What Is a ‘Third Place’ and Why Do Your Employees Need One?
The past two-plus years have taught us many valuable lessons about what we need, including expectations about our life-work balance, demands from our workplaces, and support from our communities. Perhaps the leading lesson is the power of human connection — what happens when we come together for a common cause and shared purpose. We collectively rediscovered that humans are, in fact, highly social creatures who thrive when in the company of others.
This revelation came to light in the rapid evolution of our workplaces. The role of the office was reduced almost to the point of non-existence during the pandemic, and now employers and employees alike are rethinking its importance. While the majority of workers enjoy the flexibility of their newfound remote status (and 87% of them want to keep it, according to a recent McKinsey report), it seems hybrid arrangements are actually more beneficial to our mental health and physical wellbeing than only ever seeing your coworkers over Zoom.
It’s true: The shift away from working at home is on the rise. According to a survey by JLL, working in one single location – be that the home, office, or a third place – was reported to be the least appealing option for employees. A week that is split between office, home, and a third place is likely to become the most popular pattern as workers re-attune themselves to leaving the house and re-entering the workplace.
Building a work community, facilitating collaboration and creativity, alleviating loneliness — these are all advantages of regularly gathering together as a team. But in today’s new normal, with concerns over public health and safety and personal preferences for more freedom and flexibility in our day-to-day schedules, the question is, where?
The Premise and the Promise of the Third Place
In his 1991 book The Great Good Place, urban sociologist Ray Oldenburg coined the term “third place.” In contrast to first places (home) and second places (the office), third places are designed specifically for unfettered human interaction. Third places “host the regular, voluntary, informal, and happily anticipated gatherings of individuals beyond the realms of home and work,” Oldenburg argued, perhaps providing a blueprint for the earliest examples of coworking spaces.
Oldenburg was on to something: These inviting shared spaces promote social equity by welcoming one and all in conducive environments that offer psychological support to individuals and communities.
One of the most favorable outcomes of gathering regularly in a third place? Mitigating the epidemic of loneliness. America was already facing mental health challenges prior to the COVID-19 pandemic that were fueled, in part, by the increasing isolation of people across ages and demographic groups. The issue is particularly problematic among workers, with 62% of employed adults reporting feelings of loneliness in a Cigna Health survey. The loneliness epidemic costs employers more than $154B a year in lost productivity due to absenteeism.
The best third places are accessible, accommodating, close to home, and provide what you can’t always get from your home and/or office: a sense of belonging to a bigger community. A third place is a powerful antidote to isolation and exclusion. It fosters connection and communication, provides an identity, and builds bonds. Scientific research shows that nurturing strong relationships is essential to our health and wellbeing, and third places offer the perfect environment to do so.
How Flexible Workplaces Can Fill the Need for the Third Place
The traditional third place meant a coffee house, bar or pub, or social club. Starbucks co-opted the third place term in its branding early on but has since gradually pivoted away from its community gathering place model. The swanky social club Soho House embodies the spirit of the third place, with communal spaces and shared experiences, but the company’s exclusivity keeps it out of reach for most.
Meanwhile, some 36% of employees work in “third places” at least once a week, up 8% from a year ago, JLL’s report found. The attraction appears set to continue, with third places remaining attractive in the future to 33% of respondents. Enter the coworking space. Its professional atmosphere, amenities, and services support productivity and organizational outcomes, while its convenience, abundance of different working arrangements, and opportunities for interaction improve employee morale.
Another appealing aspect of coworking spaces as third places? The regulars. Beyond just regular interactions with managers and coworkers that can be expected and accomplished in an office setting, the beauty of the third workplace lies in connecting and collaborating with others you might not see every day, including people from outside the organization who can offer fresh viewpoints and innovative solutions. The change of scenery in itself can spark ideas and inspiration for teams who are working on big collaborative projects or may feel stuck in a rut.
The third place is a refreshing reprieve from your first and second places, which are often structured and require a time commitment. Coworking spaces as a third place feature the freedom and flexibility that employees demand today.
How to Provide Your Employees a Much-Needed Third Place
Companies that are unprepared for these structural shifts and don’t properly support the needs of their remote and hybrid employees will lose out on the war for top talent that persists in a tight labor market. As we’ve discovered, flexible workspace is the #1 employee benefit your organization can offer today.
Preferred equips enterprise companies with a range of workplace options that fill the desire for a third place from which to connect and collaborate. From coworking spaces, meeting rooms, private offices, custom suites, day passes, and hot desks, all managed by a single contract, your employees will feel empowered to choose what flexible workspace works best for them, giving them the spirit and conviviality of a third place with the support and framework of a professional office.