To those involved in office design, the term "third space" is something everyone is familiar with. One reason for this broad acceptance is because it isn't strictly an office design term, but rather a sociological term which refers to a social setting that is not one's home (first) or workplace (second), but is a third option. Ray Oldenburg, a key thinker on the idea, sees third spaces as having some of the following characteristics:
- Free or inexpensive
- Food and drink, while not essential, are important
- Highly accessible: proximate for many (walking distance)
- Involve regulars – those who habitually congregate there
- Welcoming and comfortable
- Both new friends and old should be found there
The sort of environment outlined and pictured above is the sort of place I'd like to spend some time. After all, I already try to get work done at coffee shops, the library or a pub, but there is simply one glaring problem: they are packed with distractions.
Third Spaces and Offices
The unfortunate thing about already defined third spaces like barber shops, pubs, coffee shops, parks, libraries, or community centers is that for the most part, they are awful locations for getting work done. This is why office planners have been quickly co-opting third spaces and adding them as elements of the office landscape.
One of the best examples I've seen of the meshing of the office and the third space is at Steelcase's WorkCafé:
Designed to be both a hub and a haven, the WorkCafé supports almost anything employees want to do – catch up on work, catch up with colleagues, catch up on news and, of course, eat. There are a variety of spaces, including open and closed meeting spaces, areas that accommodate stand-up, sit-down or perch postures as well as indoor and outdoor options. Choices range from places designed for focus to an open lounge with a Starbucks and a stand-up bar for quick, passing-by connections.
Shrinking the Third Space
Integrating a Third Space sounds pretty interesting for a company the size of Steelcase, but it is also an applicable office solution for smaller companies like yours and mine. You see, the point of a third space isn't to create a place where only large organizations can take advantage of sociology research, but instead to make a place that is more comfortable, casual, and inviting than traditional workplaces.
Some of the ways I've been seeing smaller companies integrate them into their offices isn't through grand designs like the WorkCafé, but instead, through smaller lounge-style spaces.
Why You Should Add a Third Space Today
Some of the reasons that might make you want to add a third space are as follows:
- Third spaces give owners a way to shrink real estate or optimize what they have to accommodate more people, which translates quickly into cost savings.
- Third spaces are a more appealing way to build community and give workers choice and control over where they work, something researchers have identified as critical to employee wellbeing.
- Third spaces are a form of collaborative consumption, making them an Earth-friendly way to use fewer resources.
Here are some of my favorite recent examples: