Wikipedia defines Third Place or Third Space as “a term used in the concept of community building to refer to social surroundings separate from the two usual social environments of home and the workplace.

An estimated 30 million Americans, or roughly one-fifth of the nation's workforce, are part of the so-called Kinko's generation, employees who spend significant hours each month working outside of a traditional office.

More and more of these third spaces are becoming available, not only in coffee shops but in co-working spaces, where you can just drop in and work. Many of these third spaces are places where start-ups flourish and can often be considered incubator spaces. These spaces often offer not only physical meeting space but virtual meeting spaces with virtual meeting tools, scheduling tools and collaboration tools.

Like a Gym Membership for Work Spaces

Thumbnail image for coleman1.jpgThe League of Extraordinary Coworking Spaces,
  is actually a pretty good idea. The Internet is a great organizing and connecting web, usually for people, but now for spaces. It is like the gym idea, if you belong to your local one in the chain, you can use any of the other gyms in the chain when you are traveling.

LEXC is a unique network of coworking spaces with a common standard of excellence. LEXC venues have come together to provide, for the first time, a seamless coworking experience in cities around the US. Members of any LEXC venue now enjoy trusted access and full privileges at any other venue in the network. If you’re a member of one LEXC venue, you’re now a member of all LEXC venues."

Right now the chain is small with ”six founding venues across the nation: Nextspace in San Francisco and Los Angeles; BLANKSPACES in Los Angeles; Link Coworking in Austin; Workbar in Boston; CoCo coworking and collaborative space in Minneapolis at St. Paul; 654 Croswell in Grand Rapids.” I am surprised that there is not a coworking space from NYC listed, and I keep hearing about new coworking and incubation spaces there?

If you don’t have an idea of what a coworking space is, here are some pictures of some in the LEXC:

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  Coco (Minneapolis)    

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 WorkBar (Boston)

Now that SOPA is gone and Wikipedia is back up, here is their definition of coworking: “Coworking is a style of work which involves a shared working environment, sometimes an office, yet independent activity. Unlike in a typical office environment, those coworking are usually not employed by the same organization."

The LEXC was announced a few months ago, and is based in Palo Alto. Having worked at LiquidSpace in San Francisco before, I can say it beats a coffee shop in that it was quieter, I could think and was not so distracted by conversations (and I am very distractible), someone was not waiting for my table, I did not have to buy any food for the privilege, there was good coffee to be had, and there were people there willing to help if I had a problem. LiquidSpace (and I am sure others in the network) even has an iPhone app with the costs and ability to schedule various resources (like a meeting room).

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Shared Space, Shared Resources, Shared Ideas

Recently Meetin.gs a meeting scheduling and collaboration tool working with Seats2meet have brought together both digital and virtual meetings in the Netherlands. This is done by making an online meeting room based on the Meetin.gs platform to be automatically included as part of all meeting room reservations on the Seats2meet’s business center network. The network now consists of 38 locations mainly across the Netherlands and is quickly expanding internationally.

All in all I think coworking is a good idea. It is sharing of resources, and so has less impact on the environment. In many ways it is cheaper, and some spaces are available 24 hours, so many start-ups today start in spaces like this. Rocket-Space in San Francisco has hosted Zaarly (like TaskRabbit), PocketGems (gaming), and even a team from Zappos (headquartered in Henderson NV, but had a team in San Francisco).

You also never know about the “osmosis effect” where you learn a lot (sometimes subconsciously) from just being in the space with another company or consultant, in more of an open floor configuration. But not all coworking spaces are like that. One of my associates, Dave Gardner works in a coworking space called Pacific Business Centers (in Sunnyvale), has done it for years and likes it a lot. He has his own small office and uses shared reception services, meeting space, etc.

Coworking spaces come in all shapes and sizes, LEXC as a network makes it easier for you to find what you need, when you need it and what coworking spaces are closest. It allows us to find and flourish in third spaces.

Editor's Note: To read more by David Coleman:

-- How Mobile is Changing Organizational Structures and the Future Workplace