Space, the final frontier

James Beagrie

You used to return to the office after a long break to find at worst, your chair or favourite pen had disappeared. Now, for some, the whole office has vanished.

The switch to remote working during the pandemic led many firms to realise, quite rightly, that there’s no need to spend two hours commuting each day and that many employees are more productive when they’re in a relaxed environment without interruptions, dressed in a onesie.

WFH has its disadvantages – dogs leaping onto your lap during Zoom calls for example – but more importantly in these perilous times, it saves employers a shed load of cash.

There comes a point though, when you want to get out, either for a change of scene or a meeting or just to escape those pesky kids. Communal workspaces, the so-called ‘3rd Space’, beckon and there are now plenty of these in a growing number of hotels.

Pre-pandemic, the idea seemed a bit awkward; sharing tables with strangers, it’s just not British, is it? We Brits like our own space and get embarrassed asking if a seat is free in Pret.

I think though, we all learned to be a bit more open and relaxed with each other during lockdown, when we actually started talking to our neighbours. Now, we’re far less likely to be horrified at the idea of sharing a desk or meal table with someone we don’t know.

We might even go all European and actually converse with them. If the idea of talking to a Frappuccino-slurping millennial appals you, I urge you to reconsider.

They might appear as though they spend all day on Fortnite, but when you look at the 23-35 age group and the reach of their laptops, they have on average 1,000 people who they connect to. So, they are three steps away from a billion contacts – and potential customers. That’s mind-boggling. And there was you thinking they’re just wasters who photograph their coffee then make it last three hours.

The 3rd Space has brought these people together and the old guard should not underestimate its power as a nurturing environment.  You’re not at home and you’re not in the office; you’re where you need to be. Call it what you will, it’s a whole new tribe, culture, environment.

The concept is the opposite of what Google tried – it fed staff on its campus, beginning with breakfast, and encouraged them to eat and socialise in its bars and exercise in its gyms or play sport after work. Many employees, particularly those with families, found this suffocating as it left little room for relationships outside of this bubble.

The 3rd Space liberates us all from this overbearing corporate culture and encourages free thought. It brings us into contact with others we would never otherwise have encountered. It also provides a safer public environment for women, where they’re less likely to have unwanted attention than in a bar or restaurant. In the 3rd Space you’re surrounded by likeminded business people in an atmosphere respectful of the culture it nurtures.

It’s a differentiator that some business hotels are picking up on and I really think it’s a key trend for the future, particularly as the concept evolves with benefits like use of the hotel gym included.

So, I say let’s march into those spaces and join the Frappuccino kids. Let’s annex some of that 3rd Space from them but also learn from those who first used it to their advantage. Step bravely into that arena, but please, leave the onesie in the drawer.

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