Companies have gone back and forth over the years on whether private workspaces are better than their more open, livelier counterparts.
However, the best businesses are learning that they don’t have to choose just one type of working environment for employees. These days, many are embracing a new way to provide the open, social vibe of an open floor plan without sacrificing the private, quiet spaces their employees need to concentrate.
They’re making it happen with so-called “third spaces.” Distinct from private workspaces designed for solo use (first spaces) and conference rooms designed for group use (second spaces), third spaces are designed for employees to hang out, socialize, relax — and maybe even get some work done in the process.
The specifics of these types of spaces will vary with a company’s needs and culture. However, they all have a few things in common: They’re casual, they’re unassigned and unscheduled, and they’re meant to provide a fresh change of scenery for employees.
These spaces aren’t just nice for the people who use them; they’re also great for business’ bottom lines. Here’s a bit more about why — and how — you might consider adding a third space to your own office.
The Benefits Of Third Spaces
Encouraging employees to change their environment and interact with colleagues away from an assigned desk has lots of potential benefits, including these:
Better Productivity & More Creativity
In a world where digital tools are making personal interaction increasingly obsolete, the companies whose teams work together on site need to leverage their team’s ability to collaborate face-to-face. But employees won’t get as many fresh ideas and help from peers without an office environment that encourages that interaction.
Dedicating a space for employees to chat, socialize and meet informally could lead to more interaction, more creativity, and better communication.
Plus, individual employees’ productivity levels may get a boost from the change of scenery they can get from switching locations within the office. Employees may value their quiet desks, but that doesn’t mean that they want to sit there all day long. This Staples Workplace Index found that although 65 percent of workers reported feeling most productive at their office desk — only 36 percent reported feeling the most inspired there. Plus, about half of the respondents felt that they couldn’t get up from their desk for a break.
Better Mental Wellness
Companies have started paying more attention to their employees’ mental wellness in addition to physical wellness. It isn’t just altruism: Employees who are stressed and unhappy aren’t as productive and tend to come into work less.
It turns out that one of the biggest mental health boosters for employees at work is to make friends there. People who have a good friend at work are much more likely to enjoy their time and stay with the company longer (and that’s quite valuable in a world of sparse talent and expensive employee churn).
The more relationships your employees develop, the better sense of community your company will have. That’s why creating physical space that facilitates those relationships can be such a good investment.
Your office should make a clear statement about your priorities as a company.
Developing a central “third space” with a beautiful, professional design shows that your company is modern and dedicated to creating a healthy, collaborative work environment.
If that space draws inspiration from restaurants, coffee shops, bars and retail environments (as many companies have chosen to do), it also sends a clear message that your company prioritizes a fun experience for its employees.
That can be particularly important for recruiting, and can also go a long way toward impressing other partners and potential clients.
How to Design a Third Space
So, what kind of third space would be the best for your company? That depends on how your employees spend their time. Here are some of the ways that you can get a feel for the best space for your company.
Consult your employees and managers
This is an obvious first step, but it’s worth mentioning. Don’t assume what your employees want. Don’t even use trend articles like this one that cite surveys of other employees in general.
Your employees have unique needs and responsibilities that are specific to their jobs and your workplace. There are plenty of beautiful third spaces out there to use for inspiration, but they won’t all be right for your office.
Look at how your current office is used
You may be able to get a feel for what your employees really need by looking more carefully at their current activity.
For example, are your conference rooms often booked — but with groups much smaller than the room’s capacity? (If you’re interested in more analytics like this, one of the tools we mentioned in our post The Best New Office Apps for Startups can provide this type of meeting room scheduling data.) Is anyone using your breakroom for lunch, or do they choose to eat at their desks? Why? If they’re avoiding the breakroom, perhaps it’s because they’re struggling to find enough uninterrupted time to complete their work. Or perhaps the breakroom could use some upgrades that would make it an inviting place for them to spend their time.
Conversations with employees combined with actual usage data are a great way to gauge what type of space that employees would love the most.
Establish the space’s primary goal
Based on the info you gathered from employees and office usage, you can establish exactly what you want your third space to be used for. Of course it will probably be great for multiple purposes, but having a main goal in mind can help as you move forward. Here are a few of the main goals for third spaces:
Fun and Socialization
Encouraging your employees to have fun at the office promotes a sense of community and camaraderie, as we mentioned earlier. It can also enhance your brand as approachable and likeable.
But it also turns out that fun spaces can be particularly effective for employees’ productivity. That’s because play can “relieve stress, boost creativity, improve brain function, and improve our relationships with other people by fostering trust with others.”
If the primary goal of your third space is to get your employees together to enjoy themselves and start thinking out of the box, you have plenty of options. Fun-focused third spaces may feature table games like pool or table tennis, craft beer on tap, and an energetic aesthetic.
If you’ve found that your employees need more options for places to meet or hold impromptu brainstorming sessions outside the monotony of their offices, the best third space for your office might be productivity-focused.
These types of third spaces contain a variety of “breakout spaces” where smaller groups of employees can get together to discuss what they’re working on. Some may also include more private spaces for individuals who still need to concentrate, but want a change of scenery. Breakout space options in a space like this may include whiteboard walls and beautiful privacy screens. For some other great examples of creative breakout spaces, check out this list.
If your company’s brand leans more professional than creative, this focus can be a great fit for your workplace.
Comfort and Relaxation
If the most important thing you want to offer your employees is a chance to decompress, try for a comfort-focused third space.
Adding homey elements like warm lighting, domestic-style fixtures, plush furniture and even mattresses to breakout spaces and meeting rooms can encourage employees to recharge. These spaces can feel like a retreat, both from private desks and from the distracting social areas of the office.
Finally, regardless of your third spaces’ primary purpose, these areas should be:
- generally unassigned and unscheduled, which allows workers to come and go as they please
- have great internet access and charging abilities
- have a variety of seating options to accommodate different working styles