Rethinking the Open Office Plan
With most Americans having worked from their houses at least part of the time over the past two years, employers now find themselves in the unenviable position of having to compete with the comforts of home. To attract and retain top talent, smart companies are turning toward Third Space office design, a term that defines a space within a workplace that provides creature comforts, tech access, and the opportunity for socializing and relationship building.
Coined by sociologist Ray Oldenburg, the term Third Space defines a social sphere where people spend time between home (first space) and the office (second place). Coffee shops like Starbucks are the most familiar example. A worker might take her laptop to a café for the morning to get some work done before a series of afternoon meetings, or gather with fellow team members for a planning session, without the distractions of the office. These spaces are crucial in developing community connections, especially among younger generations, who grew up with virtual communication.
In a 2018 study by Hubble London, hundreds of employees were surveyed on what makes the office a place to love spending time in. Almost 60 percent named breakout Third Spaces as a desired amenity. And nearly 30 percent ranked furniture among the office’s most important considerations. Workers are eager to get away from their desks and conference rooms and connect with colleagues in places that feel casual, comfortable, and conducive to creative thinking.
Employees are eager to reconnect with each other and take a break from the desk. 60% consider comfortable Third Space Breakout areas a desirable amenity.
Third Space office design can come in a wide variety of configurations, from an onsite kitchen with a breakfast bar to an outdoor patio with furniture and live plants, or “rooms” defined by sofas, coffee tables, and chairs to mimic a home living room. The best Third Space office design offers a variety of interior settings—a creativity-enhancing break from “the usual”—and encourages productivity. It also blurs the line between work and socialization. These are spaces where there are no “head of the table” positions, allowing individuals to come together as equals. Successful Third Spaces must also have a robust wireless tech setup, including places for charging electronics.
In the case of the Pokémon Company International in Bellevue, Washington, an entire floor was dedicated to this concept. Inspired by nature, outdoor patios, and café culture, JPC Architects designed the space with multiple breakout areas. These include a long, restaurant-like high-top communal table with stools. Spaces are also defined by groupings of outdoor furniture, like sculptural teak benches, upholstered sofas, and spherical tables, or cozy hand-woven rattan pods with comfortable cushions and throw pillows.
JPC focused on sustainable materials in their design. They also incorporated concepts that address well-being, including a soothing “waterfall,” tactile materials such as turf and pebble flooring, a relaxing fireplace, and varied lighting that mimics nature. The goal was to bring the outdoors in and create spaces where employees could interact within groups or have a quiet getaway from their desks. From interviews with prospective employees to all-hands meetings and personal breaks, the variety of spaces and choice of organic materials like warm woods and soft upholstery create welcoming spaces for staff to work and socialize—and maybe even come up with the company’s next innovative idea.