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More Americans Go to Work Outside the Office

About 30 million Americans - one-fifth of the nation's workforce - spend significant time working outside the typical office, plant or factory. This includes people who telecommute from home one or more days a week.

But it also includes a growing number of people who work from what's called Third Space.

You've seen them, or seen pictures of them: young people, mostly, tapping away on laptop computers at a coffeehouse or a library or a booth at the local diner. Not home, not a traditional office. Third Space.

The USA Today national newspaper calls Third Space users a rootless army. They scramble for prime tables and electrical outlets in mid-morning, and they stay - headphones on, fingers still typing and searching - well into the afternoon. They become regulars, claiming the same tables each day, often sharing them with others like them.

There's an understanding, one coffee-bar manager said, that they'll buy something - a cappuccino refill, a sandwich, some iced tea, something - every hour or so. And that they'll yield their tables to other customers if the place gets busy.

These independent, part-time writers, designers, consultants and the like don't have a desk at a corporate office. But why not work from home?

Third Space users say home is full of distractions and temptations to do other things. They like the discipline of getting up and going to work. And they like the atmosphere, the companionship of others like them, and even the professionally brewed coffee.

"At home I'm isolated," one Third Space worker told USA Today. "This, it's sort of a surrogate coworker environment."

The influx of working people is one reason officials in Seattle, Washington, and Memphis, Tennessee, have funded multi-million-dollar modernization programs for their library systems. One official said libraries are no longer just places where people come in, ask a question, maybe check out a book, and leave. They come to stay and to work, and they need the facilities and space to do so.

Third Space.

Read more of Ted's personal reflections and stories from the road on his blog, Ted Landphair's America.