In the last 20 years, the concept of going to coffee shops or cafés to get some work done as well as hang out and get your morning caffeine fix has become ubiquitous to the culture of an independently-employed workforce. There's even some glamour associated with it: imagine a busy journalist breaking a big story over their daily "usual" or a tech savvy entrepreneur prepping the launch of an app that will change lives. The gig economy is growing, contract workers abound, and the modern day workforce is constrained less by office walls than ever before. Where is it they go to get the job done? The third place--not home, not an office, but somewhere easily accessible where the atmosphere is relaxed and comfort is king.

The third place is a break from the same four walls, where people go for a daily dose of social interaction, spark their creativity, and restore themselves through relaxation. It's the café with the comfortable couches and the waitress you know who is going to school for the art degree, or the barista who begins your coffee order when you step in the door because he knows it by heart. It's the coffee shop where the other customers become familiar, and maybe discuss a magazine article they read about the future of artificial intelligence because they know that's what you're researching for work. Or you get to see pictures of their child opening a birthday gift with delight because you were the one who recommended the shop where they bought the item. The third place is where you go to avoid isolation and remember that despite social media's attempt to become the go-to hangout, the online world is a poor substitute for going outside and doing some living.

There are, however, drawbacks to the coffee shops and cafes that draw in professionals looking for somewhere to park for a few hours for some productivity. Not enough electrical outlets means those with laptops are vying for coveted tables. Perhaps the noise level isn't ideal if the barista in charge of the music likes it loud. Maybe the lunch crowd is boisterous enough to chase workers out, shaving down the hours of an afternoon spent in relaxed productivity. Free WiFi is fabulous, but if everyone's on it, it can be too slow to facilitate any real progress, and daily use of a hotspot can rack up serious smartphone data drain.

This is why, in some offices around the country, employers are bringing the third place on campus, providing some real, relaxed atmosphere outside the cubicle or conference room. It's a spin-off of the open office idea, giving team members dedicated access to internet and company software, minimizing the risk of unfortunate noise levels, yet still carrying the feeling of escape from the usual places we as a society spend most of our time--home and the office. Without pressure for collaboration some open office plans try to foster, it could become the ideal work space in your whole building, and if you have a patio or courtyard that can be utilized as a third place, you can even incentivize your employees to get some fresh air.

Offering a third place in the office can also solve the problem of where to settle remote workers who do come in for a day here and there, or team members in town from another company location. You don't have to hope there's a free cubicle because another employee is on vacation or out for the day. An on campus escape with stronger connectivity and better amenities than the coffee shop around the corner would encourage people to stay in-house, which could lead to greater collaboration as conversations happen naturally. Popping in and out of the third place on campus takes less planning and effort than even the convenience of a nearby café, making it an attractive option for those employees who do better with a less constrained atmosphere. Proximity to the company assets such as technology connections and people in related departments makes the third place ideal for employees visiting from other company locations around the world, causing less disruption and faster logins when an on-site visit occurs.

The office environment is changing at a breakneck pace as technology enables us to literally work from anywhere. The third place provides another option in office design not only to woo guests but your employees as well as those who thrive in an environment that doesn't feel like an office. By adding a third place, you're offering a comfortable, inviting, and relaxed gathering spot ripe for collaboration and conversation. This ensures that those who come to your office, daily or otherwise, feel supported and valued because they have somewhere to go to be creative, socialize a little, and work at their pace. That in itself can be restorative and invigorating, which is the whole point of the third place.

Published on: Sep 7, 2017