Ashley Wu had been working from home for about five years when her second child was born two years ago. She quickly learned managing a newborn, a 3-year-old, and home office life was no easy task. Having help with childcare and a flexible schedule, Wu decided to find a place in her Upper East Side, New York City neighborhood where she could get some work done without having to stop for a diaper change.
That proved to be harder than she imagined—there weren’t many options aside from a few coffee shops where a seat wasn’t even a guarantee. And she felt she wasn’t the only mom in her neighborhood facing the same struggle.
“I knew so many women that were in a similar place, with young children either working remotely full-time or part-time, transitioning back into a career, or trying to figure out what their next step was going to be but didn’t have a place to do it,” says Wu, who has been running her own fashion blog, Exposed Zippers, since 2011.
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In February 2019, she opened Maison on the Upper East Side, a co-ed co-working space she describes as “warm and welcoming.” It features communal tables, couches, hammocks, and a kitchen area with healthy food options and beverages that are complimentary. “I wanted to create a place that felt beautiful and felt like home,” she says. “A place that people feel good in.”
While many of the members use the space to work, Wu never intended for Maison to be strictly a co-working facility. She welcomes anyone, whether they are currently employed or not. That includes people exploring their next career move, those who simply need to unwind, and especially moms who are in need of a moment to themselves.
“Our culture has come to this place where burnout is happening more frequently and I think it especially impacts moms because there are expectations that we put on ourselves from societal pressures,” explains Wu. “I want to use Maison to help not only people who come and work, but people who need to tap into that part of themselves they may have neglected for a while because of all the other things they prioritize over their well-being.” Think using the space to catch up with friends over coffee, read a book, or participate in soon-to-launch programs like lectures conducted by experts and a film club.
The Maison is part of a growing national trend of co-working spaces that are being built with a focus on supporting parents of all kinds. With the numbers of telecommuters on the rise, it makes sense why co-working spaces are needed. The 2017 State of Telecommuting in the U.S. Employee Workforce report found nearly 3 percent of U.S. employees “work from home at least half of the time”—a 115 percent increase from 2005. There are now more than 4,000 co-working spaces in the U.S. But these parent-friendly spaces bring a whole new meaning to co-working by including amenities traditional ones don’t for membership fees that are typically around a couple of hundred dollars or more. These places aim to help women feel empowered by offering special programs and family-focused perks.
Amy Nelson launched the Riveter in May 2017 in Seattle’s Capitol Hill neighborhood for similar reasons as Wu. After having her second daughter, Nelson left her career as a lawyer to start her own business. “I ended up at co-working spaces and found that a majority of them felt overly masculine and didn’t provide the tools and connections I wanted and needed,” says Nelson, who recently had her fourth child. “I wanted to create that space with women in mind first, but also devoutly inclusive of all.”
Several locations soon followed, including ones in Los Angeles, California and Minneapolis, Minnesota, and two more are planned for Denver, Colorado and Portland Oregon later in 2019. Aside from workspaces, the Riveter has meditation rooms, outdoor decks, open rooms, and various educational, cultural, and wellness programs. Every location also has a room for moms to breastfeed or pump in “a private, comfortable space.” Members can bring their infants, 6 months and younger, as long as the tots stay on their lap.
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Other co-working spaces like The Wing, founded in 2016 in New York City, take it a step further by offering childcare in several of its locations. With research showing work-at-home moms generally do three more hours of childcare per day compared to those working in an office, getting a little help with Baby can help moms get more work done. Along with babysitting services, the childcare space, called The Little Wing, also offers early childhood enrichment programming, parent and kid classes, workshops, and support circles for new parents. The Wing, which now has eight locations across the country, including a recently opened one in Boston, Massachusetts, also has at least one “mother’s room” in each facility. Those all have pumps, bags for milk, fridges to store milk, nipple creams, wipes, changing tables, and baby lotion.
Similarly, The Jane Club in Los Angeles, California, prides itself on its childcare facility—aka The Nest—calling it a "warm and imaginative play space" for children up to 3. Founded in 2018 by producer Jess Zaino and Grace and Frankie star June Diane Raphael, The Jane Club additionally offers blowouts, manicures and pedicures, and workout classes helping moms feel good as they take a break from working in the communal area.
Then there are places like The Wonder, which opened in New York City in May 2019, focusing solely on family recreation and socializing. “We created a design that offers dedicated areas for everything from feeding your baby, to art classes, and family board game nights,” says founder and CEO Sarah Robinson. Favorite areas include a set-designed playspace (the current theme celebrates the 50th anniversary of the moon landing), a library, a nursery, and a family lounge with two oversize serpentine couches. And in order to fuel family connections, cell phones aren’t allowed in the lounge and playspace.
Robinson, who founded the place with Noria Morales, developed the idea after realizing there weren’t many public places she could take her toddler Henry that would be engaging for both of them. She was always either choosing between a spot for kids or one for adults. With The Wonder, Robinson and Morales want to make family time more feasible and enjoyable.
“We hosted a lightsaber duel. A member texted me saying that her husband left work early to dress up with their child for the event. They said it was the most fun they had together as a family in a long time,” says Morales. “It’s those experiences that reinforce that we’re filling a much-needed void in modern parents’ lives.”