A Different Kind of Space

SITTING IN STARBUCKS, I’M COMPELLED TO DISCUSS WHY. I mean, it’s the middle of the work day, and I “should” be at my desk, but there are some things that I can’t do as effectively there as I can when I remove myself from work (and home) environments, such as writing or really being creative in any way. One of the vice presidents at work likes to tease me about how much time I spend over at Starbucks, but he knows as well as anyone the amount of work I get done. I call it my remote office, but others call it a third place and I wish all offices were as flexible as mine is when it comes to letting people be their most effective.

I’m very fortunate to work in a job where it is not tied to my physical location. I’m a manager, and I need to spend most of my time in the office so that I can interact both with my team and with other teams. This does not preclude working from home a day a week, which is a perk that my department has maintained for everyone for many years now, or working from other places when appropriate. Originally, I took advantage of this to escape on Friday afternoons to perform my GTD weekly reviews so that I would not be distracted. Now I’ll often spend an afternoon a week working from a coffee shop just so I can focus on some of the more creative tasks that I don’t tend to attack when I’m at my desk. I was doing this before I even knew there was a name for it.

A third place is usually defined as a social space separate from the two traditional environments (home and work) where people can go either to interact or just to be around other people while they work. Coffee shops are a very common version of this, as most provide the traits of a third place: free or inexpensive, close by, food and drink, regulars, and an environment that is comfortable to spend time in. They are also my third place of choice, as I can generally count on wireless access for free or with purchase, and there’s always another one around if my chosen location begins to get too crowded. I get a coffee, put my headphones on, and get down to the business of writing posts, or crafting policies or plans, or researching topics that I just need a little time for.

I’ve also been developing some interest in the idea of coworking, but not just the basic shared environment where you can be around others while you work. I look at it more for the ability for like-minded folks to collaborate on an idea. Some of this is what we’ve been working on in the space tweep community: someone comes up with an idea and a few of us “gather around” to discuss and create it. There’s a problem with it, in that we don’t have a decent place to collaborate except for 140 characters at a time on Twitter (hence my previous post about a Spacepoints collaboration space). I look at places like NASA’s sp.ace and I wonder what an environment like that could accomplish at my company.

Of course, what did they do? The new office in Reston will have an open floor plan. The cubes, if you can even call them that, are 6 foot square, with very low glass walls (only about 3′ high). Everyone has a cube except for directors and above, who will have some of the very few offices. This is going to be a huge change for a company where most people are in offices right now, and those who are not are in full-height cubes. I look at this design and I’m trying to figure out how I’m going to make phone calls, how I’m going to concentrate when other people are making phone calls, how I’m going to have private conversations with my team, and who’s going to be looking over my shoulder while I’m working. It allows for almost no personalization of our workspace, and I really don’t think it’s going to be conducive as a primary workspace for most people.

So it comes down to the fact that I want to spend time in a coworking space, but I want it to be a limited amount of time and I want to actually have a second place (work) to come back to. As much as I am trying to approach the new office with an open mind (I like the huge gym, and the cafeteria, and the collaborative spaces), I just can’t see how the actual desk space is going to work. I think it will actually force me to a third place more.

Todd Palino


I'm a dad, a small business owner, a systems engineer, a developer, and any number of other things.

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