The Power of Three . . . Why Companies and Employees Are Discovering they Need a Third Space to Work
There is a lot of strength, and maybe even a little magic, in the number three. If a stool has three legs, it can’t tip over. To make a triangle, which is the most basic geometric shape, you need three sides. (If you have only one side, you just have a line.) When you look at your life, it is made up of the past, the present and the future.
We won’t go on exploring the power of three, although we easily could. Today, we want to explore the amazing improvement that results when people have three workplaces to choose from. Not one space, not two, but three. We are calling this trend Third Space.
Specifically, we are writing about a way of working that offers employees the option of choosing among three different work settings as they plan their workdays and workweeks. These three setting are:
A central company location. This might be the office where people went to work before the pandemic hit, or maybe somewhere else. It is a “magnet” central company location where everyone can go to work if they want to, or work according to a flexible work schedule the company sets up, or according to some other schedule.
The employee’s home. Many people were working from their homes before the pandemic struck. Some of them were independent contractors who didn’t need to take up space in the company’s offices. Others were people who needed the option of working from home so they could care for younger children. But when the pandemic struck, working from home became not an option for a small number of people, but a massive trend. Some people worked at home so they could supervise kids’ school work. Some worked from home so they could avoid long commutes that exposed them to health risks. Suddenly working from home was a very big thing. It moved from the periphery of working life in America to the center.
The Third Space. Nobody really saw this trend on the horizon. And then suddenly, it was here. It is a third kind of working location that can take many forms, but in all cases, it proposes specific benefits to employees. This Third Space is almost always near their homes, so the risks and inefficiencies of commuting don’t apply. Employees can use Third Spaces every day or only when needed or desired. These places can be:
Arranged by employees themselves, who might “borrow” a desk at a friend’s business, spend the afternoon at a public library, go to a local Starbucks and work there, or find other options.
Secured by employers, who borrow office space or rent space in a restaurant, unused college building, or elsewhere.
The Relationship between the Third Space and Hub and Spoke Office Model
You have probably been reading about companies that are using a “Hub and Spoke” system to organize the places where their employees work. We have written about Hub and Spoke on this blog too. The central location - maybe a company-owned office - is the hub. The spokes are secondary locations where employees work, such as in their homes, in restaurants, in borrowed offices - anywhere.
Viewed from this perspective, we see that Hub and Spoke is closely related to the idea of The Third Space way of doing work. But because The Third Space always involves offering employees a third work option, it isn’t exactly the same thing.
The Many Benefits of Having a Third Work Option
People who are using Third Work spaces - and mixing the time they spend in them with the time they spend working in a main office or at home - report the following benefits:
Parents report that a Third Space allows them to get away from their children and enjoy a quiet work setting that supports working, communicating, and a range of work activities that are hard to manage when children are present.
Employees who need to call on clients, to service equipment in a number of locations, or to travel to multiple locations for other reasons, report that having a third work location gives them a home working location that can be highly useful, depending on where it is located.
Remote employees who work in regional work territories located at a distance from company headquarters report that having an outside-the-home location provides a useful setting that makes them feel less isolated and more energized. They can travel to headquarters, they can work from home . . . but now they have another option too.
Best Practices: What Do the Best Third Spaces Offer?
More people, as a result of working through the pandemic, have discovered that having three work settings to choose from allows them to work with more energy and focus, and pays a number of other benefits:
A shorter and more convenient commute than employees experience when commuting to a central company location.
Reduced exposure to other people, who can spread the virus while in trains, bus and train stations, subways, public areas in office buildings, in elevators, etc.
Working in a setting where regular cleaning and disinfecting are practiced, according to approved protocols and rules, that discourages the spread of disease.
A secure and separate work area that lets employees do their job without worrying that their laptops, phones and other items of personal technology will be stolen or subject to surveillance.
Quiet, comfortable chairs and access to comfortable secondary public spaces where users can read and relax. Note that even though these spaces should be comfortable, they should be arranged to provide adequate space for social distancing.
Adequate distance between workers.
Access to private work areas that can be used to make phone calls.
Meeting rooms that can be reserved and used to host client meetings, to meet with sales prospects, etc.
Windows that allow natural light from outside the building.
Clean restrooms, kitchenettes and lunch areas that are preferable - and healthier - to those found in popular coffee bars.
Hand sanitizers located conveniently at entry points, on work areas, in restrooms, in kitchenettes, etc. Also, washrooms equipped with an adequate supply of paper towels and with high-quality disinfectant hand soap.
Someone in charge who can assure that people wear masks and observe appropriate social distancing, who encourage users to be considerate and quiet, and who can generally keep things running smoothly.
A mandatory check-in protocol that requires arriving workers to have their temperatures checked, to register, and to follow other safety routines.
A computerized workspace monitoring system, operated by someone in charge, that requires users to register, reserve space ahead of time, to check in and observe other safety protocols that track who is there and prevent overcrowding.
Strong Wi-Fi. Other technological must-haves include access to a service that can step in if Wi-Fi is interrupted. The availability of a printer/scanner can be a welcome asset in Third Space work spaces too.
Photo taken before the pandemic
Who Are the Early Adopters of the Third Space Option?
The earliest Third Space adopters were located in urban centers, which makes sense. KettleSpace, for example, got its start in New York, where the demographic “shape” just fit. Our company could set up Third Space locations near where employees live in the outer boroughs and in the suburbs.
But now Third Space is being adopted by companies of all kinds, located all across the country - in fact, everywhere.
These early-adopting companies can be:
Start-ups, which have discovered that Third Space options can allow them to staff up quickly without the need to overspend on office space.
Distributed companies, which need to provide work options to employees who live in regions and states that are at a distance from company headquarters. Plus, this new way of doing business can support companies that are expanding into new states and regions where they need to start operations without building or leasing new company facilities.
Companies with profits that are principally driven by sales, and which must offer a home base to a salesforce that is distributed over a number of locations.
Companies that offer services in the tech sector and who need a wide “footprint” in different areas where clients are located.
Small and midsize businesses which - often because of the pandemic - have suddenly needed to offer employees a range of new ways to work safely by avoiding long commutes.
Rapidly growing businesses that have a need to staff up quickly, without overspending on facilities.
Companies that need less space because they are downsizing and restructuring because of the lessons they have learned during the pandemic.
What Role Will Third Space Play in the Changing World of American Business?
Now we are going to put on our thinking cap and consider how the Third Space fits into some of the bigger trends that are taking place in business today. (You might agree with some of these ideas, or you might not. But why not jump on board and, whether you like or dislike our ideas, come up with some big new thoughts of your very own?)
In the future, the Third Space trend could:
Play right into the build and sell way of doing business. You have seen business owners - often younger entrepreneurs - practice this when they start a new business, score a big success, and then sell it for a big profit. Third Space - and in fact, all opportunities to build a business without making large capital investments on work facilities - meshes perfectly into the fast-moving world of businesses that are being built to be sold.
Grow explosively as new technologies expand. If you accept the fact that Third Space has grown because of technology’s ability to allow people to work from anywhere, then you see where this idea is going. Could it just be that as technologies continue to become more powerful and enabled in the next few years, that Third Space (and all Work from Anywhere options) are poised to explode in ways we cannot foresee right now. We think so. Do you?
Mesh with The Third Screen and other megatrends. “The third screen” references the fact that first there was the television (the first screen), then the computer (the second screen) and now there is the phone. As end-users have migrated to using that “third screen,” they are using their phones for shopping, for entertainment, for telemedicine, and just about everything else. Where is this trend heading? We don’t know for sure, but the digital marketers of the world are certainly paying attention. It is only logical to assume that as trends like the Third Screen explode and expand, secondary trends like Third Space could slipstream along behind, causing a revolution in the way people work and companies operate.
Ready to explore how the Third workspace option can be implemented in your business? Get in touch with us at firstname.lastname@example.org.