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Coworking with children has so far proven to be a huge success or equally large failure for the spaces that have tried it. Third Door in London is in the first category – so much so that they plan to open a second location later this year. But their journey to success wasn’t easy. Founders Shazia Mustafa and Yusuf Chadun gave Deskmag a ten point summary of things to consider when trying “coplaying”.
By Johanna Voll - Wednesday, 07 March 2012

1. Research, research, research

Don’t just look at your own needs, but also of the area in which you plan to launch. Is there already childcare nearby? What is their pricing structure? Does demand exist?

Plan for a long set-up phase. For banks, coworking itself is a new concept, and combining it with childcare is an even more difficult idea to process. Getting support will take a while. But taking time to develop a good business plan and marketing strategy will also help find the right coworkers later.

2. Find a model that suits your needs

There are various possible forms of coworking with children. Some let kids into the workroom, as long as they don’t disturb anyone. Others have a separate room where kids can play, with or without organized childcare.

The separated model seems to be the most succesful so far. Both should be clearly divided from each other, and possibly have some spatial distance. Third Door also offers a third area, where parents and children can spend time together during the day, such as at meal times. Different rules apply in each area.

3. Insurance and legalities laws

Once parents have handed over the duty of supervision to professional service providers, additional legal and insurance requirements come into play. They vary from country to country, and sometimes even within municipalities. Read up about it early on. Depending on the number and ages of the children, the staff must be trained in specific ways and rooms designed with certain features. Some locations require additional licenses. At a minimum, the space should comply with strict hygeine requirements.

4. Safety is the highest concern

Any coworking space swings from calm to hectic situations. No matter what is going on, the safety of children is always the highest priority. Access to the childcare area must be restricted so that not just anyone can enter. A code-secured door is a potential safeguard. The parents should all know each other, so that a strange visitor will be quickly spotted. At Third Door, they also photograph each visitor at reception.

5. Parents are coworkers

"It's all about the parents," summarizes Shazia. Confidence is the key to success. With the confidence that their children are safe, parents can be relaxed and productive. As in any coworking spaces, constant dialogue with members is essential. Your concept should adapt to the parents’ needs.

The London space has found that there is particularly high need for childcare and coworking for those aged over 35 years. In addition to the nursery, these users want an atmosphere that allows professional work, says Shazia.

6. And what about the kids?

More and more kids will learn to say; “Mum and dad work in a coworking space.” Their parents work more flexibly, more mobile, and often irregular hours than parents might have in the past. Children – especially young ones – need routine around which they can orient themselves in the world. It’s important to maintain some routines despite the flexible work-lifestyle. Fixed meal times and regularly scheduled games and educational activities, for instance. If the parents don’t work the whole week at your space, you can discuss having certain fixed days for childcare.

Just as it’s not easy for kids to go straight into a nursery, it might take a few steps before they are comfortable in a coworking space. Settling in is not always easy, and should be done gradually. Having parents nearby might reduce some worries.

But while that might sometimes be a benefit, proximity also brings its own problems. Parents might find it difficult to concentrate when they hear their child cry nearby. This requires trust between parents and the caregivers in the space.

7. Selects employees who support your vision

“You have to have the right people in the right place,” says Shazia. She takes a lot of time to select employees and put them through training. But it’s worth investing the time to find reliable, highly-skilled caregivers.

8. Flexible terms for flexible working

An important factor is setting the right price system. Third Door offers a combination of pay-as-you-go pricing and monthly rates. Member who use the coworking and childcare facilities regularly get reduced rates. Both elements – private kindergarten and coworking space – are priced separately, and also offered together at ore favourable rates.

9. Mompreneurs: careers with children

More and more mothers are taking on the challenge of raising children and starting small businesses. This is a growing trend, especially in the U.S. There, “mompreneurs” are an important part of the business community. There may be business incubators and initiatives in certain cities and states targetting this demographic. Some clubs and associations exist to meet their needs. Coworking spaces should familiarize themselves with this group, as they are the most important target market for a combination of workspace and childcare facilities.

10. Beware of imbalance

Quite often coworking childcare projects fail because one side of the business overtakes the other. Sometimes the link between the two facilities can be severed, creating separate entities with no cross-over, destroying the potential benefits of combining both.

Active exchange between both sides can be encouraged by regular children’s events in which the parents participate. Workshops around the theme of education, children’s birthdays and other celebrations throught the year can be held jointly.

The kinds of people who might be drawn to a childcare-friendly coworking space are likely to be highly entrepreneurial, and this might result in an even more cooperative, interactive and creative workspace.

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