The old-fashioned commute to the office is draining the energy and time out of the US economy and its workers. So desperate are people for a break that almost a third would take a reduction in paid vacation, and a quarter a pay cut, for the opportunity to work remotely – stats that should make every business scramble to edit its HR policies.
The reality of working at home is disappointing, though. Around the world, veterans of home-working say there are too many distractions, and not enough chances to network at the water cooler. It’s fine occasionally, but not every day; the attractions of working close to TV and fridge soon fade.
There’s an alternative to office and home, and it’s not the co-working hubs where you need the right clothes, right phone and VIP tickets to Coachella to belong. It’s called ‘third-place’ working, with people using libraries, coffee shops, business centres and business lounges to work remotely. It’s linked to the global trend for more flexible ways of working.
Third place is not new. Anyone who checks emails at a coffee shop or works in their parked car is doing it. They just don’t think of it as a ‘third space’. And they don’t know it is increasingly easy to find more work-conducive third spaces.
Europe is, for once, ahead of the curve, with flexible workspaces springing up close to where people live and travel. French, Dutch and Swiss rail operators have partnered with Regus to open walk-in business centres at stations. Shell and Regus are piloting instant-access business lounges at gas station forecourts. Regus and Extra Motorway Services are opening drop-in workspaces next to key UK highways.
Those new workspaces let people do their job closer to where they want to be – near home, customers, or leisure facilities. Already in the US, the rising demand at Regus’ business centres that are in shopping malls – currently 10% of the total – testifies to people’s desire to work at locations that fit their daily lives (or retail habit).
US employers may still treasure ‘the office’ and daily facetime with staff, but forcing them to endure the average 25-minute commute every day is shortsighted. Consider this, instead: 72% of firms that give their staff flexibility over where and when they work say there is a direct link to greater productivity. At a time when US workers, businesses and the economy are looking for a boost, that stat suggests the third place is where they should look.