I have commented before that one of the unsolved problems for coworking is how to accommodate kids. Day care for working parents is a hard problem for conventional organizations, and most coworking spaces don’t have any provisions at all. A few have tried and faced problems. But the list is growing, all around the world.
Robert Ollett blogged recently about Happy Hubbub in Melbourne (Australia), which offers a conventional array of coworking services, plus on site day care. There are some details that depend on local policies, other aspects are pretty universal.
Even with subsidies, daycare is expensive, much more expensive than coworking. The information indicates that Hubbub charges about four times as much for daycare as for coworking! This is typical. The cost of kid care is so much higher, I have seen coworking spaces that offered free coworking when you buy day care, sort of like free coffee or fee mints.
For coworking spaces which are operating at the lowest cost possible, day care is way, way outside the reach of their members.
One reason childcare is expensive is that the facilities and staffing are regulated by local authorities. This is a very good thing, but compliance costs money. In addition, childcare generally requires competent and trained human staff, another cost driver.
You can set up coworking in almost any space, with almost no staff, but that isn’t true for child care.
For that matter, the little ones have their own requirements. Catering needs to be age appropriate, and they need interesting activities while mum is busy working. And so on. This is all standard stuff for day care operators, but it’s totally alien to coworking operators!
Even the coworking facilities themselves probably have different requirements. Parking is probably much more important for parents bringing in their kids. The work space needs to be close to, but isolated from, the children. There probably should be parent plus child lounge areas, separate from both work and child care area. Handling kids of different ages might require some creativity. And so on.
Hubbub has been successful so far, though it is actually pretty small (sixteen slots for kids). Compared to some “commodity coworking” sides with hundreds of desks, it is tiny. Could you scale it up? How big is too big for this kind of site? I’m not sure, and I’m certainly not telling you that bigger is better.
Community, community, community
Erin Richards of Hubbub comments that establishing a trusted reputation is essential for the child care service. This is a completely different kind of reputation from the coworking side.
I think the deeply tricky problem fo solve in all of this is that this is not only two businesses in the same location, but that the two businesses are both about community—but two very different kinds of community.
Coworking is all about community, a community of like-minded peers—workers with similar skills, needs, and goals. Drop-off child care is about trust, and ideally about a community of like-minded peers—parents and care givers with similar needs and goals.
“Coworking with kids” must really be about a community that is both peer workers and peer parents. That’s easy enough to say, but it’s not that easy to do. It’s kind of a Venn diagram, looking for the intersection of the group of simpatico independent workers, and the group of parents who want this kind of child care.
This is a niche, and it cuts both ways. Richards notes that the double draw is attractive for some, “These parents try the coworking space for the childcare, but keep coming back because of the community.” On the otter hand, workers who might otherwise be pleased may be disinclined to participate. “There’s definitely a psychological barrier for people who don’t have kids to come here”.
Thinking about this, I can see that it is not likely that you can have successful coworking and “sprinkle on” some child care, nor have successful childcare and “drop in” some coworking. Making this work is hard, but Hubbub and other sites are beginning to show how to make it work.
One key is the right kind of community leadership, people who are “peers” in both the target communities. The greatest community wrangler in the world may be useless with kids, and the finest tot wrangler might be hopeless at office management. In the case of Hubbub, this challenge is addressed by the partnership of two leaders, with the right combination of skills.
I think that is their secret, and I’m betting that the success they have seen so far is due to having the right leaders.
- Happy Hubbub. Happy Hubbub – coworking with children. 2017, https://www.happyhubbub.com.au/.
- Robert Ollett, Coworking Heroes: Happy Hubbub, in habu. 2017. https://www.habu.co/blog/coworking-heroes-happy-hubbub
What is Coworking?
Note: please stay tuned for my new ebook, “What is Coworking”, coming in 2017.