In the evolving commercial landscape, there continues to be a persistent reluctance of employees to return to the traditional office setting. Adhering to even a fraction of pre-pandemic norms of a conventional work schedule has emerged as a perplexing and multifaceted challenge for companies worldwide. This persistent hesitancy to revert to the pre-pandemic status quo signals not merely a logistical challenge but a fundamental redefinition of the employer-employee relationship. This shift demands a strategic recalibration of organizational structures and leadership approaches to navigate the complex and dynamic terrain of the modern workplace.
Despite commercial real estate being one of the most effected industries during the pandemic, our team was fortunate enough to revert to the status quo a lot faster than most companies. Our team had policies around bringing the in-person office back as soon as July 2020.
Overall, the industry faced challenges as lockdowns, social distancing, and remote work trends reshaped the demand for commercial spaces. Although the prevailing narrative in the media portrays a downturn in the office world leading to a much healthier work life balance, we have observed firsthand how powerful a consistent return to office can be, even just for a few days a week. Company collaboration and efforts towards a common goal have realigned and many companies have been able to “turn offices into destinations, rather than an obligations”.
Recently, I had the pleasure of dining with a client at The Ned in Nomad, NYC. During dinner, this individual touched upon an article he came across in The Atlantic that discussed the importance of finding a “Third Place.” At the time, I had never heard of it, but he stressed the extreme importance of making sure individuals have Three Places in life – The First Place: Home, The Second Place: Work, and The Third Place: A Social Gathering Space. It’s crucial to be conscious of the new world norm and how society has blurred our First and Second Places. In some circumstances, this has even led to eliminating the Third Place entirely, which is the most vital element in building a strong and cohesive culture.
As society grapples with the repercussions of a prolonged remote work environment, there is a pressing need to reconsider the importance of not only the Second Place but how this transition evolved to affect the Third Place in our lives.
Ray Oldenburg coined the term “Third Place” and identified the three (3) separate places as integral pillars of a human’s well-being.
First Place: Home – The First Place is the primary space where individuals reside and experience a sense of belonging. It is the most intimate and personal environment, typically associated with family, close friends, and personal activities. Privacy, emotional connections, and a sense of security characterize the First Place. It is where individuals recharge and engage in personal activities without the constraints of external expectations.
Second Place: Work – The Second Place is the structured environment where individuals engage in professional activities. It includes workplaces / any setting where work-related tasks are performed. A more formal and organized structure characterizes the Second Place. It provides a platform for professional interactions, collaboration, and the pursuit of career-related goals.
Third Place: Social Gathering Space – The Third Place is a social environment that exists beyond the home and workplace. It is a space where individuals come together for casual and informal interactions, fostering community, social connections, and a sense of belonging. An aspect of life that has become limited or wiped out entirely for many. The third place is often characterized by its inclusivity, a relaxed atmosphere, and the absence of formal structures. Cafes, parks, community centers, public spaces, etc., are great places that foster the unique identity of the Third Place.
Understanding and balancing these three places is considered crucial for a holistic and fulfilling human experience. The First Place provides a foundation for personal well-being, the Second Place facilitates professional growth and productivity, and the Third Place contributes to social connections and community engagement.
As organizations still contemplate a return to in-person work, the focus has largely been on re-establishing the Second Place—the office environment, which serves as a hub for collaboration, improvement, and team building. Its physical presence facilitates spontaneous interactions, mentorship opportunities, and a shared sense of purpose among employees. The importance of the office as a Second Place lies in its ability to nurture a corporate culture, build social capital, and provide a structured framework for professional activities. The Second Place is vital for several reasons:
Professional Development: The workplace is where individuals engage in professional activities and pursue career-related goals. It provides a structured setting for skill development, learning, and the application of one’s expertise. Professional growth and achievement contribute to a sense of accomplishment and fulfillment. This helps employees not only achieve but also accelerates mentorship, on-the-job learning, and skill-sharing, which would be limited in otherwise virtual environments.
Social Interaction: Workplaces serve as hubs for social interactions beyond the professional realm. Colleagues become a part of one’s social network, fostering relationships that extend beyond the confines of work tasks. Social interactions at the workplace contribute to a sense of camaraderie, support, and shared purpose.
Structured Routine: The Second Place establishes a structured routine, providing a framework for daily life. The regular schedule of work hours, deadlines, and responsibilities helps individuals organize their time and maintain a sense of purpose. Stability and control for individuals and organizations are strictly ingrained in a structured routine.
Identity and Purpose: The Second Place often plays a crucial role in shaping individuals’ identities. Professional accomplishments, job titles, and the role one plays in a professional setting contribute to a sense of purpose and self-worth. The workplace is a context where individuals can express their skills and contribute to a larger collective goal.
Team Building: The cultivation of strong interpersonal relationships through team building not only amplifies employee morale but also establishes a cohesive organizational culture that is essential for sustained success and resilience in an ever-evolving professional landscape.
While the Second Place is vital for professional and personal development, the pandemic reshaped the nature of this space by introducing remote work and altering traditional workplace dynamics. Navigating these changes requires reevaluating how individuals engage with their professional lives, ensuring that the Second Place plays a positive and enriching role in human well-being.
It is equally imperative to recognize the role of the Third Place in the post-pandemic landscape. Whether a café, community center, or social club, this place offers a unique setting that compliments the home and office. Unlike the structured workplace environment, the Third Place fosters informal interactions, social bonding, and the exchange of ideas beyond professional realms; this is pivotal for several reasons.
Social Connection: The Third Place acts as a social anchor, providing individuals with a sense of greater belonging and connection. Human beings are inherently social creatures, and the absence of meaningful social connections can lead to feelings of isolation and diminished well-being. Through a causal and social atmosphere, the Third Place diminishes the effects of these negative emotions throughout an individual’s daily life.
Creativity: In realms outside traditional business settings, fostering a culture that encourages imaginative thinking and groundbreaking ideas not only enriches cultural and artistic landscapes but also fuels transformative shifts, ensuring a dynamic and resilient society poised for continuous evolution.
Diversity: Third Places are often characterized by diversity, attracting individuals from various backgrounds and professions. In turn, fostering inclusivity, broadening perspectives, and promoting a rich tapestry of experiences. In contrast to the more homogeneous workplace setting, the Third Place encourages encounters with people outside one’s immediate professional circle.
Mitigating Burnout: The relentless pace of modern work, exacerbated by the pandemic, has led to a rise in burnout and mental health issues. The Third Place provides a reprieve from work pressures, allowing individuals to unwind and join in activities that bring them joy and relaxation.
Learning and Personal Growth: Beyond the structured learning environment of the workplace, the Third Place serves as an informal learning space. Through conversations, workshops, or community events, individuals can acquire new skills, perspectives, and knowledge that contribute to their personal growth.
The Third Place assumes paramount importance in one’s life by providing a crucial locus for community engagement, social connection, and cultural exchanges, which fosters a sense of belonging and connectivity that transcends the confines of domestic and professional spheres.
As we navigate the evolving landscape of work, we must recognize the symbiotic relationship between the home, work, and social gathering in fostering holistic well-being and a sense of community throughout our lives. Embracing the multifaceted nature of these places will not only contribute to a more balanced work-life equation but also enrich the human experience.
How have your three Places shifted, and what are you doing to return to a healthy balance?
By William Janetschek at Nomad Group
Oldenburg, R. (1989). The Great Good Place (First Edition). Da Capo Press.
Conti, A. (2022). Do Yourself a Favor and Go Find a ‘Third Place.’ The Atlantic. https://www.theatlantic.com/family/archive/2022/04/third-places-meet-new-people-pandemic/629468/