After a year of juggling work from home and homeschooling, a coworking space with a Montessori nursery attached offers the best of both worlds for north London parents
The biggest question facing working parents in 2021 isn’t ‘what does better work-life balance look like’, but rather ‘have we been chasing the wrong goal?’ Why have we come to accept career and family as competing silos, inevitably to the detriment of one other?
We’ve spent a year adapting working lives to factors beyond our control, bulldozing walls, previously carefully constructed and reinforced, between home, parenting and education. Teammates saw into our bedrooms. We realised teaching is a true art. Rediscovered our neighbourhoods.
Tuned into our kids, we noticed the tiny, wonderful things usually reserved for their caregivers. The way I see it, the pandemic has been a petri dish to test new ways of living. We’ve been given breathing space to make purposeful choices about which changes are worth fighting to retain as the world reopens.
The zero-sum game
When parents re-join the workforce after having babies, everything has changed. Priorities in every area of life adjust and your capacity naturally shifts too. You realise policy and childcare provision seem designed to keep young children and work as far apart as possible.
And yet we know the Early Years (0-5) are the most important of a child’s life, establishing foundations for all to come. So, we face into unsatisfactory trade-offs. Where we hide evidence of family life at work, ashamed to reveal the everyday challenges we’re facing, concerned they’ll make us less credible. Where we accept below par childcare (the UK lags behind many of our economic equals in quality). Or we drop out of the workforce altogether.
The lack of preparation and design for these changes has a huge impact on career development. More new mums make changes to their jobs than don’t and a recent FT survey found that 2 in 5 are considering taking a step back altogether. Yet the irony is mums make great workers.
A 2014 US study showed over the course of a 30-year career, mothers outperformed women without children at almost every stage of the game. In fact, mothers with at least two kids were the most productive of all. It turns out skills honed navigating toddlerhood, sleep deprived, are highly transferable.
With many of us again now ‘re-joining’ workplaces after a year of WFH and homeschooling, the questions parents are asking are universal. Can I be a good employee if I’m a present parent? What am I judging my expectations of childcare and career progression against? With so few well designed solutions for this balancing act, it’s no wonder a sense of failure in reconciling the two is the norm.
Having faced these issues, I set about designing something better. Playhood is a North London parent co-working space, Montessori nursery school and community united in one place – my Victorian town house reconfigured as a live-work space.
At a time when other childcare providers and co-working spaces prioritise scale and tech to increase membership and reduce service friction, I sought to do the opposite. Daily teacher-parent conversations happen over a coffee and we all down tools to eat a chef-prepared lunch together – it’s entirely IRL.
Unifying family and work is more than just co-locating services and eliminating the commute. Playhood signals a new breed of neighbourhood workspace, offering all the benefits of WFH without it being your home and with the best bits of the office – friends, collaborators, advisors and cheerleaders.
What’s more, we’re creating the village many urban families lack. On any one day we’re doing paid work for each other, sharing local recommendations, swapping toys, advising on career progression and troubleshooting sleep regression. We’re empowered and supported to co-design the optimal conditions for all sorts of work in ergonomic, green and airy spaces; sharing resources and knowledge.
Playhood members are a mixture of WFH employees and business owners, 60/40 Mums and Dads (families share the membership) and we include journalists, strategists, UX designers, coaches and CEOs. We’re neighbours and friends, supporting each other through some of the most challenging times we’ll ever face, deploying the power of play to work and live better.
Images courtesy of Playhood
As featured in OnOffice 155, Summer 2021. Read a digital version of the issue for free here.