What is Coworking? It’s Still Hard to Be Kidful

I wrote more than a year ago about one of the big unsolved problems of coworking, how to accommodate parents with kids, especially pre-schoolers.

To be fair, childcare is a long standing problem for workers and workplaces, especially in the US. This isn’t so much the “new way of working” as “the same old way of working”. Parents, especially moms, need child care so they can work, but it is expensive and hard to find.

In December, Ronda Kaysen wrote in the NYT about “Co-Working Spaces Add a Perk for Parents: Child Care” [2]. Despite the optimistic title, the bulk of the article says exactly what I said last year. To date, only a few coworking spaces offer on-site child care, and when they do, it is expensive, there are long waiting lists—and the workspace may close when it loses its lease.

Kaysen recounts the basic story. Unlike desk space, child care facilities are licensed and require competent staff. This is a far bigger investment, and far more complicated business than renting desks with commodity wi-fi.

Coworking is supposed to be where “the future of work” happens, and is supposed to be an engine of innovation, a “serendipity machine” [3]. With such huge demand, and so many coworking spaces, why hasn’t this problem been solved (and solved more than one way)?

I’ll editorialize for a second, and note that the buik of enthusiastic coworkers are young workers, and coworking spaces solve the problems of this demographic: free snacks, social hours, bicycle parking, and so on. But if you have a toddler, Friday keggers may not be a big attraction for you. When an older worker, or a young mum looks in to your coworking space, she may find nothing she wants, or too much she doesn’t want and simply walk away. Problem solved.

What about “commodity coworking”, a la WeWork, NextSpace, or other chains? These organizations certainly could try to do something. In fact, NextSpace did try NextKids, on-site day care at a NextSpace site. This effort closed a year ago—when it lost its lease [1].

In general, large “corporate” coworking spaces seek profits from low cost, commodity services. Unfortunately, I suspect that child care is not “commodity” enough, and probably rather too expensive to offer. I don’t really look to the “Service Office Industry” to tackle this problem.

But surely there are plenty of smart young parents who are both motivated and competent to figure out how to boot up coworking with kids. Coworkers should be able to tackle this from the bottom up, no?

Actually there are some ideas out there, though they are not yet widely replicated.

Kaysen reports on one successful venture, Work and Play in West Orange, NJ, which is still in business. In some early materials, they had the interesting business model of offering free coworking when you pay for child care. It’s current approach is a relatively small fee added to coworking fees.

Other approaches are mentioned in the NYT article, including a pre-school that has a small coworking space upstairs, and a coop that rents coworking desks, and members swap baby sitting. Another space allied with a day care center across the street (until the lease expired).

Looking at these ideas, it looks to me like a child care facility is likely to be the hard part, and it should be pretty easy to add coworking to child care, but not to add child care to coworking. In fact, why shouldn’t most child care and pre-school facilities have on site or near by coworking spaces for parents? It could probably be a source of additional revenue with relatively little effort.

The baby sitting coop with coworking is also a simple and cheap addition to this classic approach. Pooling resources to rent a few coworking seats to share should be easy and cost effective, especially if it is local. Another similar approach could be in-home coworking (with baby sitting).

As I remarked last year, another option is home coworking, a la reimagination station or even Hoffice. These informal groups could make room for kids, and parents share babysitting while the other parents work in the other room.

I expect that these ideas will become more widely used, as today’s coworkiers grow up and get kids. Why shouldn’t there be a simple kit, with mobile app, to help set up whatever kind of babysitting+coworking operation you want? It could be laid over existing kindercare, preschool and coworking, or dropped in as a feature of a school or workplace. Or used in a home business.

The good news is that coworking is simple, cheap, and actually compatible with child care duties—providing workers can band together in local groups, and providing they can afford a lease.

  1. Jo Disney, NextKids Closure: Is There a Future for Coworking with Childcare?, in AllWork. 2016. https://allwork.space/2016/04/nextkids-closure-is-there-a-future-for-coworking-with-childcare/
  2. Rhonda Kavsen, Co-Working Spaces Add a Perk for Parents: Child Care, in New York Times. 2016: New York. p. RE5. http://www.nytimes.com/2016/12/23/realestate/co-working-spaces-add-a-perk-for-parents-child-care.html?_r=0
  3. Sebastian Olma, The Serendipity Machine: A Disruptive Business Model for Society 3.0, 2012.

What is Coworking?

Note:  please stay tuned for my new ebook, “What is Coworking”, coming early in 2017.

5 thoughts on “What is Coworking? It’s Still Hard to Be Kidful”

  1. Hey Robert, great post. You’re definitely right. The hardest part is getting the childcare ‘bit’ right. There’s so much in terms of experience, knowledge and cost that coworking visionaries need in order to succeed. I’ve just published an in depth article with Happy Hubbub, which formed part of a wider tour of great coworking spaces in Melbourne. Check it out here if you’re interested 🙂


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.