2021 Trend #4: Third Spaces and Localised Working
Author Philip Ross  | 

The term Third Space was reportedly conceived by renowned sociologist, Ray Oldenburg in his seminal work: The Great Good Place. Here he envisioned a space people used to complement their first place (home) and second place (work). This year, the distinction between our first and second spaces has become blurred, with the former playing double duty as both. As I discussed last week, one of the key trends which has accelerated because of the challenges of COVID has been a (mostly) universal mandate for Hybrid working. This will see employees work part of their week at home, and the remainder in the office – activities split by the agility of the task, with most collaborative conducted in office with peers and low collaborative tasks such as emails and processing completed from home.

We hypothesise that the move towards hybrid working will increase the demand for third spaces and localised working. In the first instance, third spaces provide an attractive opportunity for employers to decrease the density of large buildings, pushing potential footfall out to alternative spaces thereby ensuring more adequate social distancing. Another perk is, as discussed last week, if we are envisioning the majority of hybrid worker will decide their ‘in office’ days will be Tuesday-Thursday, such spaces can assist with load balance buildings by sending traffic to alternative spaces.

Third spaces are by no means a new phenomenon; Its most ubiquitous iteration has been coffee shop culture. It has been underpinned by the growth of mobile technology which allows employees to effectively work from anywhere, but it has been more pointed in its focus – it has provided a place for much needed informal collaboration and conversations that traditional workspaces lack. It has become another way for employees to carve out spaces that they require for creativity, flexibility, and productivity. In response, prior to COVID-19, many workplaces had begun to incorporate lounge style spaces in workplaces to reimagine the ‘Starbucks’ effect in situ. In another iteration, it was the move towards corporate co-work memberships which allowed employees a more dynamic and collaborative approach to working.

As we suggested in our 2021 Trend #2, bring your own technology is another force driving the momentum of third spaces. This, in collaboration with the spatial typology or purpose driven approach of hybrid working, will enable employees to work in the space they require to accomplish their objectives. To this end, we envision that home working will be blended with time in office and at third space with employees having the autonomy to select which place suits their need; The true realisation Activity Placed Working. That these spaces are intentionally designed to be platform for networking and collaboration is no small coincidence, we predict they will grow in significance and the provision of these spaces will soon become necessary as opposed to desirable. It is by no means the end of the traditional workplace, but rather an enhancement which caters for the diversity of workplaces; where headquarters or traditional offices remain corporate showrooms, third spaces become edgier, exciting realms presenting another more playful, technology-enabled aspect of a corporate brand.

Evidentially, the spread of COVID-19 has accelerated the trend towards third spaces but now with the added twist of localised working. Localised working is creating strategically placed satellite offices which can be utilised by employees in the geographical area. This helps mitigate a lengthy, and potentially dangerous, commute into urban centres with employees able to travel by bike, bus, car or walk to a local workspace. Some companies have already moved into this space re-envisioning retail branches as new hub locations. According to this recent New Yorker Article, satellite working is underpinned by the social anthropological theory of “Dunbar’s number” which was “derived from studies of Neolithic villages and tribes” which suggests “that humans can maintain stable social relationships with no more than a hundred and fifty people at any one time”. Accordingly, this has led real estate strategists to consider that rather than a central hub for 2000 people, smaller satellite spaces accommodating smaller number of people may be a better idea – both creating more meaningful workplace communities as well as potentially reducing real estate footprints.

The realisation of this in practical terms is through a more robust location strategy which takes employee location data into consideration when deciding where satellite offices may be best placed. In New York, inspired by the sheer amount of people who worked in Brooklyn, R/GA were allegedly planning to open a hub office there. In a London context, satellite hubs may be envisioned in Greater London and the home counties, especially Surrey and Kent, where many city workers commute from.

Furthermore, the emergence of live/play/work communities has accelerated this trend. which are. As both third and local spaces, these are growing in number and significance in urban centres. This past year has highlighted and reinforced the momentum of this. These places offer the trinity of ‘live, work, play’ incentives with the lines between each faction increasingly blurred. The offers here centre around the notion that more people are becoming ‘renaissance workers’ with greater mingling between careers, hobbies, lifestyles and social values.

Yet despite the promise of third space and localised working, a word of warning: there is fear that third spaces and localised working may be decreasing diversity and increasing homogeneity in that similar people will be drawn to similar places. This may undermine the great diversity of traditional offices which bring a diverse array of people from far and wide to one space. Taking the example of a localised hub in Surrey, when we consider the demographics such a place might attract, there is a fear we may lose the intergeneration, cross socio-economic integrity of the central office. These issues highlight the need for such paces to be purposeful, well thought through and ideally, underpinned by data, as we do at UnWork. Data can help determine these patterns and create policies which balance usage based on the core principles and values of a company.