Third Place Thinking

Adam Tinworth
Adam Tinworth

Small Batch Coffee cup

I’ve long been fascinated by the concept of the [Third Place (or Space)]( – the liminal space between home and work. It’s a lingering obsession from my days as a commercial property and architecture journalist, where I encountered plenty of new theories on the possibilities inherent in new workstyles, but precious few companies willing to step outside of the cultural norms of office life.
One of the delights of my six-month journey from corporate drone to versatile self-employed knowledge worker has been the chance to experience some of that in reality. Brighton in particular is a hub for virtual organisations, temporary project-based team working and third place environments. This afternoon I followed up a rather pleasant lunch with [Mr Mayfield]( with a visit to [Clock Tower Cameras]( to collect my newly-repaired [EOS 500D]( "Canon EOS 500D"), and then a spell in [Small Batch Coffee]( – a classic third place, and as close to an office as the TEDxBrighton team have right now.

And that lead into an impromptu TEDxBrighton meeting when I bumped into organiser Natalie Lloyd. She invited me to sit in on a chat with Andrew Sleigh, as part of her networking and preparation for the conference. It was a cool, dynamic, unexpected afternoon of the sort that just never happened in my corporate days. I love that. I want that. It’s a working future for the next chunk of my life that really appeals to me.

There are some pre-requisites for this sort of working to, well, work. For one, you need a cluster of businesses and individuals in one area that are numerous enough for chance encounters of this kind to both happen and to be useful. And you need the kind of businesses that are suited to flexible working structures. In that, I’ve rather fallen on my feet. When we decided to move to Shoreham-by-Sea, I had no thought of the work possiblities inherent in the Brighton digital scene, but now it’s a core part of my working life. And just up the coast. Win. As I contemplate the next six months, other than the looming presence of a lot of nappy changing, it’s crossed my mind to consider forming a virtual content agency of some kind, for reasons that I’ll explore in another post. Officeless, yet using digital tools and third spaces to keep communication more open and useful than in many siloed businesses.

I have a deep and abiding suspicion of one-size-fits-all solutions, and yet we still bias towards a single base model of the working office. Desks, fixed location, repeated patterns. Even those offices which have adopted hot-desking tend to find people hitting formulas of behaviour – theoretical hotdesks becoming someone’s preferred working space, and so on.

For many creative and knowledge-work based tasks, a mobile phone, a laptop (or an iPad…?) and power are all you need in terms of working equipment. Certainly those (and, admittedly, a digital SLR for liveblogging) are all I’ve needed to make my living. Indeed, I’ve never understood the attachment so many journalists have to their desks and offices. Why don’t they want to be out and about amongst their communities – their beats?

The office as a place of information work seems curiously undisrupted as a model by the advent of information technology. Disruption is inevitable. And I rather fancy being part of it…

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Adam is a lecturer, trainer and writer. He's been a blogger for over 20 years, and a journalist for more than 30. He lectures on audience strategy and engagement at City, University of London.