Flexible and remote jobs have broad appeal in today’s economy, but they’re especially enticing to parents.
This demographic values the ability to make their own schedules so they can accommodate their children’s naptimes, doctor’s appointments, and school pickups.
However, working from home can be isolating, and these parents usually still need regular child care to get their work done.
To meet those needs, some coworking spaces have added a childcare option for their members. Others have opened with the sole purpose of providing coworking and child care together.
Unfortunately, the addition of child care to a coworking space typically means smaller margins, additional regulations, and higher overhead, which make running this kind of business a bit trickier than running a typical coworking space.
If you’re considering adding child care to an existing coworking space, want to start a new organization that combines coworking and child care, or are simply looking for a coworking space with child care to join, here’s what to consider.
A Few Hurdles
As remote and freelance jobs continue to grow, more and more parents are likely to find themselves in a position to benefit from a coworking space with child care on-site. (For more on the trend of coworking, see our full article on the topic.)
However, adding child care to a coworking space isn’t as simple as dedicating an extra room for the kids and hiring a babysitter.
Here are just a few complications that owners run into as they look into adding child care.
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Laws and Regulations
Laws regulating child care vary by state and can be extensive.
Regulations may include mandated child-to-caregiver ratios, square footage requirements, sanitation requirements, outdoor space requirements, and other requirements for safety, security and staff training.
However, there are loopholes. For example, most states don’t heavily regulate the type of child care that’s short-term or requires parents to stay on site.
That’s why gyms and churches often have casual child care options that don’t have the same requirements of a traditional day care that’s responsible for children all day while their parents are at work.
It might be a good idea for any space’s child care options to conform to legal guidelines even if it’s not mandatory. But owners at least need to understand how state regulations will affect their coworking facilities.
Even the most casual child care arrangements require some set procedures. You need to know how you’ll handle things like food allergies and emergency contacts, for example. You’ll also need waivers and policy agreements.
These things will require at least a few conversations with a business lawyer.
A key challenge in combining child care with coworking is finding a space where the kids are separate enough from adults to enable the adults to concentrate.
Most commercial real estate options weren’t built to accommodate something like this, and many spaces that would be fine for coworking aren’t so great for kids. Space requirements will also vary with the age and number of children you expect to participate.
Parents may also have different ideas about what kind of qualifications they expect in a childcare provider. Some may be fine with the minimum level of care, especially for short periods of time. Others might expect an educational component or philosophy.
Hiring a full-time staffer is expensive, but relying on agencies or part-time contractors might not provide consistency, which is important if parents are bringing kids in regularly.
The Right Price Points
Long-term, part-time nannies can be tough to find, but most parents can find in-home part-time care for around $15 an hour. Of course, this varies based on the region of the country and the number of children being watched.
However, if the hourly rate for coworking and child care is significantly more than the going rate for a nanny, it might not be enough to lure parents away from the home offices or coffee shops where they can work for free while their kids play with a caregiver.
Keeping hourly costs low can be difficult considering the costs of space and staff.
Some Keys to Success
In theory, coworking with child care sounds like a great idea. Many people will tell you they’re excited about the idea and would totally sign up for such a space. But that doesn’t mean much until they actually start showing up and spending money.
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This Chicago Tribune article quoted Amy Braden, who opened an ultimately unsuccessful coworking space with licensed daycare in 2012:
“We got a lot of very positive press. However, locally, that didn’t translate to sales,” Braden said. “The interest is there. The demand, I don’t think, is there. It’s not if you build it they will come … I reached a great many people in the Austin area with my concept. But they still didn’t come.”
To accommodate for the fact that this is a new idea that might take some time to catch on, these businesses should focus on target customers, start slow and keep overhead costs low.
Don’t Try to Cater to Everyone
Parents have a variety of work schedules and child care needs. Some only need child care a few hours a week, others may be looking for something close to full-time. Some may just have one newborn baby, and others have several older kids.
Trying to accommodate every single one of these parents will likely result in lost focus.
Owners should start by figuring out what your coworking and childcare space’s best clients would pay for, then calculate how many of them they’d need each month to make ends meet. From there, they can tweak their sales process to hit those goals.
Allow Yourself Time to Ramp Up
Your potential clients often have existing, long-term child care arrangements that have to “run out” before they can consider making a change. Nannies and babysitters for young children are often college students whose schedules change by the semester and school year, for example.
That means that even if parents do want to join a coworking space, it might be several months before they realistically can make a change. (For more on saving operating cash and keeping a contingency fund, check out our post on business growth challenges.)
Start With Low Overhead Costs
Keeping overhead costs low is generally great advice for new businesses. But in the case of new coworking spaces with child care on site that need to keep costs low, it’s particularly important.
Some coworking spaces have found a way around this by working out of local churches or business incubators until their membership numbers increase. Others have started as co-ops, sharing space in their own homes before making the investment in space. Still others have started by hosting pop-up events at local coffee shops or play cafes to gauge interest.
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The model may be a tricky one for business owners, but with work-from-home jobs increasing and the need for child care ever-present, it’s quite possible that an increasing number of entrepreneurs will figure out a winning formula.