As a pregnant mama, it’s hard to envision a circle of friends beyond your tight-knit circle that you can call upon at your weakest and proudest moments. The beauty is that becoming a mom expands that circle even further. Turns out that bonding over baby makes some of the strongest connections possible and often opens up your mind to ideas you never saw before.
Through parenthood, Brooklyn moms Selena Beal and Amy Butterworth not only found a friendship but also a genius idea that spoke to a modern parent’s freelance lifestyle: The WorkAround, a coworking community where parents could literally bring their kids to work and have caretakers present to take care of them.
Here’s what it’s all about.
How did The WorkAround get started?
Like most modern relationships, Amy and I met online long before we met in person. We live a few blocks from each other in East Williamsburg, Brooklyn and were both due to give birth in Jan 2012, me with my second child and she with her first. We were part of a sub-group of our local parenting listserv which organized regular meet ups. Amy and I would pass each other at these events and swap notes about baby sleep behavior, sibling age difference and other hallmarks of new parenthood.
As a freelance web designer with two kids, Amy was already looking for flexible work solutions. As a stay-at-home mom of two, I was looking to build a new career supporting new mothers. After both of us spent some time looking into the coworking with childcare concept separately, I asked her out to coffee to pick her brain about the idea, found out that she was on the same path and a partnership was born.
Why is building a community of work-from-home parents important?
Everyone needs support. Our service is bringing together two groups of people that tend to get very isolated in what they do. New parenthood can be lonely and frustrating in these modern times and finding other parents in a supportive setting is key while stumbling toward the new normal of that first year. Those of us that work from home - whether it be full time or part time - can get stuck in some understandable but unproductive habits while still relishing the freedom of a remote lifestyle. We bring everyone in: moms who freelance, study, write, research, take care of the family business, teach, learn, create and more to get it done - together.
What is the benefit of having your child onsite?
At the workaround, we want to introduce a new kind of childcare option - a place where the walls are porous, where a mom can drop off her baby with a caretaker but still be there when it's time to nurse, where a parent and toddler can take a lunch break together, where a parent whose child is not quite ready to say goodbye can pop back and forth as much as needed to keep those bonds of trust secure. We are here for the families that aren't ready for major separation but are ready for a little time apart.
What are the best things about being a freelance parent?
Having the flexibility to work from home can be a great gift to a family. Being able to choose how much or how little work to take on, when, where and how to spend time together, what sort of care they want to piece together for their child. We all want balance in our lives, and working from home can be a great way to be financially and creatively productive while staying physically close to our child.
What are the challenges?
The challenges of working from home are that it takes a great amount of discipline to maintain, and for new parents this is right at a time when we are sleep deprived, stretched thin emotionally and not always so confident about the decisions we are making. The challenge of working from home as a parent is that what seems like such a neat fix, "I'll just work while the baby naps" ends up for most parents being more of a mirage then reality. Because in reality, maybe the baby skips her nap today. Maybe mom or dad didn't get any sleep last night. Maybe an important request came in that has to be dealt with right now. Maybe the house is a wreck and that seems more important then desk work today. Getting work done while parenting is hard, in ways that we couldn't have envisioned in our pre-baby days.
How does WorkAround fit in?
The support of being around other parents in the same spot is the first and foremost service we want to provide. Having support and finding connection with others on the journey is really the biggest piece of the puzzle. The rest of what we do is try to anticipate what our parent/child clients will need to get the work done while the kids are entertained. So for parents, we provide coffee and tea, dedicated desk space with WiFi and a video monitor to keep an eye on the children. For the kids we have a range of age appropriate activities and toys.
Our caregivers are ready to adapt to new children, new age dynamics and new interests at every session with songs and story time, movement games, rest times and a light snack. We teach our caregivers to be a partner to our parents by welcoming them into the children's space at any time for as long as they need, by working with them on special rituals for saying goodbye, watching for cues to know when it's time to call the parent back to the child, easing the little ones through all of their transitions in what can be a long separation process. It may take several visits for a child to feel comfortable enough for mom or dad to leave the room; we also welcome parents to bring their work right into the children's space if need be, with the hope that after a few sessions s/he will be able to ease into the adult space. Each parent/child unit dictate the terms that feel best for them. That's right in our motto: coworking with childcare so everybody wins!
How do you scout your caretakers?
We use carefully crafted job postings on both Urbansitter and Sittercity to find candidates. Then we interview them in person and check their references. We are working on an orientation program that will set up our permanent staff to gain infant CPR certification, babywearing instruction and attend a workshop in nonviolent communication.