As the coworking market grows, we’ve seen vendors experiment with some quirky innovations, combining flexible workspaces with gyms or restaurants. But as they look to expand beyond their traditional client base of freelancers and startups and pitch their services to large organizations as well, coworking vendors may face greater demand for the kinds of structure and benefits employees tend to expect from a traditional office—such as the protections that come with a dedicated HR function.
On the other hand, some coworking programs in the New York City area are now offering something most US employers don’t: namely, child care. Last month, Ronda Kaysen at the New York Times Real Estate blog took a look at how these programs were trying to combine flexible workspaces with child care arrangements for independent working parents:
At the Workaround, members pay $150 a month for about 15 hours a week of desk time at Rough Draft, a Williamsburg co-working space. (The program rents four desks a month from the co-working company and divides the hours among its members.) Members also participate in a babysitting swap, earning babysitting credits for the hours spent watching one another’s children. …
It is no wonder that CoHatchery, a co-working space that also offered child care, managed a waiting list 500 names long during the brief period it was open in Park Slope last summer. Parents dropped their children off at a neighborhood day care center and crossed the street to toil in CoHatchery’s sleek co-working space with its lacquered white tables. But the experiment was short-lived, and when the company’s sublease expired at the end of the summer, it folded. Its founders still hope to reopen in a new space in Manhattan sometime next year, but it won’t be cheap.
As these organizations are discovering, child care is a tough nut to crack: It’s one of the biggest expenses working families face, and the often prohibitive cost of full-time child care can make it impossible for two parents to work full-time, forcing one (typically the mother) to stay at home or reduce her working hours. Patagonia, which offers on-site child care facilities at its Ventura, California headquarters and its Reno, Nevada distribution center, claims that this benefit pays for itself after factoring in indirect savings like reduced turnover and increased engagement, but high up-front costs, regulatory hurdles, and the inherent complexity of managing a child care facility make this a difficult benefit for most organizations to offer.