‘Third Places’ are integral to Workplace Culture
Workplaces have evolved. Hoteling and nodal, non-territorial work spaces have become commonplace in new workspace design, as the impact of networked business has transformed how and how much collaboration, innovation and communication take place in business environments. Work is now often divided between solo tasks at workstations, private phone conversations in small rooms with good acoustic attenuation, and meeting rooms for structured group meetings. These workspaces are well complemented by less-structured casual meeting areas.
Businesses recognize that in order to make their workplaces more appealing to employees who are working more collaboratively, investment must be made in environments that offer amenities in cafés or other “third places,” such as building lobbies. The term “third place” became commonly used nearly 25 years ago, after sociologist Ray Oldenberg researched the function of public, social places outside of the first place (home) and the second place (work), and collected his observations in the book “The Great Good Place.” Third places can promote 'accidental' interactions, enabling employees to develop a collegiality which allows for relaxed, lateral thinking to occur, thereby generating social and intellectual capital for companies. This can ultimately translate to an improvement in a commercial tenant’s bottom line, ensuring that workplace occupancies remain at optimal levels.
Such Third Places – often where the best and most valuable thinking can take place - are by their nature flexible, full of choice and ultimately empowering to individuals, enabling them to think creatively. In such spaces, place-making amenities such as feature walls and ceilings, fireplaces and interactive art can be integrated as a means of encouraging employee collegiality, ensuring that such spaces are not merely transitory. Colour, light and transparency are used to create visually engaging spaces that dramatically affects worker alertness, productivity and performance. This approach ensures that workers have opportunities to reduce stress, which reflects a renewed focus on workplace wellness, ensuring that workers will be more likely to collaborate with colleagues, and more likely to innovate in ways that benefit the bottom line of a company.
Kearns Mancini recognizes the benefits that well-designed Third Places can provide to a business, as we consider these spaces as opportunities to link corporate social responsibility and good business, thereby ensuring a great customer experience and a solid return for our clients. The costs associated with this sort of development are relatively nominal and are easily offset by long-term benefits of employee productivity and well-being.
Projects referenced in this article:
 A brief outline of Ray Oldenburg’s work can be seen here: http://www.fastcodesign.com/1665202/3-keys-to-creating-great-good-places
 See “Daylighting and Human Performance” (Heschong and Wright, 2002). Online Reference: http://aceee.org/files/proceedings/2002/data/papers/SS02_Panel8_Paper08.pdf