I work at home. I work in an untidy office hanging off the back of my house where my dog sleeps on the couch and the plants could probably be watered more. My neighbors have been adding on to their mini-mansion for three months now, so I type to the staccato rhythm of roof hammers and pneumatic nail guns. And, like anyone in a small or virtual firm, sometimes I stare at the four walls of my domain and think I gotta get out of here.
Remote Workers Need Their Space
Cabin fever in a small office is a real thing. According to the U.S. Labor Department, 22 percent of the American workforce works remotely. Working remotely gets lonely and it might make you sick. Working long hours at home means the gap between your office chair and your La-Z-Boy is as thin as a sheet of legal-size paper. So, if you’re reading your last brief and it’s just “all work and no play make Jack a dull boy” over and over, you may want to pack your attaché and take your increasingly stir-crazy self to a third place.
Freelance writers are pioneers of the remote workforce. You know those people in Starbucks with their laptop open? They’re not all struggling screenwriters. Some work for a living as freelancers. And they’re not all writers either. They’re just as likely to be data scientists or the COO of a tech startup working remotely because a) it’s cheap, and b) why not?
What they know that you may not is a third place makes you more productive. It’s not your office and it’s not your den. It’s somewhere else where you can get your work done and it might just save your life.
The Classic: Caffeine Clubs
Coffeehouses are the classic third place. If you think this is a new phenomenon, may I refer you to the work of William Hogarth, an artist who hung out in coffeehouses in the 17th century and drew pictures of people crazed on caffeine? These were merchants and noblemen, all working deals for the East India Company and their favorite coffeehouses. If they’d had cellphones, they would have been that guy who’s always trading futures while he’s ordering a triple macchiato. Essentially, Starbucks is a throwback.
Of course, coffee isn’t the only third-place game in town. Anywhere that has Wi-Fi and a flat surface will work. You can tailor your third place to your work style. Need total silence? The library has a ton of space. Like a luxurious setting with bottle service? Find one of those swanky boutique hotels. (The Chicago Athletic Club offer wingbacks and a 19th-century fireplace you could roast a steer in.) Are you into leather and harrumphing? Join a private club. If you rent a single office room in a building, they usually have a shared meeting room. The shared receptionist will probably keep a schedule. Book a day. The chairs are comfortable and the coffee is adequate.
Shared Space and Private Clubs
The market knows all about your third place jones and businesses have evolved to take care of you. Almost every major metro area has office space to rent by the hour — and for various levels of skin in the game. Intelligent Office offers everything from a spot at a shared table to a private office with an answering service and a copier. For an hour, for a day, for a week at a time. Peerspace rents retail spaces, bars and elegant meeting rooms with scaled pricing.
The drawing room at the Chicago Athletic Club.
Take Your Tools
Wherever you run away to, you’ll need to carry some of the comforts of the office with you. You need tools.
If you’re preparing documents, Starbucks doesn’t have staplers or paper clips so bring those with.
FedEx Office is an awful place to work, but a FedEx-adjacent space is ideal. If you have a briefcase-sized mobile scanner or printer (and you don’t mind looking like that guy to a couple of people), bring it.
Don’t forget your notebook. Not the laptop, the paper one. You’ll want to capture ideas and maybe throw down an Eisenhower Matrix or two. Also, pens.
Bring a good headset. Whether it’s GoToMeeting or Skype, you’ll want to be able to talk on your phone but keep your hands free — without crimping your phone between your shoulder and your jaw. Just remember if you’re in a shared space, headsets work just as well at conversational levels as they do when you’re shouting.
A coffee mug emblazoned with “World’s Greatest Lawyer.”
Third Place Paradise
The best third place might be abroad. If your job is virtual and your face time is actually Facetime, then who cares if you’re working in London or the Loop? Book a “workation.” Get a room in Madrid or on the Cote d’Azure. Bring your S.O. and suddenly your office view is the Mediterranean Sea. Work from sunup until lunch, trot down to the waterfront for fresh seabass and oysters and a bottle of Cava chilled to nearly freezing. Finish with a cup of java, then go back to work. IN SPAIN.