After launching his new public-transit consulting business, professional engineer Yuval Grinspun at first tried to work from home around the bustle of a busy family. He tried coffee shops, but didn’t function well in noisy environments. The Toronto Reference Library was blessedly peaceful, but when all the tables were taken, “we had to just stop and break early for the day,” he says.
Then, by serendipity, an innovative co-working venture designed specifically for working parents opened in a former bank building a short walk from Mr. Grinspun’s home. The Workaround, founded by entrepreneur Amanda Munday, provides professional work space upstairs and kid space downstairs, where early childhood educators engage the children in play-based learning while their parents work. In business only three months, she is already fielding calls from parents across the country asking if she might expand to their cities.
As 2018 drew to a close, The Workaround was a scene of quiet industry. The only evidence of children in the building was a row of strollers parked where the ATMs used to be and a mother working at a stand-up desk with a sleeping infant in a strap-on carrier. The bank's vault has been converted to a break room, with dimmed lighting, a hammock and playpen.
Ms. Munday formed the co-work space out of necessity and desperation. With a demanding job at a tech startup and two small children, she and her husband faced the prospect of paying more than $34,000 in annual child-care fees on top of their mortgage and other living expenses − if they could even find an opening at a quality, licensed centre. Ms. Munday’s mother took early retirement to help out.
“High child-care fees are an obvious obstacle for cash-strapped parents, but a lack of local licensed spaces will also limit the choice parents have when it comes to raising their children and re-entering the work force,” David Macdonald, a senior economist at the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, wrote in a recent study on “child-care deserts in Canada.” The east end of Toronto, where Ms. Munday lives, was one such desert. “There are only enough licensed child-care centres for 28 per cent of families in the area,” she said in an interview.
While the majority of Canadian employers now support working parents through flexible work schedules and telecommuting arrangements, only eight per cent of employers provide on-site child care, the Conference Board of Canada found in a recent study. “It’s difficult to work from home with kids,” Ms. Munday said. “It’s hard to pull out a laptop. It’s hard to take a conference call. I think that’s the worst. You are trying to time naps with important phone calls.”
These practical issues are often overlooked in workplace studies on employee turnover, said Ms. Munday, who decided the only way to find affordable, accessible high-quality child care for herself and others was to create and operate her own co-work enterprise. So she quit her tech job and now the kids can go to work with her.
Members can book anything from the occasional half day to an annual membership. They pay only for the child-care services they use − at a cost of $15 an hour for infants and $10 for older children.
Mr. Grinspun’s own children, aged 7 and 10, are in school during the day so he does not need the early child education care. But he says his fledgling transit consulting business, Left Turn Right Turn, would not have had such a successful launch without access to the professional workspace, which includes open desks for quiet work, closed offices for meetings and phone calls and a podcast room for teleconferences and webinars.
Mr. Grinspun and his young associate, Matthew Lattavo − who both left strategic roles at the Toronto Transit Commission − are currently developing a ridership growth strategy for London Transit in the Ontario city, and are working with the public-transit authority in Ann Arbor, Mich. Mr. Lattavo is not a dad, but he finds the children on site adorable and the space far more conducive to getting work done than coffee shops and libraries.
The Workaround is open seven days a week − entrepreneurs don’t work bankers' hours, Ms. Munday said. But she also gets corporate teleworkers. “We had a tech executive whose nanny was called for jury duty. He walked in and said ‘I just can’t take the day off and I don’t have time to get downtown’ … so we took his two-year-old daughter for the day and he was back online by 10 a.m.”
Demand has far exceeded Ms. Munday’s initial expectations. She believes that “disruption” of the traditional model for child-care services in Canada is long overdue.
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