Co-Working Spaces Add a Perk for Parents: Child Care
Toddlers make terrible office mates, particularly if your office is in the living room of a railroad-style apartment. They are also not reliable companions at the neighborhood coffee shop, as Jacqui Smith, a publicist, discovered when her son had a meltdown while she tried to get some work done at Variety, a popular Brooklyn coffee roaster.
“He started screaming and I just kept working,” Ms. Smith recalled of the failed excursion last summer with her son, Louis Nash, now 15 months old. “Everyone was looking at me — it’s a very hipster place.”
Ms. Smith, who lives and works out of her East Williamsburg, Brooklyn, one-bedroom, faces a challenge shared by many new parents with unconventional jobs or careers that are being recalibrated to accommodate life with small children. A cozy home office feels downright cramped once an ExerSaucer is planted in the middle of it. Good luck wooing that new client on the phone with “Dora the Explorer” blasting in the background.
Working parents need a quiet place to focus, and they need child care. But freelancers have unpredictable schedules and incomes, making a full-time nanny or day care too expensive, within hours that are too inflexible. Instead, these parents try to squeeze work in during nap time, or at night.
“Parents are in a real bind,” said Selena Beal, founder of the Workaround, a program for parents in East Williamsburg. “They’re looking for something, but they can’t afford a nanny.” The problem is particularly acute for parents of infants, for whom day-care options are very expensive.
At the Workaround, members pay $150 a month for about 15 hours a week of desk time at Rough Draft, a Williamsburg co-working space. (The program rents four desks a month from the co-working company and divides the hours among its members.) Members also participate in a babysitting swap, earning babysitting credits for the hours spent watching one another’s children.
For parents like Ms. Smith, who moved to Brooklyn from New Zealand almost two years ago, the other members take on the role of an extended family, “helping you out in a pinch” when, say, the regular babysitter cancels, she said.
The need for more child-care options can be pressing. During the presidential campaign, Hillary Clinton championed an early childhood education platform that called for universal pre-K and a cap on child-care costs at 10 percent of a family’s income. President-elect Donald J. Trump has advocated a tax deduction for child-care expenses. And since the election, his daughter, Ivanka Trump, has been calling members of Congress about child-care legislation, according to news reports.
It is no wonder that CoHatchery, a co-working space that also offered child care, managed a waiting list 500 names long during the brief period it was open in Park Slope last summer. Parents dropped their children off at a neighborhood day care center and crossed the street to toil in CoHatchery’s sleek co-working space with its lacquered white tables. But the experiment was short-lived, and when the company’s sublease expired at the end of the summer, it folded. Its founders still hope to reopen in a new space in Manhattan sometime next year, but it won’t be cheap.
Licensing rules for day-care centers are strict, making it expensive to start and operate one. And parents who sign up for a future CoHatchery won’t get a discount for bundling two services together. Instead, it will cost them more, said Wendy Xiao Schadeck, a founder of the company. “The synergy of having them together increases the price,” she said, insisting that parents will pay a premium for the convenience.
But does such a service really have to be more expensive? Kisha Edwards-Gandsy, a founder of Brooklyn Explorers Academy, a Brooklyn Heights preschool, doesn’t think so. Her school has run a co-working operation out of its third-floor office for eight years. The program now has 130 members, who sign up in the school’s office for four-hour sessions, at one of six desks, as caregivers watch their children in a neighboring room. Most of the co-working parents don’t have children enrolled because their infants are too young for preschool. The service costs $15 an hour, roughly the price of a babysitter.
Next fall, Brooklyn Explorers will add a new location, allowing it to expand its co-working program. “We have demand for co-working to be round the clock,” Ms. Edwards-Gandsy said.
That sort of demand is not limited to people living in cramped city apartments. Dani Geraci lives in a four-bedroom house in Maplewood, N.J. Although she has a home office, it is hardly a respite, with two toddlers banging on the door and two dogs barking for attention. “My home life feels hectic,” she said. “Everyone is little and still on top of me.”
So about two years ago, Ms. Geraci joined Work and Play, a co-working space in nearby South Orange that offers on-site child care. “I wanted to have some time for myself to figure out what kind of work made sense for me,” said Ms. Geraci, who was starting a new business as a marketing consultant at the time. Now she uses the co-working space about 15 hours a week, dropping off her 2½-year-old daughter, Sadie, at the day care center. “The staff is amazing,” she said. The children “get messy, and it’s great.”
Work and Play, which inhabits a little gray house with a blue fence, is two distinct worlds tucked into one place. The ground-floor work area is a modern space with wrought-iron chandeliers and a decorative wall of reclaimed wood. But step downstairs and you find a cheerful day-care center, with caregivers surrounded by toddlers and toys.
“I had to think of it as almost two different business models,” said Deborah Engel, the founder of Work and Play, which received its day-care license this month, allowing it to expand its program. Prices for co-working range from $75 to $250 a month, depending on how many hours a week you use the space; child care is an additional $12 to $15 an hour depending on the plan.
Ms. Engel points to a changing culture to explain the success of her program. “Young parents want to strike that balance,” she said. “They can still have their careers, but want to be able to see their children, too.”
They just want somebody else to watch them for a few hours.