The Upside to Working Outside


In a quest to find cheap workspace in a cramped metropolis, New York City technology start-ups have ditched the traditional office, sharing desks with other firms or just setting up shop in the Ace Hotel lobby.

About a dozen designers, developers and other tech workers on Thursday took the effort one step further: working outside on picnic tables underneath the Manhattan Bridge in Brooklyn.

“I find the outdoors is very conducive to our energy,” said Bill Ades, a 41-year-old Web developer and co-founder of JemSpace, a social media company for businesses.

Mr. Ades and other entrepreneurs toiled outside amid a warm summer breeze in an effort that was part public-relations gimmick, part vision of the future arranged by Loosecubes, an office-sharing company, and the Dumbo Improvement District.

Organizers offered tech workers beer, picnic tables and free Wi-Fi underneath the archway of the Manhattan Bridge near the intersection of Water and Pearl streets for Thursday’s workday. The scene will be repeated there each Thursday this August.

The organizers said they were responding to a shift in the city’s work culture as a younger generation creates its own companies.

While large companies like Google Inc. and Facebook Inc. have offices in pricey neighborhoods such as Chelsea and Midtown, younger tech entrepreneurs want a laid-back, almost entertaining atmosphere for work. What’s more, they don’t want to commit to one location.

“We think of our customers a lot as local nomads,” said Campbell McKellar, founder of Loosecubes.

Most of about 50 casually dressed people at the event Thursday stood around drinking beer and eating sandwiches at what sometimes felt like a festive cookout. But a group of about a dozen toiled away at four picnic benches littered with empty iced coffee cups.

Meghan Doherty, a 27-year-old self-employed graphic designer, sat there with her laptop open. She said she regularly works in nontraditional spaces outside the home and came to the Manhattan Bridge to mix things up.

“I just got bored of going to the same three coffee shops,” she said.

Another worker, Eva Kaplan, director of a nonprofit called Maria’s Libraries that is trying to create libraries in Kenya, said: “Offices in New York City, it’s not a value for our money at this point.”

While the tech industry is famous for shunning traditional offices, Mr. Ades said its workers still look for communal spaces for their labors. Working from home isn’t ideal for them either.

“I generally need to be working in a space with other people,” said Mr. Ades, who said he often rides his bike to different workspaces.

Also appealing was the cost: free. “At our phase, it’s great because we don’t have any overhead,” said Mr. Ades, who expects JemSpace to launch in a few months.

Working outside is becoming easier as the city and private organizations offer more free Wi-Fi in parks and green spaces. AT&T Inc. has agreed to provide free Wi-Fi at 20 city parks, for instance, and the city is expanding its number of incubators, or spaces that house and support multiple start-ups.

But start-ups have to find indoor physical space to work, if for no other reason than New York’s weather. Thursday’s event was promoting Loosecubes free office-sharing service, which will begin charging fees this fall.

Some have created their own shared workspace. Matt Meeker, CEO and founder of BarkBox, a site that sells care packages for dogs, shares 8,000 square feet in Chinatown with six other start-ups. The common area boasts a ping-pong table, he said.

“It was nice because we could lease the whole space and not worry how to pay for it,” Mr. Meeker said. “We can also grow into it which is nice.”

Others work out of establishments in Manhattan’s tech-oriented Flatiron District such as the Ace Hotel and sandwich shop ‘wichcraft. Group environments allow start-ups to network with other companies.

“Community is really the most important thing,” said Micah Kotch, director of incubator initiatives at the Polytechnic Institute of New York University. “If you can provide a community for people that really enriches their experience and allows them to get things done, you’re providing a real value.”

At the picnic tables on Thursday, some workers said they were simply looking for a little variety. Milen Pavlov, a developer from Jersey City who works in Dumbo, said he was there for the fresh air. “Every now and then, it’s good to take a break,” he said.

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