15-minute drive from Old City to the Navy Yard, and an outdoor workspace would ideally be within walking distance of the office. Given that this was a pop-up, people were willing to use transportation to get there, but greater convenience would be key.

The three-day experience was free, but if Industrious or other companies turn this into a permanent fixture, would pricing turn the space into elitist grounds? And would the average office worker be able to experience the benefits of “being an outsider”? These elements would all have to be weighed to determine whether these outdoor spaces are the right fit for Philadelphia.