Illustration of two scenes: the first is of a woman working at a computer on a long desk with a potted plant beside her. The second scene is of a woman in a nursery reading a book to two small children.

Illustration by Emily May Rose

Office space with benefits

Tired of trying to meet deadlines during naptime? Co-working with childcare may be just what you need

Working from home as a mortgage broker while looking after two small children, Camille Robotham used to fantasize about time. “I would think, ‘If I had two or three hours to just do my work without any interruptions, I would be so happy.’”

She longed for a place where someone could watch her kids, spur-of-the-moment, while she caught up on work emails. Around that time, she and her husband bought a townhouse that they planned to use as a rental income property. But then Robotham looked around at the brightly lit rooms and realized the space would be perfect for a co-working-meets-childcare service. And thus, Work & Play was born.

The co-working site, which lets parents book three-hour time slots, opened in Brampton late last year. Parents (so far only moms have used the space) work downstairs while kids are supervised in the large playroom upstairs. “I’ve had moms who have been writers, entrepreneurs, dietitians, photographers—it really varies,” Robotham says.

Jadey Nugent, a dietitian who works for a network marketing company, recently used the space for an event. “There’s a well-stocked kitchen and you can have a cup of tea and centre yourself,” she says. “You can meet clients there. Your kids are close by if they need you. You can breastfeed.” She likes that it’s pay-as-you-go, unlike daycares, which charge flat fees for the month. The idea is to make it accessible to anyone. “Sometimes you have income coming in, and sometimes you don’t,” Nugent says.

“Women don’t necessarily have the luxury of taking a few years off and just seamlessly going back to their industries.”

Increasingly, parents are juggling working from home with kids in the mix, cramming in an hour or two over naptime, or post bedtime, or whenever they can find a babysitter. Some parents don’t want to put their children in full-time daycare, or simply can’t afford to. (Daycare can cost $2,000 per month for one infant, or as much as $3,500 for an infant and a preschooler.)

Parents are working part-time, sporadic hours for a number of reasons. Stay-at-home moms might work to make ends meet, Robotham says. Or, they take up contract work to maintain their contacts and skills. “Women don’t necessarily have the luxury of taking a few years off and just seamlessly going back to their industries,” says Robotham.

Work & Play isn’t the GTA’s first co-working space with childcare. In 2016, Diane Chevalard opened Working Ensemble in her house in Toronto’s Parkdale neighbourhood. The first floor can accommodate six children, including Chevalard’s own three-year-old son, while parents work at communal tables on the house’s third floor. Her clients are mostly moms, but she’s hosted a few dads, too. Like Work & Play, parents book in three-hour slots, at $20/hour.

Chevalard notes that having children can prompt people to choose entrepreneurship, which means they don’t need the typical 9-to-5 childcare. “Their priorities shift,” she says. “They want to be able to spend more time with their children.”

Working Ensemble was inspired by similar spaces in Europe—the oldest one, Third Door, opened in London in 2010. The idea is slowly catching on in Canada: Chevalard is helping two other Torontonians who plan on opening their own similar spaces in the near future.

The trend comes at a time when co-working and entrepreneurship are taking off throughout the country. A 2015 survey by the Centre for Innovation Studies in Calgary found that 13 per cent of Canadians are entrepreneurs, a percentage that’s tied with Australia and is second only to the U.S.“People are trying to do things that are fulfilling and match with their values,” says Chevalard.

Being able to watch your children play during work breaks adds to that sense of fulfillment, as does the camaraderie that parents feel when working alongside others in the same situation. “You want to be a good parent and you want to make sure you’re servicing your clients well at the same time,” Robotham says.“It’s a very delicate balance and you almost always feel like you’re failing at one.” With co-working spaces that offer an added childcare bonus, parents can feel, for once, as though they’re finally mastering both.

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