The Third Place image

The Third Place

13 July 2020

In Great Good Place, author and sociologist Ray Oldenburg highlights the nostalgia for the small town, noting it as a “quest for community.” Yet, this problem of place in countries like America has not been resolved in the past few years. There hasn’t been an integral community formed, and Americans – as a result – are not content. It leads to the need for “third places.” Third places are common and essential features where one can investigate the boundaries of time and culture. These are everyday places you already know: cafes, coffee shops, bookstores, bars, hair salons. They’re the hangouts you retreat to. They help you feel connected to the place you’re living in.

Today, as remote work grows, more and more people are exploring the option to work in these third places because there are so many fulfilling locations to explore.

How do third places fit into our lives?

Oldenburg coined the phrase “third places” as somewhere that people spend time between “first” places and “second” places. Our first places are our homes. Our second places are our workplaces. These locations are integral to where we exchange our ideas, build relationships, and spend free time.

But there is far more than escape and relief from the stress involved in regular visits to a third place. There is more than shelter against the raindrops of life’s tedium and more than a breather on the sidelines of the rat race to be had amid the company of a third place. Its real merits do not depend upon being harried by life, afflicted by stress, or needing time out from gainful activities.

These regular visits to a third place help our mental health and contribute to our wellness. We need these third places in our lives and in our communities. They’re a healthy part of who we are. They also show us a work-life balance. They enable us to retreat when we need it.

Through characterizations of the third place as a mere haven of escape from home and work are inadequate, they do possess a virtue—they invite comparison. The escape theme suggests a world of difference between the corner tavern and the family apartment a block away, between the morning coffee in the bungalow and that with the gang at the local bakery.

In the more recent years, and especially since the coronavirus pandemic, the lines between first, second, and third place have become less pronounced. In the future, work anywhere is set to infiltrate the third place (and that’s not necessarily a bad thing!).

Working anywhere: the third place

How many times during COVID-19 have you wished that you could go sit in a coffee shop, a library, or at a park with your laptop instead of in your home office? How many times did you wish you could jet set across the world and set up in Paris, Rome, or Tokyo?

One of the most incredible features about work from anywhere is the fact that it truly allows you to do just that. The third place – originally intended for another purpose – is now open as a workplace as well. You can work beyond your office walls and explore the places in your community where you can find productivity.

Final thoughts

The future of work is remote, but that doesn’t mean you’re automatically stuck in the first place constantly. You may now move between the first place and the third place far more than you did previously.