How third places are becoming mainstream

Working elsewhere is on the rise as work patterns evolve

June 13, 2022

People are finding places other than the office or home to meet with colleagues or crack open the laptop, as the structural shift to the working week continues.

Increased flexibility is seeing more employees increasingly log into work from cafés, hotel lounges, and coworking spaces, according to JLL’s latest Workplace Preferences Barometer.

Easing restrictions have reopened offices to employees that had been stuck at home during the pandemic. But a labor shortage, alongside an expedited shift in cultural norms, has created working environments that are more flexible than at any other time in recent memory. 

“Hybrid work now means much more than just the home and office,” says Flore Pradère, Work Dynamics Research Director at JLL. “A variety of locations form part of the typical working week as employees seek boundaries between personal and professional lives.”

Some 36% of employees work in such “third places” at least once a week, up 8% from a year ago, JLL’s report found. The attraction appears set to continue, with third places remaining attractive in the future to 33% of respondents.

Difficulties and benefits

But with the use of third places on the rise, what about the risks posed to those employees who are “hyper-hybrid” in their weekly working patterns?

“They’re currently the most empowered set of office workers – but also face the highest mental wellbeing challenges,” says Pradère. “While there’s a lot of opportunity in giving people empowerment in where they work, it creates risks, too, such as the continued need to adapt and the potential to feel isolated. As a result, “hyper-hybrid” workers feel more stressed and need sustained employer support to recreate healthy routines and a sense of belonging with their team.”

But there are benefits, too.

“The third workplace does not mean working alone: external venues offer small teams the opportunity to come together and collaborate in a very professional environment. This type of place also favors connections with people from outside the organization,” says Pradère. “The change of scenery in itself can bring benefits, both for groups and individuals seeking inspiration.”

It’s also why flexible space is tipped to be part of companies’ post-pandemic work strategies. Some 41% of tenants expect to increase their use of flexible space, according to JLL’s 2021 Global Flex Space Report

Making the connection

Technology has and continues to play a big part in the shift to third places, with the switch to online meetings over the course of the pandemic giving rise to new levels of connectivity and flexibility.

“Just look at the recent removal of landline desk telephones in so many workplaces,” Pradère says. “We’re more connected than ever and the fact that people take calls online remotely removes immobility.”

At the same time, user expectations around tech put locations where support is on offer at an advantage in attracting and retaining talent. Around 60% of respondents to JLL’s survey name tech and equipment as the primary support they expect from their employer.

“One of the reasons employees miss the office environment is the access to everything they need to work, from amenities to the right type of chair and IT support,” Pradère explains. “The pandemic proved how poorly-equipped we were for working at home. In this context, giving people access to a highly equipped work environment close to their home place looks very attractive to the workforce.”

High expectations

Expectations are also high among employees around amenities and health and wellbeing.

“The need for support for employees, from managerial support to interaction with colleagues, transcends locations and workplace options,” says Pradère. “There’s an expectation to be supported by employers in new workstyles.”

The need for face-to-face collaboration remains at the same level as JLL’s research found just over one year ago; half of those surveyed still miss the social interaction while they are working remotely today.

“More people are back in the office, but face-to-face meeting is an aspect of office life which is just as missed as it was in 2021,” Pradère says. “It’s a need which should be at the heart of companies’ workplace approaches.”

Earlier this year, JLL’s Perspectives for Enterprises report found that companies are unprepared for the structural shift to hybrid working. Not properly supporting hybrid employees could result in “a loose network of independent, disengaged workers”, Pradère adds.

The shift away from working at home continues. Working in one single location – be that home, office or a third place – was reported to be the least satisfying scenario. A week that is split 60-20-20 respectively between office, home and third place, is likely to become the most popular pattern in the medium to long-term.

“If working from anywhere is the next step for hybrid work, it will be an equilibrium that’s hard to achieve,” concludes Pradère. “It’s both full of promises but also challenges.”

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