An enclosed space in the open-concept loft office of Saint John-based Acre Architects Inc . is known as “Hugo’s Bureau.” It has been designed specifically for the youngest member of the architecture firm – owners Monica Adair and Stephen Kopp’s nine-month-old son, Hugo.
The space contains a chair for breastfeeding, a small, plush white rug for Hugo to roll around on, toys, a music box, and an old typewriter he likes to play with, set on a low shelf. Outside the room, there is also a swing.
It’s both a play zone and a nap area for the son of entrepreneurs trying to raise a baby and a business at the same time, and in the same place.
“I want to enjoy this time as a mother, and I don’t want to give up the business,” Ms. Adair says.
Rearing both at the same time can be tough. But some entrepreneurs have decided to forgo day care, babysitters or nannies, and instead raise both under the same workplace roof so that they can be together in those early years.
Shelley Rinehart, a professor in the business faculty at the University of New Brunswick in Saint John, says this flexibility is a great strength for entrepreneurs who want to integrate family and business life. Those working in corporate environments are limited by the practices and policies of their employers, she says, but entrepreneurs can set their own boundaries in meeting the challenges of balancing work and family life.
“It’s an added benefit that allows you to accommodate children in the way you see fit,” she says.
Two years ago, Mr. Kopp and Ms. Adair left a firm to start their own company. They’ve since built a reputation for site-specific “green” projects. Acre just completed a house in the centre of Saint John with the first green roof in this industrial city of 70,000. It’s also designing an eco-friendly inn for actor Shaun Majumder of This Hour has 22 Minutes, located in his home town of Burlington, Nfld. The firm has focused mainly on residential projects in its first two years, but is now expanding into commercial ventures.
Hugo was born last November. Ms. Adair says she and her husband couldn’t choose between starting a business and starting a family; fortunately, she says they didn’t know what they were getting into by doing both almost at the same time.
“I knew I wanted to have kids, I knew I wanted to have a business. It’s better not to know what to expect,” she says.
“You just say, ‘I’m going to start my own business and raise a child in the business.’ It just works. They’re things we want in our life.”
Mr. Kopp grew up with a stay-at-home dad and a mother who worked outside the home. This reversal of more traditional arrangements allowed him to see the myriad ways families can be structured, he says.
“I think that broadened my perspective…,” Mr. Kopp says. “You do what you have to do [to make things work].”
Mr. Kopp and Ms. Adair share childcare and workplace duties. During a meeting, for example, Mr. Kopp might meet with a client while Ms. Adair leaves to feed Hugo, or he might take the baby for a walk while his wife takes over a client meeting. There’s no disruption because both parents are immersed in all aspects of the business.
“We’re interchangeable. It allows us to change roles really quickly,” Ms. Adair says. “We try to pretend like we’re one two-headed person.”
While they work at the office, Hugo naps and plays. When they go to meetings or site visits, he goes along with them. “I have a picture of him holding a clipboard. He looks like the inspector,” Ms. Adair says.
The couple says that their two employees, as well as interns and clients, embrace their family-friendly approach to running their business.
The employees often take Hugo for walks or take out play time with him. His room does create a space where he can play out of earshot, so he hasn’t been any distraction hampering productivity, Ms. Adair says.
She says that clients are welcoming to him, too. They enjoy having him at meetings – and he can be an ice-breaker during difficult discussions and presentations.
“It’s easier to deliver a budget with a baby in the room,” Ms. Adair jokes. “In most meetings, people [are] very encouraging about having him there.”
While Hugo is spending his early years holding clipboards on job sites, two year-old Dayvah Loeks is picking tomatoes and garlic. She’s the daughter of Kylah Dobson and Zach Loeks, owners of Heritage Rainbow Garden , an organic farming business located in Coden, Ont.
They started their business in 2007. Ms. Dobson, whose family has farmed for seven generations, shared administrative and farming duties with Mr. Loeks for the first two years; after giving birth to Dayvah, she kept doing some manual labour and took on more administrative duties.
“[Dayvah] spent a lot of that first year in a carrier,” she says. “ I had to change my responsibilities and tailor them to having a baby attached for 15 hours a day.”
Linda Duxbury, a professor in the business faculty at Carleton University in Ottawa, says she believes that, for most entrepreneurs, such arrangements would be unsustainable.
“You can’t both work 60 hours a week and look after a young kid. That young kid does not have your schedule. He or she is not going to be sympathetic to the fact that you have a deadline,” she says.
Ms. Dobson acknowledges the “insane” and “hectic” pace. But she says Dayvah embraces life on the farm, and her parents take great joy in watching her do things like pick home-grown tomatoes. “It is a lot more work, but it’s more meaningful,” she says. “There’s joy in incorporating her into our business.”
Being a young family is an asset in their business, she says. “People see you’re established in the community when you have children.… It makes our farm look more sustainable.”
Though Ms. Adair also admits to sometimes being “exhausted,” she, too, sees her son as an integral part of their work life, not an additional burden on their time. He brings a sense of fun to the workplace, she says, which is why they’re trying to create the right atmosphere with his dedicated space and swing.
“This isn’t just about me working and trying to manage Hugo,” she says. “I love to spend time with him. That’s something I can’t lose track of. I want to see him and spend quality time with him.”
Both couples have seen the arrangements work, but know they must adapt as the children get older.
Ms. Dobson is now eight months pregnant, and the family is moving onto a new piece of land it is now farming. Dayvah has been put into daycare in recent months as Ms. Dobson’s administrative responsibilities increased to complete the move.
Ms. Adair says it might later make sense to place Hugo in daycare so he has playmates and they have more time to work on their business.
“I don’t want our projects to suffer at all. That’s a must,” she says. “And I don’t want Hugo to suffer. He’s top of our list.”
MAKING IT WORK
How can you raise baby and business under the same roof at the same time? Here are a few tips based on experience from Monica Adair and Stephen Kopp, co-owners of Acre Architects Inc.
Work when the baby sleeps
The standard piece of advice given to new parents – “Sleep when the baby sleep” – doesn’t apply, Mr. Kopp says. He often uses nine-month-old son Hugo’s naptime to catch up on administrative tasks that require extended periods of focused attention.
Take play breaks
Mr. Kopp and his wife take breaks throughout the day if Hugo needs some playtime, and then work during the evening to catch up on missed time.
Hire a personal assistant
This is actually on Ms. Adair’s wish list. She’d like to hire someone who could perform administrative tasks and childcare duties.