When American sociologist Ray Oldenburg coined the term “third places” in his 1989 book “The Great Good Place,” he referred to social environments outside the home and the workplace — public spaces like cafés, churches, and libraries where people naturally congregate, socialize, and feel a sense of community.

For today’s offices, third places essentially have the same objective. More companies are integrating third places into their offices, which often include communal working spaces as well as areas where employees can work quietly and privately.

“The popularity of third places is a recognition that one space type doesn’t necessarily fit the needs of people throughout the work day,” says Su-Zette Sparks, Senior Director, Workplace, CBRE. “Historically, people have gravitated to public houses, cafés, or other community areas to work and do business. There is a distinct atmosphere and vibe when people seek communal spaces to meet and work. Companies are starting to mirror the spirit of third spaces in their work environments.”


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Photo courtesy of Convene.

Form and function: Design is key
For Convene, a company that designs and services premium places to work, meet, and host events, creating flexible workspaces that are functional and engaging is fundamental to its business. “We aim to create an inviting atmosphere throughout our spaces,” says Jenny Kim, vice president and creative director at Convene. “We like to ride that line between the warmth of hospitality and functionality of workspace.”

To do that, the company outfits its spaces with furnishings that are ergonomically sound, yet aesthetically pleasing and comfortable. “We provide furniture that is work appropriate so guests are able to sit upright and pain free on their laptops for long periods of time,” Kim says. “We also make sure there is access to natural light and well-lit environments because we believe that helps boost mood, energy and productivity.”

Hubs for collaboration
With optimal employee output in mind, environments that encourage collaborative work are a priority. A recent Stanford University study suggests that collaboration enhances performance. Offering designated areas where employees can connect, work together, and build relationships is important.

Within Convene’s bright and airy gathering place, Nourish, are consistently stocked free, healthy snacks, coffee, and kombucha. “We find that people like to work in the Commons where they can also grab a quick bite to fight the afternoon lull,” says Kim. “Through observations, we have seen that people want to get out of their offices into the more communal environment to find space for both collaboration as well as quiet, individual work.”


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Photo courtesy of Convene.

Flexibility and freedom
While Sparks describes third places as “intentionally more relaxed places that provide both personal and community experiences when you need it,” she adds that they should also be flexible. “Part of the concept of third spaces is that it's not just about being open or enclosed, it's about creating balance.”

In addition to larger open spaces, she suggests that companies consider integrating third places like seating nooks and cozy enclaves that accommodate two to four people each. “The key to activating the space is having the intent in mind to support a lot of different events and activities, while also designing it with a flexibility in mind,” she adds.

In the end, humanizing the employee experience by offering dynamic, collaborative, and comfortable spaces should be a priority for occupiers and investors. Whether an employee wants a one-on-one coffee chat or wants to hunker down and work independently, a third place supports those needs.

“It's about being able to provide well-designed environments that support a variety of work modes and people’s changing needs throughout the day,” says Sparks. “To this extent, the workplace can be a tool and an enabler for great work to happen.”

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