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Forget coworking. Your next desk could be in the middle of a forest

These tree-mounted desks put the ‘remote’ in remote working.

Forget coworking. Your next desk could be in the middle of a forest
[Photo: Iiro Immonen]
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The Finnish city of Lahti takes the concept of remote work literally.

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In partnership with creative agency TBWA\Helsinki and Finnish design company Upwood, the lakefront city has installed a series of open-air desks for remote working out in the middle of the wilderness.

There’s a remote desk overlooking Lake Vesijärvi, a 45-minute walk from the nearest parking lot, and others placed in forest parks closer to residential areas in the city of 120,000. Compared to the makeshift work-from-home office setups many people have cobbled together in closets and kitchens during the pandemic, these remote work stations offer a bit of an escape.

[Photo: Iiro Immonen]

Made locally with Finnish spruce wood, the work stations feature a narrow desk surface with room for a laptop and a notebook, and have a built-in support to stand up a phone, a hole in which to place a cup, and a notch on which to hang a bag. Strapped harmlessly to trees, the work stations are like standing desks, but in the forest. The work stations are free to use, on a first-come-first-served basis. Aside from cell phone service that may or may not be accessible, there’s no internet connectivity nor power.

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The COVID-19 pandemic was the main driver for the project, but the city and the designers behind the work stations also wanted to tap into the natural beauty of the region.

[Photo: Toivo Heinimäki]

“In the Nordics and in Finland, people are always keen to be in the forest and close to nature. We thought this was a nice way to encourage people to go back out,” says Umberto Onza, an industrial designer at TBWA\Helsinki, who led the design process.

Working with a team of students from LAB Institute of Design and Fine Arts at the local university, Onza’s team refined several concepts for outdoor workspaces and settled on the tree-strapped desk. Through the design process, a solid sheet-backing wall evolved into a series of rounded panels with spaces in between. “We wanted the people who were working to be able to see through to the forest around them,” says Onza.

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[Photo: LAB Institute of Design and Fine Arts]

They hired a local carpenter, Upwood, to build the desks in Lahti. Painted to prevent moisture and mold, the work stations are expected to be able to stay installed until the heavy snowfalls this winter. Onza says the work stations will likely be able to be used six months out of the year, and the city plans to reinstall them in spring.

The remote work stations have been installed in five locations throughout the city, which is 65 miles north of Helsinki and is this year’s European Green Capital, a European Commission program focused on urban sustainability. Lahti’s parks are among its key assets, and the work stations are intended to give people more of a reason to enjoy them, or at least to use them while typing on their laptops.

“It’s really peaceful,” Onza says. “You’re in the center of a forest in the middle of nowhere.”

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[Photo: Toivo Heinimäki]

Onza says requests have been coming in from around the city for more. He says the current work stations are in locations that may require a two- or three-mile walk, which is intended to be part of the experience. “The idea is to do some trekking to get there,” he says.

Other places are also reaching out about getting their own remote work stations, including other towns in Finland and a museum in Sweden. Onza says he’s hoping more work stations will be built to accommodate these requests, and suggests that local craftspeople should be involved in making them to reduce their environmental impact.

And though the concept of these remote work stations is to take work outside of its typical context, they may even be integrated back into more traditional work spaces. “People are asking for them to be installed in their offices,” Onza says.

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For now, the work stations will remain tied to their trees, a reminder to anyone telecommuting from their couch that remote work can be even more remote.