One particular philosophy in the creation of community-space planning to emerge in the late 20th Century is the idea of the “Third Place.” Where the “first place” is a dedicated home and the “second place” is the workplace, the third place — as defined by sociologist Ray Oldenburg — is a gathering space where social environments encourage community, relaxation, entertainment, edification, and other activities meant to bolster civic interest and contact with broader societal elements. In simpler terms, it’s a place where the concerns and obligations of both work and home are free to be ignored.
With our current mobile and remote-working emphasis on being constantly on-call, the idea of the “Third Place” has become somewhat tenuous, intruded upon by facets of daily life that used to be far easier to cordon off to 9-to-5 hours. But as office planners have discovered in recent years, that upending of place can happen in the workplace as well. Office designs are increasingly incorporating built-in “Third Places” that encourage employee relaxation, community, and healthier work-life balance in a way that can accommodate worker needs and improve both morale and productivity. Here are five reasons office designers should consider incorporating a “Third Place” into the workspace.
Increased productivity: When a worker’s pacing themselves and taking intermittent breaks to relax and recuperate, it’s a net gain to productivity; a burned-out worker is an inefficient worker, often prone to distraction. In offices where breakrooms are spartan and uninviting, employees often stay at their desks to have lunch or take some downtime, which further blurs the work/relaxation balance and can make burnout set in more easily. Having a dedicated space (or several!) with appealing, comfortable accommodations can encourage workers to take time away from their desks, leaving them more refreshed and without the rut of being in the same spot most of the workday.
Less stress: Though this goes hand-in-hand with the benefits of increased productivity, Third Places also offer more holistically inviting and comforting spaces where workers can take a retreat from the frustrations of the workday. In that sense, a spot that seems less like a traditional extension of the workplace and more like a small-scale retreat can work wonders by temporarily separating stressed-out workers from the source of their anxiety.
More spontaneous creativity: One of the most common ways of describing an effort to break out of a rut is calling it a “change of scenery” — so why not offer that option in its most literal sense? Aside from staving off burnout, offering a dedicated Third Place where the pressure of work is pushed to the background can let flashes of inspiration arrive unexpectedly, or give the creative mind some much-needed downtime to recharge. A different environment — in sound, light, decor, furnishings, and overall mood — can be a catalyst for entirely new perspectives.
Collaborative sociability: Spaces like breakrooms have traditionally provided opportunities to socialize, while meeting rooms are more cordoned-off spaces dedicated to presentations and collaborative work. A “Third Place” space can split the difference between the two: a relaxed environment where workers can socialize while also providing the potential — but not necessarily the pressure — to exchange ideas and brainstorm.
A home away from home: It’s no coincidence that many people who work remotely often choose cafes and coffee shops to do so: these places are designed to offer customers an environment that they’ll want to stay in and return to, as well as providing a public space that feels like a place where work can be done. Providing a space in your workplace that fills a similar role — a place where the option is there to work, relax, read, study, or meditate — creates a feeling of independence and freedom that can feel more like working from home or a neighbourhood cafe than a traditional workplace can allow.
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