The work-from-home era looks as if it’s coming to an end, with some dramatic plot twists: There was Elon Musk’s converting Twitter office space into bedroom suites to implement a hardcore work ethic; apparently, SVB is blaming its collapse on remote work; and Apple CEO Tim Cook is said to be mandating a return to the workplace with consequences for dissidents. Whatever their methods—or the outcomes of a lack thereof—companies are starting to look a lot like they did before the pandemic, says a report from the Labor Department, and the bottom line is productivity.
But some believe there’s a better way to get things done, and it’s not from your breakfast nook-turned-cubicle or open-plan tech office with ping-pong tables and infinite snacks. Last year, one company built a rentable tiny cabin in Big Bear, California, exclusively for remote work, and Brian Vallario, a Brooklyn designer and entrepreneur, had a similar idea. To maximize focus, he heads to his own tiny cabin in upstate New York. "I go alone for a few nights," he says. "It’s a tool, a way to break from distractions and stoke my focus and creativity."
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Vallario’s prefabricated cabin in Wassaic, about 40 minutes from Manhattan, is nothing fancy. Its 225-square-foot plan is made of knotty pine boards, with a front deck built from the same. The open-plan interior combines a kitchenette, office area, and bedroom, with a bathroom to the rear. Plywood built-ins form the desk and bed, and both face a large picture window, which connects the space with its quiet wooded setting. According to Vallario, that counts for a lot.
"The difference in my idea flow, motivation, and general excitement is like night and day," he says, offering up some science to support his own experience.
Now, he’s driven to share those findings with others. Vallario is renting out his cabin at $225 a night to anyone interested in escaping their usual four walls for a fresh perspective on work. Soon, he says, he hopes to build a cluster of cabins around the first and call it Offsite Camp, which would accommodate team and individual stays alike. Once more are built, Vallario envisions a membership program that would grant access to each, akin to many coworking space business models.
Earlier this year, Emily Bradley, the founder of a New York company that rents out wares for dinner parties, took Vallario’s cabin for a test drive. "I’m a big believer in slowing down to speed up," she says. "It was the perfect place to see the forest for the trees—literally and in my work."
Bradley typically works from her Manhattan apartment, which is rife with distraction. "If I was home, I would’ve been caught up with laundry or decluttering and wouldn’t have been able to think through big plans," she says. At the cabin, when she needed a mental break to refocus, she’d just step outside and go for a walk. "I was able to be efficient and effective, and even tackled some of my least favorite tasks. Somehow, organizing tax information or unsubscribing to emails in bulk is so much nicer while looking at the woods."
Vallario says he’s aware it’s a privilege to be able to head upstate to work from a computer, and hopes that by collaborating with companies, they can offer employees an occasional escape as part of a benefits package. "It’s important that as many people as possible have access," he says.
Vallario also knows he isn’t the first to head into the woods for a mental reset. "People have been retreating to cabins in the woods to think and write forever, and those results are well documented," he says, invoking the godfather of the nature retreat, Henry David Thoreau. "The difference now is that new technologies allow people to stay connected, and many have jobs that allow them to work remotely. Also, I just really love creating spaces that get people outside; I want to make spending time outdoors a regular part of work life."