In every facebook group, forum, contact form and unconference- Coworking and childcare comes up. While most of us agree that it is needed and the next step in the “co” nich movement- there is a real lack of information around it.
Out of our own curiosity, we polled some of the founders in our international circle that have or are building spaces with child care offerings to get there take on it all. Keep reading to see what they have to say.
*note: I received so much good feedback from the spaces and women I spoke with that this will be a multi part series so it didn’t end up being the length of a short novel. Keep an eye out for the next two parts- coming the following weeks.
I had my first child in 2010 and quickly went back to my NYC job, commuting from the NJ suburbs and leaving my new baby girl home with a nanny. I was pumping, crying, laughing, struggling. I worked from home one day a week and loved those days where I could be near my baby and also build my career.
A few months into this working mom life, I read an article about a new trend in office space called coworking, and I thought “Hmm. How cool would it be if there was a coworking space near me in the suburbs, that also had childcare? If that existed, I could go to work, maintain my work “colleagues” and still see and nurse my baby every day.” My husband dubbed the idea “Work and Play.” When I was due with baby #2 just 19 months later, I decided to take a long maternity leave and determine what I wanted to do with my life. Did I want to work full time? Did I want to work part time? Did I want to stay home? Was there a market for something like Work and Play in my community? I went to networking events and playgrounds and discussed the idea with everyone I met. I found a community of freelancers, writers, other moms and dads who were excited by my new idea. I got pregnant with baby #3 in 2013 and went a little crazy – I bought a building, gut renovated it, opened our doors in Feb 2015 and here I am, now in phase two and thinking about expansion.
Our coworking and childcare spaces are in the same building – a house built in the late 1800’s/early 1900s that was converted to office space in the mid-1900s. Our coworking space is on the first floor, and our early childhood program is on the “lower level.” The two spaces have two distinct entrances, and we put a lot of money into soundproofing between the floors. If you were only joining for the workspace, you might never know that there were children also occupying our spaces. This was important to me, as who can concentrate on work if you can hear your child the entire day?
We started out trying to offer really flexible, drop in care, but soon realized the lack of consistency did not make for a strong program. We received our NJ state childcare license in 2016 in order to expand the amount of children we can have in our care, and the length of time they could stay. We moved into session based scheduling, to still provide some flexibility for parents, but to also create community and consistency in our classrooms. Our registration is similar to a mommy & me music class – you sign up to attend a specific day and time for a session (Sept – Dec, Jan – April, April – June, June – August) and commit to the entire session. Parents can still choose the amount of days their child comes (anywhere from 1 to 5 days) as well as a 4 hour day (9am – 1pm) or a 6 hour day (9am – 3pm).
When we first opened, parents were required to stay on site. But since we received our state license, we’ve opened up the program to any member of the community that needs part time, customized childcare scheduling. People can join the workspace, the early childhood program or both.
We started with coworking and childcare together. We bought a building and gut renovated it to our needs. Even though we opened without a license, we always though a license was possible so we built our building to meet all of the state codes and regulations from the start.
I have an angel investor who funded us.
The most challenging part was the time! When you’re an entrepreneur, you have to work all the time. When you’re an entrepreneur trying to create a new model to help families find better work/life balance, it becomes depressing when you realize you don’t have your own work/life balance! The best decision I made was hire someone to help me run the day-to day.
Another challenging part was figuring out how to make the model work! When we first started, there were only a handful of others around the world trying to make this work. When NextKids folded, I cried. But we’re still here, almost five years since we opened our doors, and looking to expand. I am proud to say that I believe we cracked the code of how to make a coworking + childcare space successful.
How much money is associated with payroll costs! While state ratios say you only need 1 teacher for 4 infants, that’s really not possible. Can you imagine trying to care for four six-month-old babies at the same time?! Staffing has been one of our biggest challenges.
Find people you trust to help you. Take on a partner. If you don’t want a partner, hire a chief of staff to help you. You need back up, someone who can balance your skill set, and someone who can fill in when your own child is sick and needs to stay home from school.
You can find us online at https://workandplaynj.com/ or on social media as @workandplaynj. We are more active on Instagram and Facebook, but also on Twitter and Pinterest. I have been bad at updating our website and posting on our feeds (there’s so much to do as a small business owner!), but I’m hoping to become more consistent again, and hope you hold me to it! You can also follow my journey as an entrepreneur on Instagram at @debengel77.
Space: InnovateCommunicate (in process of opening)
My husband is a military officer so we move around every few years. In our last location in Victoria, Australia I established Popup Café Coworking Meetups to meet other business people and entrepreneurs. It was great fun and we all got more work done than we would have at home (with another load of washing or the dishwasher always beckoning…).
After I had a baby, that model didn’t work anymore. When we moved to Canberra, I went looking for coworking spaces with childcare. There aren’t any! I don’t want to put my baby daughter in full-time daycare (nowhere really offers part-time) while I work by myself. One entrepreneur I spoke to about my idea said it would be a whole lot easier to just get a babysitter while I work at home. But that misses the point.
The benefits from coworking and childcare together includes community, networking, support, better mental health, shared learning and the financial benefits of group-buying for facilities and services. There’s an amplification effect from having purpose-driven individuals building their businesses and themselves together. Children also benefit from being with other children and in stimulating, child-friendly environments.
There are no other options in Canberra for coworking and childcare so I want to make it happen for me and other mothers. The dream I have is that all future coworking spaces and community hubs have childcare and work facilities included to fully support flexible working arrangements and to help more mothers start or build their businesses, be healthier in mind and body and be able to more fully contribute to others and society as a whole.
In Australia the number of women founders, while still massively under-represented, has been increasing at a faster rate than the number of men. But self-employed women earn much less than men. And the statistics on how much of the care-giving women do versus men, is adding to the challenge of women being in (profitable) business.
I’m setting up coworking sessions in an existing community centre that offers babysitting and playschool facilities already. In this venue the childcare is provided by qualified educators and parents are required to stay on-site (it’s not a drop off and leave centre). The coworking sessions will probably be monthly to demonstrate the concept then we’ll make them more frequent depending on demand. At the sessions we’ll also be having guest mentors coming in and running workshops and supporting coworkers with things like financial planning, online profile, customer engagement, managing wellbeing as a parent and business-owner.
I’m also looking for other venues and exploring other models including setting up my own space. This means I’m currently navigating planning legislation, the business model and sources of funding and support… Exciting but challenging (and time-consuming).
There are some leaders in Australia in this space and these examples all have completely different models:
The Powerhouse Collective (Queensland) was set up by mum using a co-operative model
Not full coworking as most of your readers probably consider it: BubDesk, which sets up small offices in childcare centres.
It’s great you’re writing this article because I want to learn about what others are doing around the world and it’s why I joined the Women Who Cowork Community (on your recommendation ).
At the moment I’m not involved with what you’d probably say is a ‘true’ coworking and childcare space. Since moving here I’ve wanted to find a coworking space with childcare but there aren’t any so I’m setting up sessions in existing venues rather than running a venue. It seems that as far as adding one to the other, the existing coworking spaces here don’t want to add on childcare facilities or sessions. So I’m working the other way and going to venues that are already comfortable looking after kids and adding on the coworking. It’s simple, agile coworking – ie. people bring laptops and learn and work together.
Currently applying for grants to run the sessions but if I don’t receive any funding in the next month, I’ll be setting them up on cost-recovery model to demonstrate the concept and gather feedback. Beyond the sessions I am looking at how much money would be required to set up a space and am thinking of running a crowdfunding campaign. Government grants are also possible as there’s a desire for more childcare centres in this city. And there’s also investors and partners to look out for.
This question isn’t applicable to me but I’ll add a comment. It seems to me that Australia is well behind in supporting mothers in particular to engage in the economy through business. Many people haven’t even considered childcare as a service related to working a job or business but it makes so much sense when you look at the growing trends to remote and flexible work for corporates and governments as well as the growth of business and entrepreneurship. Governments and business leaders say they want more women in business. But gosh society doesn’t make it easy for them if they have children!