A 'Third Place': The Work-Life Balance Concept Putting You Back In Control

Wake up, go to work, come home, eat dinner, go to bed. Whether you call it Groundhog Day or alienated labor, there's no disputing that the modern adult's routine is often confined to the home and office.


The limitations of only inhabiting two places — the home and office — is a great burden, especially as the increase in remote work has winnowed many people's two places down to only one, the home office.

In this sense, work-life balance is a misnomer. When you weigh your entire life against your labor, the best you can get is a tepid equilibrium between a consistent work schedule and meeting basic needs, such as food and rest. To break out of the unsatisfactory balancing act of work versus life, we need to broaden our material environment by introducing a Third Place. Although the conversation around this concept started decades ago, the need for Third Places is now greater than ever.

Why you need a Third Place

A "Third Place" is a common social science term that gained popularity in sociologist Ray Oldenburg's 1989 book, "The Great Good Place." Oldenburg describes Third Places as the environments that exist outside of work or the home, where people can socialize and form a stronger community.


A Third Place provides you with full personal agency, unrestricted by professional or domestic responsibilities. Third Places ask nothing of you, there are no deadlines, timesheets, or chores. It is an anti-productivity haven. If the stress of home and work is what alienates us from our sense of self, then the Third Place is a reunion with your uninhibited identity.

On a more practical note, a Third Place is a nice way to break up the monotony of your day and set boundaries between where your needs are met. You can resolve issues such as revenge bedtime procrastination or overworking by having clear definitions of where and when you work, play, and rest.

Third Places are also valuable and versatile social spaces. You can use a Third Place as a destination spot to hang out with your friends — think Central Perk — or, more importantly, as an opportunity to meet new people. The greatest magic of a Third Place is the ability to run into strangers, make small talk, and form new connections. This strong social element makes Third Places the focal points for community solidarity and grassroots activism.


Finding a Third Place

A Third Place can be any non-work environment where you can socialize with others. Ideally, your Third Place facilitates community and allows you to meet new friends. A good Third Place also has regulars, the people who consistently show up and help form the identity of the space.


Bars and coffee shops are popular as Third Places since they are comfortable social atmospheres that often have regular customers. Just be sure you aren't bringing your laptop to get work done — as nice as it is to get remote work done in a cozy cafe, it doesn't count as a Third Place.

Religious spaces are also a potential option. If you find a religious community where you feel affirmed and fulfilled, the worship services and social events can be great Third Places. Likewise, community centers and public libraries can also work well as spaces for gathering with friends and seeking out resources for personal enrichment. Other possible Third Places include bookstores, gyms, diners, and arcades. And of course, don't discount the quintessential Third Place, the public square.


While coffee shops and bars are fun, be discerning of the kinds of third places you occupy. Is everyone welcome in this Third Place? Do you have to spend money to be there? Does your Third Place perpetuate exclusionary practices, or does it generate more inclusion? To get the most out of Third Places, try to find at least one location that is truly open to the entire community.

How to incorporate Third Places into your routine

Finding potential Third Places isn't that difficult, but actually making them a regular part of your routine takes some extra effort. If you really want to have more balance in your life, make the time spent in Third Places one of your top priorities. This means setting a strict end time for your work day and coordinating household tasks around your leisure activities.


If you haven't already, start normalizing weekday social plans. Ask your friends if they want to grab coffee before work or drinks at the end of the day, or meet up for a long lunch at a local diner. When your friends aren't available, don't be afraid to go solo. Wake up early to have time to go to the gym or have breakfast out of the house. Find the spaces where you feel comfortable chatting with strangers or where you're likely to run into someone you know, like a popular neighborhood pub.

Make it your goal to visit a Third Place every day. Going to Third Places doesn't require spending money or causing a big disruption in your schedule — even a quick trip to the library or a moment in the park will help you to feel more engaged with the world outside of work and home.


Third Place alternatives

Your city might lack affordable restaurants or nice public spaces. If there's no true Third Place, you can get creative to find alternatives.

When it comes to Third Place alternatives, virtual communication is your friend. The fanciest option is virtual reality, such as Meta. But you can also establish simpler virtual environments with various chat and video conferencing platforms. For example, Discord servers can host a large group of users and allow you to conduct text, voice, and video communications. Another entertaining option is Gather, a platform that lets you build environments that friends can explore as animated characters and initiate video chats when they approach each other. A virtual Third Place isn't the same as a physical one, but a large group chat can give you some of the social connection that you get at a bar or coffee shop.


If there are no good Third Place options in your local area, you may have to establish it yourself. For instance, once a week you can have a standing invitation for your friends and acquaintances to stop by your backyard for snacks and chit-chat. If there's a lack of physical space, try organizing a walking group instead.

Regardless of whether your Third Place is an upscale coffee shop or a neighborhood park, inhabiting environments external to the home and workplace opens up new possibilities for how you spend your time and how you relate to your broader community.