We met the team behind the concept of Nature Desks at the Someș Delivery festival, where we discovered a working space with a view of the river and leaves whispering in your ears. We wanted to find out more about the concept of an office in open air, how it became relevant and where it is heading, but also about the people behind the project. Read our discussion with Ioana Biriș, research and psychologist, member of the Nature Desks team.
How did the idea of Nature Desks start out in Holland?
The idea of Nature Desks started two years ago in Amsterdam. Two professionals (Wieke van der Heide, consultant, and myself, as a researcher and psychologist) thought there should probably more people with the same need as them: open air and greenery around them as they work. The definition of the workplace is changing all around the world: it’s becoming a dynamic space, that accommodates the wishes of the employees. The happy workplace is a current topic of discussion on the agendas of large and not so large companies. And to create it, the companies experiment: they destroy walls and create open spaces, they offer healthy lunches, practicing sports is encouraged. Or they dress up their walls with plants and embrace the biophilic design. It is a changing topic and a researched one. But there are no definitive answers.
Afterwards, more trends got onboard:
- The wellbeing in the workplace; burnout rates and other health issues at the workplace are rising. The companies are investing more in prevention and the health of their employees.
- The profile of the employee, but also of the freelancer is changing: there is a generation who thinks and acts differently. A generation that has diverse needs, is less loyal and more exigent, a generation that is more mobile and independent.
- Cities are growing and they must prepare to satisfy those who live and work in them. There are more and more voices who asking the city halls and governments to invest in a natural infrastructure. A “green” city is a necessity.
Working in the middle of greenery is becoming a “must” and is being facilitated by more companies. But to be able to work in an organized manner in the middle of nature, you have to leave the city. In Amsterdam, as soon as the weather permits, the terraces are filled with laptops. Or you see the occasional people working in the parks of the city. This is how Nature Desks: (co)working in urban green was born. From placemaking interventions (like the one at Someș Delivery), to creating offices in urban green spaces together with our Dutch partners.
How was the idea received in Cluj?
Helped by our friend and colleague from Cluj, Oana Hodade, we sent the proposal to create „offices” on the Someș bank to the Someș Delivery initiative. The organisers’ reaction was positive. We thought out a Nature Desks plan to fit the city, as well as the Somes Delivery event: this is how Nature Desks/ Somes Edition was born. A combination of placemaking, coworking and local design, that was immediately embraced and supported by the Somes Delivery team.
What roadblocks or problems did you have?
Eh, the biggest roadblock was the weather – a weekend with a rainy Saturday and only half of a sunny Sunday. But on the other hand, the weather issue hit the nail on its head. To be able to work you need a minimum of conditions, Internet access, adequate furniture, shelter and a catering partner. And, of course, as we had proposed this event during the weekend and not working days, it shaped our action into raising awareness on another way of work. After all, there are few who work during the weekend, but this is a factor we took into account from the very beginning.
Other than that, we learned a lot: we should have started the preparations for the intervention earlier, have a relevant budget for an event of this size (the online visibility of the intervention was huge) and be better coordinated with the Somes Delivery team.
What future plans do you have? How can others get involved in developing the concept?
In truth, the concept has to be developed and adapted to local conditions. But taking into account the positive reactions of those we talked to about the project, the attention the event attracted through the Facebook event, the interest of those who wrote to us asking for information or proposing collaborations, we are convinced that people living in Cluj want to be able to work outside. Moreso, we believe in the enormous potential of an intervention that is not tied to spending leisure time to change the perception and the role of the public space.
The final message could be: think differently. Whether we attract a freelancer to work with Nature Desks, or a small company to discuss their strategy or product, whether we convince a large corporation or institution to offer their employees the incidental freedom of working outside, with little steps we ca change the public space and improve the quality of working conditions for many Cluj inhabitants. Nature Desks will be back in Cluj 😉.