The Third Space. A neutral space that facilitates the exchange of opinions, stories and theories. Imagine the potential we can unlock if we are able to execute such spaces and integrate them into to our work environments.
The concept “Third Space” was originally coined by sociologist Ray Oldenburg to describe the public places where people can gather and interact. These are spaces where people congregate outside of the home (first space) and office (second space) that become the heart of a community, or sections thereof. Think of your local café, bar or beer garden, libraries and community centers, even main streets.
“The nature of a third place is one in which the presence of a “regular” is always welcome, although never required. Membership is a simple, fluid process of frequent social contact, renewed each time by choice of the people involved. Eventually, social bonds develop through a type of informal intimacy.” states Oldenburg.
The key principles that apply to a third space are that of neutral ground, a social leveler and that conversation is the main activity, although it is not limited to this. There is no importance on an individual’s status in society and allows people to put aside their concerns and enjoy the company and conversations around them.
But if a third space only exists because it isn’t the office, how do we then harness these philosophies for the workplace? As we watch the lines blur between all three it is important to define the essence of each and find compromises to embrace and retain the positives.
When the line between work and home is blurred, we know that delineating a space and structuring your time are important ways to discern. We can apply the same techniques to differentiate the second and third space blur. Work becomes defined as an individual’s workstation, and we can harness the potential of the third space philosophies by integrating opportunities to break from this space and the daily structure.
We crave social interaction, but also require a sense of belonging, feeling of importance and a place of our own to focus and get on with the job. Individual workstations provide this, and in turn play their role in staff satisfaction and productivity. But there is a balance to be found.
Creating an office cafeteria that is frequented by all, ensuring it adheres to the criteria of leveling and neutral, creates opportunity for fluid interactions and helps to develop and strengthen social bonds. Create spaces to relax, both together and individually. It can be as simple as a gathering of bean bags, but it must be inviting. It relies upon individuals freely choosing to spend their time, so must be desirable in terms of provision and ambiance.
Building in activity-based working spaces for meeting and breakout allows us to support the different working styles of employees, and provide them with the freedom and flexibility that in turn boosts engagement and satisfaction.
Work from home is the hottest topic around currently, and while the current pandemic must leave some degree of imprint on our ideologies and priorities, we can support employees with the transitions by providing comfortable, informal locations within the office space.
While true third spaces remain an integral part of our societies and communities, the philosophy has immense potential when properly understood and harnessed in work environments to foster a feeling of choice and community, and inspire conversation and collaboration.