Iris Kavanagh wants to take you back in time.
Back in time to when cultures used to operate as communities. Multi-generational, mixed gendered groups performed various jobs to keep the community as whole functioning, from food prep to child care. Fast-forward to the mid-1950s in the United States, and that community was hard to find.
“All of a sudden we had this idea of the nuclear family as one family in one house with all of the machines that would allow them to run their lives,” Kavanagh described. “The dad leaves the home to go to work. The mom stays home and she does all of her ‘mom at home’ things. And then the kids go off and they do their kid things. But the family is disconnected from their community. The mom doesn't have the group of aunties and grandmothers that she needs to help her.”
And now let’s look at today’s workplace culture. Women are just as often the breadwinners of their family, but still carry the larger load of domestic labor. And both mothers and fathers have to work as though they aren’t parents and parent as though they don’t work.
What’s missing? The community.
Kavanagh has been a coworking consultant since 2015. Prior to that, she led the NextSpace team during initial expansion from a single location to nine operations. She has co-operated multiple brands in multiple markets and co-founded various industry groups including the League of Extraordinary Coworking Spaces and Women Who Cowork, and has spoken at various industry conferences.
Today, Kavanagh firmly believes that the future of coworking means meeting working families where they are and serving them in the best way possible: with childcare.
“Coworking came on the scene when humans were craving community,” she explained. “Coworking also came on the scene when we had an outbreak of a loneliness epidemic. And the Surgeon General talked about how loneliness is even more detrimental to our health than smoking.
And so, when we think about why childcare is such a good fit for the coworking industry, it's because the children are our future. It’s not just a cliche.
Right now, a new mother in particular has to choose between giving up her job to care for her child, or asking someone else to raise her child so she can provide for her family. And when mothers leave the workforce, we all suffer. We lose that brain and we are drained of those skills. And women who stay home to raise children suffer immediate income loss as well as the career setback. And the entire community suffers the loss.
Childcare is a really good fit for the coworking movement because it brings the coworking movement into the future. It allows us to have more members — more customers. Because if you can serve parents and deliver on their needs, then you can serve a lot more of the population.
When a coworking operation has childcare services, it gives members an opportunity to feel included and integrated. They can bring their whole selves to work. Because when your child is in the next room over, you can take a break and go play with them and have a connection with them when you have the most energy — rather than at the end of the day when you're exhausted. And you're going to walk back into your part of the office feeling much more centered, maybe even feeling happy and joyful!”
So how can a coworking owner go about adding childcare to their operation?
Start by asking the questions of your members: what do you need?
“Start by polling your membership and get the data: do you have children? How old are they? Is childcare an issue for you? What percentage of hours do you spend dealing with childcare? Would it be beneficial for you to have childcare here on site? What would your needs be for childcare on site?
And then, if you have a space that has room for a childcare facility on your premises, then I would recommend asking your insurance agent about the logistics and exploring the legalities. And my pro tip is that the easiest way for you to provide access to childcare for your members is going to be to partner with somebody and to not open your own licensed daycare center. Getting creative is important.”
At a time when access to childcare is dwindling, costs are rising, and talent is still overworked and underpaid, coworking operations have a unique opportunity. Expand your reach, expand your services, and you’ll expand your customer base exponentially.
Kavanagh is not just talking about this. She’s doing the work, and offering resources to help others.
“I invite womxn and non-binary coworking/childcare operators and those who are curious about it to collaborate within our network for free. Join our collaboration room and be part of the movement!”