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Rise of the Third Place: A Creative Alternative to the Home and Office

“From there to here, from here to there, inspired third places are everywhere.” 


– with apologies to Dr. Seuss

5 min read
Table of Contents

The future of work has arrived. Here’s how to make it work for you.

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In the new era of work, the term “hybrid” is sometimes misrepresented to mean either HQ or the home office. This misappropriation misses the point (and the beauty) of the hybrid work movement. People want flexibility around not just how, but where they work. They want true workplace choice, in other words. And, increasingly, when it comes to choosing between work-from-home (WFH) and working from the office, the choice more workers are making – at least part of the time – is none of the above. For at least a few days of the week, they’re opting for a creative alternative that offers the best of both worlds, the benefits of a full-service office and proximity to home.


What, exactly, are these Goldilocks work environments? They’re called third places and, at a time when worker health and happiness has never mattered more, they might just have an essential role to play in your organization’s hybrid workplace strategy. 


Everything Oldenburg Is New Again 


These days, there’s no single workplace for the masses, no one size fits all. The drawbacks of the office are well-documented – the monotony of home-to-work-and-back-again. But home is no panacea, either. In a 2021 survey from Lloyd’s Register, 69 percent of respondents reported higher levels of work-related stress while working from home. 


Enter the renowned urban sociologist Ray Oldenburg and his third place logic. A longtime proponent of informal public gathering places and the serendipitous, even magical, chemistry they can foster, Oldenburg’s book The Great Good Place actually coined the term “third place.” He argued that bars, coffee shops and other third places, which he described as public places on neutral ground where people can gather and interact, are central to community vitality. Little did he know that in exploring how third places offer an inspired alternative to home (first place) and work (second place), he was setting the stage for a key cog in the future of work. 


And make no mistake, the future of work has arrived. Today, workers from Melbourne to Miami are flocking to casual, comfortable third-place venues – and the psychological comforts they bring – to do their best work, either solo or in collaboration with colleagues.


A Hybrid Space for a Hybrid World  


What is making third places the first choice of a growing number of workers? To begin with, the term has expanded beyond the realm of bars, beer gardens and coffee shops. These days, third place venues offer many of the benefits of a traditional workplace environment. Facilities may include individual desks, meeting rooms, private call booths, and Wi-Fi. Many are stylishly appointed, or located near cafés and restaurants. Many are still cafés and restaurants, as the hospitality industry seeks to tap into a promising new revenue stream. 


But third place spaces offer something else, something vital – proximity to home. And therein lies perhaps the concept’s greatest appeal. After all: rare, indeed, are workers who actually look forward to those lengthy office commutes. Most of us find them to be soul-sucking enterprises that can quickly extinguish the positive effects of a good night’s sleep or ruin the end of an otherwise positive and productive workday. If an office experience can be had without the bumper-to-bumper bummer, if an affordable, professional co-working space can always be, say, ten minutes away, regardless of where you live, that’s a liberating concept and a big win for workers. 


And you know what else? It’s an equally big win for organizations of all sizes, all over the world, who have made delivering employee happiness their top workplace priority.  


A Hub for Work, a Haven for All 


So, who is using third places? According to property experts, there’s more than one answer. The spaces have obvious appeal to freelancers or anyone requiring professional space to be productive. These workers were on the lookout for attractive spaces to get work done long before a certain virus upended the work world once and for all. 


But that’s only part of this emerging picture. As pandemic worries ebb (hooray!) and the return to the office gains pace, corporations and organizations, many with newly reduced real estate footprints of their own, are becoming the biggest third place consumers. To lure workers back, to attract right-fit talent and satisfy critical sustainability initiatives, C-suite leaders are striving to use space more efficiently. Providing employees with access to high-quality, flexible third space coworking environments near their homes and their teammates is one way they’re doing it.


Another reason they’re doing it is worker output. The proliferation of third place coworking environments is proving to have important productivity implications. Research suggests that working somewhere new can increase motivation and boost productivity. Novelty works, it seems – faster and more efficiently. At the same time, a successful hybrid work strategy means workers are able to spend more time at their jobs than they spend commuting to their jobs. Reclaiming lost time while facilitating true workplace choice positively impacts productivity, in addition to motivation and morale. 


The Beauty of the In-Between


Sometimes, the biggest ideas are the simplest. As flexibility continues to emerge as a defining characteristic of the future of work, the notion of working neither at home nor at the office, but somewhere in between, is an idea whose time has come. As this newest phase of work unfolds, some employees may expect to utilize third places once or twice a week on a regular basis.  Others may yearn for space episodically, an hour here, a full day there. Team leaders may seek to gather colleagues en masse at a location that’s more convenient to the group’s needs. Management may gather the entire company quarterly or annually for planning and bonding in a spacious hotel bar, a private club, a leafy tree-lined café – or some other environment that feels inspired and new. The possibilities are infinite. And that makes paying only for the space you need, when you need it, a key benefit of hybrid work. 


Third places mesh perfectly with the concept of hybrid work, that is, the way more of us are working now. It reflects not only the will of the worker, but also the modern fluidity of space itself. In the new era of work, agility is the name of the game. The hybrid mindset  embraces the idea that, now more than ever, no single office environment can be all things to all people. It rejects bias towards any one workspace over another, or any one set of employee needs over another. It acknowledges that life is short and commutes should be shorter. Hybrid work – and third places – empower people to work from where it works, for them. 


The result is the latest example of an emerging (and exciting) new workplace diversity, one that reflects real employee choice, one that favors securing only the workspaces you need, when your workers need them. It might be hourly, it might be on-demand, it definitely appears to be the way of the future. And the third place is right at the center of it. 


For more insights on how third places can inform your hybrid success, or to learn about the hybrid world’s only complete, end-to-end enterprise grade workplace management solution, contact us or visit LiquidSpace.com/Enterprise.

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