People spend most of their lives in two places: home and the office. But for socialization, engagement, and entertainment, we seek out a third place where we're stimulated by those we're with, the surroundings, and the amenities available. These can be favorite restaurants or bars, coffee shops and cafés, or even parks and outdoor hubs of activity. It's no surprise, then, that for workers not tethered to an office, they've sought out these third places--particularly if there's free wifi--to be inspired and regularly connect with people.
With an average workweek coming in at 47 hours, these external places that help focus and recharge us have become a vital part of the employee economy.
The Attraction of the Third Place
But what's the attraction of the third place? What does it bring to a worker that the home or office does not provide?
They're neutral. We have responsibilities at home and at work. While we're there, we have a to-do list, whether that entails caring for our families and homes or sending out emails and participating in meetings. The third place brings with it no expectations or ties to personal obligations, which effectively knocks down the barriers to free thinking. Thus unfettered, employees find more inspiration in third places, and ask more "what-if" type questions for effective problem-solving.
They're social. Let's face it, as much as we like our coworkers, seeing the same people all day every day creates a need for a break from them. Third places provide this break, full of fresh faces and the chance to meet new people, spark interesting conversation, and find inspiration. The formality of the office and responsibilities of the home fall away, so we're able to engage fully in the moment without anything in the way.
They balance inspiration and productivity. These aren't places where workers go to goof off. They find they can get more done in a shorter span of time with ambient noise, like that of a café. Third places have the unique ability to get us out of our physical box, which helps us get out of our mental box.
They're flexible. Some workers like the noise of a busy lounge, while others do better in a quiet environment, like that of a spa or retreat. For larger companies with enough real estate for multiple third places, implementing different décor for different work styles gives employees a choice of where to go to feed their inspiration in a space that fits their focus requirements. The Slack offices in Vancouver have an overall rustic feel with modern accents and warm, ambient lighting that gives off a soothing impression in the entire office. However, even their café style third place is soothing, with padded seating, tasteful, low-key lighting, and pillows to soften the area. It's a very calming environment even while embracing third place mentality.
The Most Effective Office Third Places
What makes a fantastic third place? Those associated with relaxation, entertainment, and refreshment. Businesses that take their cues from restaurants, bars, lounges, and spas find their third places become a hub of activity. Gogo Inflight's Chicago offices incorporate a third place that resembles a lounge and game room with this in mind, as does Spirit Realty Capital in Dallas. Leaving that meeting to enter a light, airy, and healthy atmosphere is like a breath of fresh air. Not only does it help relax the body, it provides a different context cue for the brain, helping the employee enter into a new pattern of thought that feels like a break from the work they've been doing for the past few hours. Even if they're still discussing work, the third place offers a change of pace from the rest of the office, and therefore a change of pace for new ideas.
The third place no longer has to be entirely separate from the office to achieve this feeling. Office cultures are changing with the transition from an older to a younger workforce. Corporate management now recognizes the benefits to the bottom line that providing a balanced office environment gives. By incorporating fun and interactive, or quiet and introspective third places within their office blueprint, employers are reaping the benefits of balancing gainful productivity with socialization.
Incorporating a Third Place in Your Office
You don't need a big renovation to bring your employees the third place they didn't even know they wanted. Concentrate on those luxurious elements that make spas and lounges desirable places, such as comfortable furniture, varying textures that mimic relaxation and entertainment--couches with throw pillows, places to set drinks, a visually pleasing décor--and inviting lighting.
Most likely, there's already space in your office to have a third place. Where are employees already congregating to chat, take a break, or otherwise get away from the pressure? That's a great place to consider redesigning the space with third place appeal. Courtyards and patios are also great locations to spruce up to third place standards. It doesn't matter how big or little the area is, it's how you use the space.
Corporate understanding of employee productivity and how we best work has blossomed in the last 20 years, with employers more willing than ever to create comfortable, healthy environments and policies that foster balanced and effective workplaces. Socializing, such as in a third place environment, helps build teamwork, encourages trust, and enables collaboration. It contributes to an inclusive office environment that shows employees their work requirements are valid and important. Third places are a solid, creative way to bring employees fulfillment in their jobs and their working relationships, which in the long run, attracts bright ideas and talented workers to the table.