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June 25, 2020
The “Third Place;” a concept that has its origins in the book, The Great Good Place by sociologist Ray Oldenburg. Oldenburg posited that if our homes are the first place, our jobs (before telecommuting became increasingly commonplace) are the second, and there exists a third; a social setting exclusive of these two where one can feel a sense of belonging and community.
To put into context how much the idea caught on, a once-relatively-unknown-now-ubiquitous coffee house in Seattle declared in its earlier days that their cafes would become the new third place, complete with couches and ceramic mugs. Fast forward to today, where drive-throughs and to-go cups are the norm, and many would argue that the internet has emerged as the new third place, eventually eclipsing café culture.
As we find ourselves in an even newer reality of physical distancing during a global pandemic, where the first and second place are now the same for so many, the idea of intentionally carving out opportunities to socialize seems to fly in the face of what is essential and what is possible when working remotely. This obviously excluding so many front-line workers and healthcare professionals who deserve our praise for navigating an uncertain world daily to sustain the services we can’t do without.
Despite this, when our lives were upended in mid-March like everyone else’s, here at the Science Center we set out to find ways to still achieve the above, but meaningfully. We discovered that not only is a third place possible during these times, but there is no reason why it shouldn’t include your coworkers.
Milestones we celebrated already, like employee birthdays or the end of an internship, were not canceled or postponed; they simply moved to a virtual realm where party hats are optional and themed zoom backgrounds are a must.
We expanded on our company-wide wellness initiative by curating and incentivizing ways to nurture your health physically, mentally and emotionally while staying at home. Our beloved dart tournaments became bingo games. Weekly chat times were the new water cooler talks and kitchen banter. One of our colleagues sent out flower seeds, and we all checked-in with one another on their progress. (Some of us may be growing weeds, not flowers. Check back with us in a few weeks.)
And there is an unspoken consensus that were it not for our recent team chats and contests, we would never have known what so many of our colleagues looked like as kids or as seniors in high school, how their home offices represent their personalities, and the furry family members they dote on, who would probably be the breakout stars in a movie based on the last few months.
With states and municipalities discussing plans for a phased reopening, today seemed like as good a time as any to ponder the many ways that the coronavirus pandemic has redefined the spaces we occupy, how we “exist” within them, and how we’ve managed to become closer, despite the distance.
We will surely see larger conversations take shape about post-pandemic ways of doing business, attending school, visiting your doctor or even buying a car. But that conversation would be incomplete without including company culture.
Because when someday (hopefully soon) we flick the lights back on over all of our cubicles and offices at 3675 Market Street, we will still remember how much more we learned about one another and how we saw our own humanity reflected back in the rest of our second-place dwellers, and we’ll all be better for it.
In the meantime, we can assure you that no productivity or hard work was harmed in the making of this blog post.