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Why co-working with childcare should be the next big thing

This article appeared online at KidSpot in April 2016

As I write, I'm having my third session at Melbourne's newest co-working space, Happy Hubbub. It has all the things you might expect from a shared entrepreneurial space: large tables for hot-deskers, loads of power points, wi-fi, meeting rooms, and copious amounts of coffee. But, in a first for Australia, it also has a dedicated short daycare space attached.

This means that not only am I able to go there and tune in, so is my 28-month-old son. As I sit and work and drink the coffee, he is playing (in another area, behind a very soundproof wall and door), under the care of two experienced early childcare workers. Other mums, babes and toddlers are doing the same. It's bliss – pure, productive bliss. 

Goodbye naptime, goodbye work window

Before Happy Hubbub, I was working from home. I worked when my son slept or when my partner was around, or after my son had gone to bed in the evening. It has suited my early, attachment-style parenting for a long time: I didn’t want to separate myself from my son too early, and my work as a freelance writer means I can be pretty flexible. But it also means that when he sleeps, I have to drop everything and focus on work. It can be a pretty long day at home, and there is never enough time to get all of the things done. Now that he’s started to drop his one and only nap with alarming regularity, I really need to get something sorted. 

Happy Hubbub, which is located in Preston, Melbourne, seems like just the thing. In fact, it feels almost like the studio space I used to share with other creative types and self-starters in my LBB (Life Before Baby) – the major differences here are the childcare space, the plants (living, not dead!), and the fact that the milk in the fridge never runs out. 

And what a space the kids’ side of Happy Hubbub is. There’s an expansive indoor area full of inviting activity hubs that opens onto a walled outdoor space shaded by a rather grand eucalypt. A large sandpit, ride on trikes and an outdoor kitchen lure the little ones who like to get their hands (and other body parts) dirty. There are also comfy chairs for breast or bottle-feeding and cuddles, cots, and a reading corner. 

The benefits of co-working with onsite childcare

“Co-working combats the triple threat of negativity many at-home workers wrestle with: procrastination, stagnation and isolation,” says one of the Hubbub’s two founders, Erin Richards. 

“Of course, work-from-home parents are just as susceptible to these, but with a few more ‘tions’ thrown in for good measure: sleep deprivation, fractured communication and even guilt-ridden frustration. It’s a sad irony that the segment of the workforce who could arguably get the most out of co-working is the least likely to make use of a work hub.” 

Here are some of the other benefits I’ve already noticed kicking in:

  • I’m getting to know his carers in a way that I wouldn’t at a traditional drop-off daycare
  • There is no long, stressful commute between work and day care
  • I don’t need to wean him or waste time expressing breast milk to keep breastfeeding going
  • I can visit my child freely during the day; we can have a snack together 
  • If anything happens, I’m right there
  • When I’m there, I’m there to work. There are no dishes to be done or piles of clothes to be folded (etc!) 
  • I’m meeting other women doing the same thing. 

Has it really taken this long for one to appear?

Well, yes. A few forward-thinking cities overseas have co-working spaces with co-located childcare facilities; there’s Third Door in London, Work and Play in New Jersey, Nido in Durham, North Carolina, and (my favourite) Hacker Moms in Berkeley, California. And a few fledgling attempts at working crèches exist on Australian soil, too. There’s Sass Place in Adelaide, The Ventura in Sydney, Bubs & Boardrooms in Sydney and Brisbane, and MummyDesk in Melbourne.

Of course it’s not just self-employed, working part-time mamas like me that are interested in a co-working space, or a co-working space with childcare (though for the record, women are starting more small businesses than men, so it’s likely there will be more of us).

Demand for co-working spaces is on the rise across the board, as employers become more flexible, trusting and keen to attract the cream of the workforce crop, and as technology enables growing numbers of workers to perform their duties, quite literally, from anywhere. In fact, they’re shaping to be the ‘fourth place’ for the evolving workforce (home being the first, work the second and cafes the third), says workplace trends expert Amanda Schneider in the Huffington Post

Getting childcare into the co-working mix seems like the next logical step. 

Shouldn’t all workplaces have childcare onsite?

Co-located childcare is an exciting concept that many Australian companies would benefit from, too. After all, happy workers mean higher rates of staff retention, improved productivity, and better short, medium and long-term business outcomes. When you think about it like that, it’s kind of a no-brainer. 

A few do, while others have HR in place that assists mums returning to work in finding childcare placement, but it’s something we should be seeing a lot more of. 

Erin and her co-founder at Happy Hubbub, Kirstin Boyd, are particularly committed to advocating for the part-time and flexible workforce. They hope to encourage companies to allow employees to work remotely out of the Hubbub and can help them to develop ‘ramp-up’ solutions for women returning to work from maternity leave.

Hello, future.