Office as a Destination 

‘Third space’ environment entices back-to-office

by Hannah Hackathorn

It’s been proven that we can work anywhere. For many of us, all our basic work tools fit in a backpack or briefcase, and the pandemic really pushed us to be open to new and unexpected work locations. Because of this experience of flexibility, it’s clear that as we transition back to the office, workers are seeking a spectrum of experiences beyond the traditional desk. The definition of “destination” is a place that people will make a special trip to visit, and by providing these new workspace experiences, we’re showing that it’s possible to make the office a destination.

In our latest Gensler U.S. Workplace Survey, we polled more than 2,000 U.S. office workers to understand what is and isn’t working in the office, and what design interventions might create a more compelling work destination for employees.

Our survey data shows that workers still value the office as a place to do their work, but they are also craving a more diverse mix of spaces, experiences and services. In particular, younger generations of workers preferred hospitality-infused spaces that offer a “third space” experience. And if a workplace offered this preferred experience, 83% report they would return to the office at least one additional day per month.

A third space is a defined place outside the home (first place) or office (second place), like a coffee shop, library, hotel lobby or park. It represents autonomy, without judgment by managers or peers, and includes an enriched sensory experience, such as visual diversity, comforting smells, music and textures. And for many, this third place offers flexibility and convenience, located near a fitness center, doctor’s office or grocery store.

Workplaces that provide both effective space and convenient experience, similar to this third space, are more likely to be located in neighborhoods and developments that have access to a wide range of concierge services, amenities and conveniences, either onsite or nearby.

One recently completed project where we intentionally included this type of space diversity is the headquarters for Insight Enterprises, an Arizona-based global technology company that focuses on data center transformation, cloud and workload alignment, security and disaster recovery, and digital innovation. Our team enhanced choice by creating a variety of work settings: open table seating, collaborative zones and small group focus spaces. Full of greenery, this space offers visual diversity, sound diversity and natural lighting that is similar to a third space. The headquarters also includes onsite amenities, like a health clinic and fitness facility, that offer everyday convenience.

When we asked, “If your company provided your ideal work experience mix, would you be willing to come to the office more often?” we were surprised by the answer. In response, 42% say they would be willing to come in one more day per week, and 24% say they would be willing to return full-time. Let’s use this new information to develop the office as a destination, which will both support better work performance and enrich employee’s lives and experiences.  

With more than 20 years’ experience in interior design, Hannah Hackathorn serves as director of workplace and co-studio director for global design and architecture firm Gensler. She brings expertise in workplace design, project management, strategy and change management services. Hackathorn regularly provides thought leadership on trends, issues, and insights for the workplace, and has been instrumental in workplace strategy and design for a myriad of clients that include tech startups and Fortune 500 Companies. 

Photo by Ryan Gobuty, courtesy of Gensler

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