Designing the Workspace Third Place
In a previous Insights post, I wrote about a renewed emphasis on “real human interaction” in the workplace and suggested some broad ways to think about the areas that foster these connections.
Creating an area that becomes a social magnet and gets people out of a strictly business mindset doesn’t necessarily mean allotting more square footage for the office lunchroom. The size of the space isn’t as important as the quality of what happens there. These are the places where the magic happens, where casual information-sharing builds community and unexpected chats spark new ideas.
Increasingly, workplace “third spaces” are taking their cues from the hospitality sector — hotels, lounges, restaurants, spas; places people associate with relaxation, refreshment, and social interaction. Unlike the buttoned-up nature of the meeting room, these informal spaces draw people in and encourage them to slow down for a moment, thereby creating an opportunity for that chance interaction with a co-worker. What does hospitality mean? Lodging, comfort. Here, a holistic attention to materials (textured surfaces, plusher seating), lighting (warm and ambient, and more decorative), and amenities (food and beverage; reading materials) is essential.
DLR Group’s design for Adjustable Forms Inc.’s office offers a good example of such a space. When people take a break from their focused tasks and enter a light-filled room that offers refreshment, that’s lively and healthy, they enter a different frame of mind, one more conducive to creative ideas and new connections.
Think about the origin of the phrase "water cooler effect" — the way socializing and informal conversation in the workplace boost productivity. If something this beneficial for the office was born around an object as mundane as a plastic tub of water, then clearly workers’ need to connect in this way is fundamental. By making that space more hospitable, more attractive, you multiply the power of those interactions.