Jobs and the Future of Work

What is a ‘third space’ venue - and could it be the future of hybrid working?

People work as they sit in a cafe at Zabeel House - The Greens, amid the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Dubai, United Arab Emirates February 1, 2021. Picture taken February 1, 2021. REUTERS/Rula Rouhana - RC2UKL9PEICV

A different place for a team meeting? Image: REUTERS/Rula Rouhana

Katharine Rooney
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Education, Gender and Work

  • ‘Third space’ working offers a creative alternative to the home or office environment.
  • Restaurants, hotels and private clubs have found new revenue streams by hosting remote working sessions.
  • 90% of companies anticipate a hybrid working approach, post-pandemic.

As many companies move towards a hybrid operating model where employees are split between office and home, a third way of working is growing increasingly popular.

With COVID-19 restrictions cutting down on office time and the potential monotony and distraction of working from home, logging on from a café, co-working space or even a rural retreat is an attractive proposition for many. At least 2.2 million people worldwide used co-working spaces in 2020 – almost 128 times more than in 2010.

What is a ‘third space’ venue?

The idea of a ‘third space’ was devised by American sociologist Ray Oldenburg in his 1991 book The Great Good Place. Unlike the traditional home and work environments – the first and second spaces, as Oldenburg described them – third spaces such as bars, cafés and tree-lined squares “host the regular, voluntary, informal and happily anticipated gatherings of individuals beyond the realms of home and work,” he wrote.

Third spaces create a happy medium

Today, these third spaces are often the venue of choice for remote workers, freelance or otherwise – and they are popping up in locations around the world.

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In New York, the Mediterranean wine bar Kindred offers work slots at its tables from 10am to 4pm. For $25, you can drop in and out throughout the day and have access to high-speed wifi, charging stations and unlimited coffee.

At Hudson Yards, on the city’s West Side, tenants of indoor offices at the multi-use site can book a connected outdoor work pod, seat, or even a swing to plug into for the day.

Private social clubs serve a similar purpose. Jan Roessner, the CEO of a video game and entertainment company, spends the day working on a rooftop terrace at the New York club Spring Place. “I need the separation between home and work,” Roessner told the New York Post. “I get distracted by the laundry or, ‘Oh, I really should do some vacuuming here’.”

Even hotels are getting in on the act. In Tokyo, the shared working space Andwork is sited in The Millennials hotel. It offers communal tables and pods, access to a common kitchen, and the chance to refresh by taking a nap or a shower.


What is the World Economic Forum’s Jobs Reset Summit?

A place for deep work

“Giving people a place to go that’s not their house is a huge business opportunity,” Cal Newport, a computer science professor at Georgetown University and the author of Deep Work, told the Axios news site.

The concept of deep work – the ability to focus on mentally complex tasks without getting distracted – was the inspiration for a UK start-up, FLOWN, which offers subscribers access to woodland cabins with floor-to-ceiling windows where they can undertake their tasks, as well as guided online deep work sessions.

a chat showing businesses executives expectations for hybrid working
The majority of executives expect that (for all roles that aren’t essential to perform on-site) employees will be on-site between 21 and 80 percent of the time. Image: McKinsey&Company

Putting creativity back into co-working

The way that we come together as co-workers is one of the themes being explored by the World Economic Forum in its Preparing for the Future of Work initiative; working with industry leaders to support a tremendous transformation in our collective professional lives.

According to McKinsey, 90% of companies anticipate a hybrid approach to work post-pandemic; with employees mixing and matching where they work according to their comfort levels.

That also creates an opportunity for businesses to develop their own ‘third places’: one US advertising agency is refashioning its rooftop as a collaborative work space, with new furniture and video conferencing facilities.

However we end up working in the future, one thing is clear: there will be more variety than ever when it comes to the how, when and where.

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