A Workspace for Hire With Day Care for Kids

Wall-Street-Journal-LogoMay 8, 2013

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Photo: Jennifer Whitney for The Wall Street Journal

BY JANELLE NANOS

Jeanine Adinaro works each week at Plug & Play, an office space near her Austin, Texas, home. As she answers business emails, her baby son sits in the next room with teachers who read him stories and feed him when he is fussy.

A handful of new facilities around the country are targeting freelance workers like Ms. Adinaro, who want to work in an office with colleagues and need child care. Atlanta’s Bean Work Play Café serves as a dual day-care center and group workspace. Motherfields in Portland, Ore., allows moms to work together in a shared space—many do so with their infants in their laps. In Berkeley, Calif., Mothership HackerMoms labels itself a nonprofit “women’s hackerspace” for creative types to work at while their kids are in on-site care.

Entrepreneurs in Seattle and Philadelphia are scouting locations for similar multipurpose spaces. The founders of NextSpace, an established network of six workspaces in California, say their most recent $1.1 million angel investment round will be used in part to launch NextKids, a subsidiary providing room for parents to work and kids to play, in San Francisco this year.

While each varies slightly, the common idea is offering clean, Cheerio-free office facilities for adults to focus on their work for a few hours and a dependable drop-in care site for kids, all without having to battle rush-hour traffic to get from one to the other.

Jennifer Whitney for The Wall Street Journal: Children fingerpainted at Plug & Play, a workspace facility with a fully licensed child care space in Austin, Texas.

These sites reflect big shifts in the workforce: A 2006 estimate from the Government Accountability Office, the most recent available, found that 42.6 million people were untethered contingent or independent workers, which means no office—and no break from young kids for parents working from home.

For now, parents using these spaces tend to be freelance writers and small-business owners, contract-based project managers and Internet entrepreneurs. Many have taken on a part-time schedule to better balance the costs of child care, while others are attempting to manage their own businesses in between nap times.

Many child-care options impose rigid schedules and upfront payments, and they can be cost-prohibitive for anyone who just cut back on work hours or is paid by the project. For many self-employed parents, “committing to a full-time slot at a day-care center is usually not feasible,” says Jennifer Sabatini Fraone, associate director at Boston College’s Center for Work and Family.

NextKids founder Diana Rothschild struggled to consult out of her San Francisco home after her daughter was born.

When the Stanford M.B.A. approached NextSpace in 2012 about adding child care, she says its founders were receptive and decided to start a new site with her. NextSpace launched a successful NextKids pilot program last December and now has parents on a waiting list for a full-time San Francisco outpost. Ms. Rothschild says the company plans to open a new space in the Potrero Hill neighborhood this summer.

Amy Braden found herself in a similar predicament. She didn’t want to go back to work full-time just after her son was born in 2009 but was unable to find part-time care in her area for babies under a year old. Instead, she cobbled together a patchwork of child care while working from her home in Austin.

One afternoon, as she tried to run a conference call with clients on a new project, she found herself juggling her son in his BabyBjorn, walking frantically around her dining room table as she struggled to soothe him. “I had no choice but to run the call with him kvetching” in the background, she recalls. “I made judicious use of the mute button that day.”

Ms. Braden channeled that frustration last June by opening Plug & Play, Austin’s only workspace facility with a licensed child-care space.

The 37,000-square-foot space is divided in half: The “Plug” side features office nooks, conference rooms and a refreshment bar stocked with coffee and snacks. The “Play” side, separated by a soundproof wall, is a preschool center with three rooms serving children of various age groups. Parents can pay $15 for a day pass, purchase 12- or 40-hour blocks of time or get an unlimited monthly pass to the workspace. There’s a pay-as-you-go option for child care, with hourly rates between $8 to $10, or parents can book in advance for 20- to 100-hour child-care packages. (Most parents use the space for two to five hours per visit, Ms. Braden says, and tend to book a few weeks ahead for both work and play times.)

Ms. Braden can accommodate 30 children each day and employs three professional full-time teachers, plus two part-timers that she has on-call to handle the ebb and flow of the parents’ schedules. Since opening last summer, Plug & Play has signed up more than 80 active adult members who can secure a spot for themselves, their children, or both with a few hours’ notice. Ms. Braden’s business partner, Melinda Ortega, is a child-development specialist with 15 years’ experience who runs the facility’s child care.

Ms. Adinaro, a co-founder of Herbalogic, a dietary-supplement company, says she was able to negotiate a loan with her bank from Plug & Play’s office space. Since she was breast-feeding at the time, the staff would just call her when her son needed to nurse.

Steve and Jennifer Garcia, who run their web-development business out of their Austin home, had considered buying a larger place after their second child arrived to allow them to have a more defined workspace. “I just wasn’t able to get anything done,” Mr. Garcia says. “A 4-year-old and 10-month-old don’t understand what boundaries are. You can’t tell them, ‘Don’t come in, Daddy’s working.’ ”

Now the Garcias bring their sons to Plug & Play for four hours every Tuesday and Thursday. They host client meetings in the conference room and can reserve child-care slots for the boys when they need to dash off to a meeting downtown. Having this off-site space allows them to focus and manage projects more efficiently, Ms. Garcia says, and the clients they’ve acquired as a result have more than paid for the cost of their membership. They are no longer looking for a larger house. “Now when I get home I can focus on the family and being a husband and father,” Mr. Garcia says.

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