Tech Telecommuters – What’s Your "Third Place"?

Adventures in Telecommuting

At Microsoft, I'm classified as a "mobile" employee.  That's code for "work where you can be productive".  Much of the time, that means home, and sometimes our Waltham, MA office where we have shared space you can grab as needed.  Many times, though, it's a "third place" (I'll get to that in a moment.) 

MPj04308140000[1]As great as working from home can be, as the weather warms and summer approaches, there's a new source of urgency to be somewhere else... vacation.

I absolutely adore my daughters (a phrase you just know will be followed by the word "however"), however, the reality is that the summer months are challenging for the work-from-home types, especially those that need to code and/or read a lot, without having to arbiter weighty disputes involving shouts of "nuh-uh!" and "did too!"

Not Work, Not Home... The Third Place

The term "third place" was coined to reflect places that people go outside of home (first place) and work (second place).

My home office is usually pretty good, and I can escape to the back porch (where I am right now) which is nice, but school vacation or not, there are times I simply need a change of venue.

So what's my "third place"?  Well, there isn't just one...

The Coffee Shop

MPj04230300000[1] The big daddy of all the choices.  Scorned by some, but thoroughly enjoyed by many others.  Count me in the latte(r) camp.

I'm hardly alone in this.  Here's someone's Starbuckian Handbook.  Sage advice indeed.

Contrary to tip #1 in the "handbook", I tend to alternate between the selection of Starbucks and Panera Breads in our area, so I don't wear out my welcome at any one.

Generally, the coffee shops work for what I need.

The Library

"Did he just say 'the library'?  How old fashioned!" 

In my college years, I was a library person.  Many of my peers just couldn't stand being there, but I found it allowed me to truly focus.  No distractions, no loud espresso machines, no toe-tapping music looping in the MPj04276860000[1]background.  Just blissful peace with the faint sounds of pages being turned and the occasional politely hushed conversation.

The library works for telecommuters, too.  I'm sure one of your area towns has an adequately "workable" library.  Also, college/university libraries are getting the message too, adding amenities to make an extended work session more comfortable.

Sure, they don't always have the latest computing technology books, but if that's what you need, then perhaps the next place is more your style...

The Big Bookstores

An interesting hybrid between a library and a coffee shop (the big bookstores generally also have a cafe these days).  I find it an especially nice place to go if I'm in research mode.  People are usually a little more clued in to library etiquette, versus coffeehouse chatter and cellphone barking. 

Research is especially good at these places since I can usually grab a few different books/magazines on a topic and plow through them (over an appropriately large coffee beverage of course.)


MPj03860690000[1]I haven't tried this one yet, but a friend suggested it as a possibility.  And why not?  Many hotels have carefully crafted, welcoming environments that are comfortable and quiet.

As long as you're patronizing their coffee/snack area and/or restaurant, there would seem little problem with hanging around for a little while to catch up on things. 

It could be a nice alternative to the mainstream coffee houses.


CNN has been running a special work at home feature, with stories about telecommuting.  Once concept that piqued my interest was of "coworking", where fellow telecommuting developers (or other professions) gather in a common place for work.  There's a coworking wiki, with information on area groups. 

Missing the social interaction of work, but don't miss the dreaded "quick questions" that often tag along for the ride?  Coworking might be for you.

Some Assistance Required

So why did I write this?  I'd enjoy hearing your feedback.  Have you encountered any places that could serve as a home away from your home away from the office?  Any places that sound good, but in reality should just be avoided?

Believe me, I really want to know. 

Hmm, is that the kids I hear?


Comments (9)

  1. Jo says:

    How interesting, had never even thought of escaping when things get rough at home.   Will definitely try out Starbucks, Barnes and Noble and Panera when the going gets tough for me.

  2. John J Ross says:

    We alwso work at one of our customers facilitys.

    He like having us around.

  3. James says:

    i agree with Tim Ferriss’ when he says that being in the right environment is critical to the efficiency of what you are trying to accomplish. Outside of my home office, here are my favs:

    1. Panera Bread, Borders – full of vitality and a cafe to keep me energized. I like these environments for quick bursts of activity.

    2. The Library – I also spent a lot of time in the library in college. Gordon, Chris? Recently I started going to the library when I need a quiet and cool place to concentrate.

    3. Local Park – when I can go unplugged, I’ll grab a picnic table to enjoy nature and get work done all in one. This works well when I need to clear my head for exercises in creativity.

    4. Porcelain Throne – sometimes it’s crazy at home and you just need a moment…

  4. Richard Hyett says:

    Visit any old British city, and most of them are old, and you’ll find a number of magnificent buildings, that were in times past Gentlemen’s Clubs.  Gentlemens Clubs survive only in London now, a city where large numbers of business men still work..  In the regions real estate is too expensive in the cities and most businessmen work outside the congested cities.  They commute, mostly by car and don’t have time for these third places.  The car, particularly with the advent of the podcast and cell phone, has become a third place.

  5. Pepez says:

    Thanks for bringing up these options. I have to say I have overlooked libraries as a workplace.

  6. Chris Bowen says:

    @James, great feeedback!  Heading down to the local park never even crossed my mind.  Find a shady enough space, bring along the extra laptop battery… I’ll give it a try.


    P.S.  Yes, WPI’s good old Gordon Library.  Not an exotic destination, but it was quiet.  🙂

  7. Chris Bowen says:

    @Richard, very interesting details on the London Gentlemen’s Clubs.  You’re also exactly right about the car being a third place these days.  I consume many podcasts in the attempt to turn unproductive driving time into a learning opportunity, and with conference calls being the norm these days, nobody minds if you’re in the office, at home, or in the car for a meeting.


  8. brywolf says:

    ah this is great article, sorry I am late. Having gone green and  sold the car I spend a lot of time on the T in boston I found that I can not only owrk but also sktech on the train and bus.  To the point if I am working an idea I have missed my stopped or got off to fine tune something then back on after.  My spots however are:

    Jamacia Pond: great enviroment for thinking and de-stress

    Pru: the small park in the newer ( hunting ave. end) wifi is on and off, but there are tables inside and out over by P.F. Chang and starbucks  ; )

    Christian Sci. center: right near the Pru and convenite to various bus and train routes.  I have designed alot of website there fromstart to finish.

    Boston Harbor: there are alot of areas to crash and chill at or work very hard at over on the water front.

  9. aullman says:

    Remote Office Centers are another telecommuting option for workers today.  Remote Office Centers lease office space, internet access and a phone system to workers from different companies in shared telecommuting centers that are usually located around suburban areas.  There is a web site that allows users to search for Remote Office Centers near where they live:

    Some homes do not have adequate facilities for telecommuting.  Some employees would prefer having an office to go to each morning to start the day, and a place to come home from when the work day is over.   Remote Office Centers provide an office down the street for people who do not want a long commute, but still want a real office.

    An analogy can be drawn to the way people work out.  Some people do real well exercising in their home.  Others find that they can only maintain a good workout routine if they go to a health club to work out.  The difference is not just equipment.  Some people need the structure that comes from going to an office or a workout location.  What people do not need is to waste time, money and gas making a long commute every day when home telecommuting or a Remote Office Center can serve the same purpose much more efficiently.

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