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The hot new amenity at Google and other tech companies? Tents

The corporate campus goes glamping.

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Shelter Co., technically, is a company that rents tents. But over the past year, the California-based events company has pivoted from outfitting wedding venues, and is now creating outdoor offices for one of the biggest companies in the world.

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Focused mostly on the West Coast, Shelter Co. has built its business around providing everything people would need to host a weekend wedding or family reunion outdoors. “The idea is, how do we enable people to throw a party for 200 people in the middle of nowhere, what does that look like, what do you need?” says Shelter Co. CEO and founder Kelsey Sheofsky. Over nine years, the company grew from a handful of tents to more than 500, and has used them to provide accommodations and settings for everything from destination weddings to corporate retreats.

And then the pandemic struck. “It canceled 100% of our business last year, which was startling, to say the least,” says Sheofsky. “But it kind of gave us some downtime to think about how we want to refocus things.”

[Photo: Bess Friday/courtesy Shelter Co.]
At first, the company started working with restaurants and wineries hoping to stay open during the pandemic by adding more outdoor facilities. Then, Sheofsky says, a previous client reached out on behalf of its new company: Google. The tech giant had an RFP out for an outdoor office solution at its Mountain View campus, and after Sheofsky submitted a proposal, Shelter Co. was selected to provide it.

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Compared to previous work on temporary events like weddings or even those outdoor accommodations for restaurants, which had a shorter expected lifespan, the Google project offered a chance to think more deeply about how outdoor spaces could be designed to last a significantly longer amount of time. “It was more like, ‘Hey, what can we do that can work for a year, and maybe reinvent the way that we’re gathering people for the long run?'” Sheofsky says.

[Photo: Bess Friday/courtesy Shelter Co.]
In a parking lot, Shelter Co. created what Google has named Camp Charleston—a collection of open-air tents with clusters of tables and Adirondack chairs that the company can use for outdoor meetings, along with larger wood-framed tents with long tables where individuals can work. Built largely from Shelter Co.’s existing inventory of tents and materials, the space is glamping-meets–corporate campus. The outdoor workspace is expected to remain in use through the end of 2021. Google declined to comment for this story.

The Google project led Shelter Co. to take on other outdoor office space projects, mostly for other tech companies. Due to nondisclosure agreements, Sheofsky is unable to name them, but says her company has done several and is bidding on several more.

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[Photo: Bess Friday/courtesy Shelter Co.]
“Some of the other places that we’ve done, they’ve been wanting things that are a little more refined or more in line with the existing architecture of the campus or the workplace,” Sheofsky says. “That’s really just understanding the overall vibe they’re going for; and we can buy furniture to suit, we can line the interior of our tents with different color fabrics, we can do different stains on our flooring.” Depending on the space, that also means making electrical hookups, installing generators, or even setting up new Wi-Fi networks.

Shelter Co.’s experience is being put to use on another project for Google, at its Sunnyvale campus. “This one is a much more modern design,” Sheofsky says. “All the structures are going to be very reminiscent of a greenhouse, so [it will incorporate] a lot of nature.”

Sheofsky says the pandemic effect that’s causing companies like Google to look outdoors for safe office space won’t be a long-term focus for Shelter Co., but that she’ll ride the wave while it’s here. And there may even be a side of this new office work that endures. Sheofsky says the company has recently been booking temporary off-site events for companies that have shifted fully to a work-from-home model. “There’s a much bigger need to be able to gather teams in a safe way that’s also productive,” she says.

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Though offices are providing a new source of business for the company, the pandemic may actually be drawing more customers to Shelter Co.’s main area of expertise: outdoor weddings. “People are just not interested in an indoor ballroom wedding right now,” Sheofsky says.