Flexible coworking spaces are thriving in London, which remains the global capital for coworking spaces, ahead of New York. According to the latest research from Cushman & Wakefield, Central London saw 2.5 million sq. ft. leased to flexible workspace providers in 2017, a 190% increase on last year.
The boom in flexible coworking is bringing in new trends with providers offering perks that set them apart from their competitors. A new breed of smaller coworking offices are starting to offer child-friendly workspaces or onsite nurseries. It is no longer enough to entice the millennial generation with yoga, networking and free beer on a Friday. Young, entrepreneurial parents want flexible childcare that can easily fit around their irregular work schedules.
However, the coworking sector runs on very tight profit margins. According to a 2017 Global Coworking Survey, just 40% of all coworking spaces are being profitable. Is it possible to also run a workspace with a creche and make a profit? So far, none of the largest coworking offices in London, such as WeWork, have attempted to offer any form of childcare. With a sector that is past its early stage and maturing, this is about to change.
Could coworking spaces that offer childcare attract a new set of customers?
Coworking spaces have been catering for all types of freelancers, entrepreneurs and startups, and offered all sorts of perks imaginable – except childcare. With a rise in self-employed parents there is now a demand for a new type of flexible setup that offers both workspace and childcare. If your work commitments fluctuate, then it is beneficial to have flexible childcare where you only pay for it when you need it.
Traditional nurseries are unable to offer you much flexibility, giving you either a part-time place or a full-time place. This can prove costly. According to The Money Advice Service the average cost of sending a child under the age of two to nursery in London, is £164.50 ($218) per week part-time and £ 305.92 ($405.82) per week full-time. A full-time nanny will cost you on average £616 ($817) per week plus taxes and national insurance.
Worldwide there are a few workspaces with childcare, for example Trehaus in Singapore, CoworkCreche in Paris, Collab and Play in Los Angeles and Easy Busy in Berlin. Another London coworking office soon to open a workspace with a creche, is Second Home’s new workspace in London Fields. This will be their third coworking office in London, although the first one that offers childcare.
A few have tried and failed
The coworking space is still a new market and several attempts to set up child-friendly offices have failed. Officreche, based in Brighton, UK recently closed its doors after nearly 6 years of business. Founder Elizabeth Moody-Stuart explained that the margins on childcare were too tight, plus lots of red tape did not make it easy. NextKids, a work and creche office located in San Francisco, launched in 2013 yet closed after only three years due to logistical and financial considerations. New York, the second largest coworking city in the world, has so far not had any success stories to tell. Some coworking offices have tried, but usually in the form of pop-up experiments or summer trials, such as CoHatchery and TheWorkaround. In New York the licensing rules are strict, making it expensive to operate a coworking space with a nursery.
Generating enough revenue seems to be the biggest obstacle in the coworking sector and then there are a host of operational, regulatory and logistical challenges of running a nursery to add on top. Membership figures are key, the more members you have, the more profitable you get. You also need to get the balance right in terms of how many flexible desks you offer vs. private offices, and how much space is dedicated to community rooms vs. meeting rooms.
There are now a range of new coworking offices in London offering childcare. It ranges from Huckletree West with a child-friendly family room which is perfect for the ‘babe-in-arms’ parent who is reluctant to part with their little ones, newcomer Cuckooz Nest offering a ‘pay-as-you-go’ option to the more traditional Third Door that has a fully-fledged nursery onsite. They all believe they have something new to offer and will try to avoid the mistakes that others have made.
For self-employed parents longing for adult conversation and networking opportunities, Huckletree West seems like a dream. Their child-friendly workspace in the heart of White City’s creative campus has a real community feel. As a member you are invited to regular events, members drinks and panels with inspirational entrepreneurs and founders of leading brands. Huckletree West has also partnered with three parent-focused communities that regularly hold workshops and events; the coding school Mums in Tech, the Mums community app Mush and freelancer network Doing it for the Kids.
Huckletree West’s ‘Power Parents’ membership allows parents access to their Kids Studio, which is a workspace featuring a play and private nursing area, plus separate baby changing facilities. This membership costs £175 ($232) per month and gives parents the choice of morning or afternoon access. Huckletree West doesn’t yet have nursery staff to look after your child. If you need an on-site babysitter, they will help you book a babysitter with the bubble app but at your own cost.
Members are thrilled about the new offering. Tiba + Marl Co-Founder, Lydia Barron says: “The Kids Studio is an invaluable added extra at Huckletree West. Our kids are a bit older and at school, but with that comes lots of school holidays – so it’s great that there is a dedicated space, within our work environment, where our kids can happily wile away a couple of hours, playing, drawing, reading etc when we need to crack-on with a bit of work!”
Huckletree West is part of the Huckletree group and is their third coworking office in London, with a fourth one recently opened in Dublin. The future is looking positive for the workspace provider, as they completed a second fund raise of £4.5 million ($5.9 million) with real estate investment firm Meyer Bergman in late 2017. This comes after they closed a £2.4 million ($3.2 million) Series A in 2015. The West London workspace Huckletree West is Huckletree’s first attempt at offering a child-friendly workspace.
If you are looking for a pay-as-you-go solution then check out newly opened Cuckooz Nest, founded by Charlie Rosier and Fabienne O’Neill. Based in Central London, Cuckooz Nest aims to be a place free from home distractions, while helping to lessen the guilt a new parent can feel when putting their child into a fulltime nursery. Cuckooz Nest’s Ofsted registered nursery allows children up to the age of two, hosts fewer children than traditional nurseries and has a three to one ratio of staff per child. It is the perfect solution for parents who want to go back to work while still be close enough to breastfeed or occasionally read a story. Unfortunately, Cuckooz Nest only offers nursery facilities for children up to the age of two. It is unclear if they will offer a solution for children beyond this age.
Their pay-as-you-go system is flexible in that you can buy a bundle of hours and use them as you want. Their prices range from £10.80 ($14.32) per hour to £20 ($26.51) per hour depending on how frequently you use the space. There is also the option to go for a monthly membership where you book a minimum 8 hours a week commitment, with 4 weeks’ notice period. 8 hours per week costs £86.40 ($144.50) inclusive of creche, workspace, tax and all the usual benefits of a coworking office. This flexible system allows their members to scale up or down their childcare needs depending on work commitments. They claim that as a result you save around 22% of your childcare costs compared to a traditional nursery.
Launched in 2010, Third Door was UK’s first, flexible coworking space with an onsite Ofsted registered nursery, based in Putney, South West London. The nursery can take up to 24 children from the age of 3 months to 5 years old. The advantage of a traditional nursery onsite means you can focus on work and even be offsite for the entire day if you need to.
Founder and Managing Director, Shazia Mustafa says that “Our mission with Third Door is to enable as many people as possible to have a successful career and a happy family life. More recently we have seen an explosion in coworking spaces, whilst the nursery industry has pretty much stayed the same with little innovation. By combining the two and offering the flexibility, we have created a service that is needed by the growing freelance and self-employed parent community as well as more parents wanting to work flexibly and remotely around their families.”
Third Door’s nursery set up is very similar to a traditional nursery, at the same cost. Their Ofsted rating is currently just ‘Good’ which could mean competition from the numerous ‘Outstanding’ rated nurseries in the local area. The Ofsted report states that Third Door should improve “the organisation of some group experiences to provide further challenges for older children”.
Their booking software allows members to make their own bookings and helps manage ratios of nursery staff. Prices start from 11.50 ($15.25) per hour. You can choose a flexible membership package where you buy an amount of hours per month, or fixed membership packages that start from £347 ($460) a month for a day’s childcare per week (which is around £81 ($107) a day, roughly in line with other nurseries in the area). Their flexible booking system means you do not pay when you are on holiday as you can swap days around to fit your schedule.
Is the future of work changing?
It is great to see that the sector is finally accommodating self-employed parents, giving them the flexible, child-friendly workspaces that they have been yearning for. Coworking spaces are booming across London and business models are being adapted to include childcare. As Cushman and Wakefield’s research shows, across Central London alone, flexible workplace providers have taken nearly 20% of office space. Time will show how many will also offer childcare and what the various offerings will be. Most coworking offices seem to focus on childcare up to only the age of two, but they may need to think beyond the initial baby stage if they want to keep their customers long-term. What is certain is that modern parents want more flexible childcare and a new way of working that will give them more quality time with their kids.