Local mom proposes coworking space for parents

If the invention of drop-in child care centers inside gyms was a gift to parents seeking time to work out, a local woman’s idea could be a revolution for local parents who just need some time to work.

Like many people today, Aliza Schlabach, a mother of two small children, works independently as a freelancer. In theory, it sounds great — work from home, spend time with the kids, stay on top of the housework — but in practice, it can prove both calamitous and isolating.

Schlabach, 34, of Phoenixville, is working on plans to create a member-based coworking space in Manayunk that would also provide on-site child care, giving parents the opportunity to work in a professional setting with colleagues yet remain close to their kids.

After all, nobody loves kids running amok in an office setting — least of all, the unlucky parent who may have had no other choice that day — but dependable child care is a special challenge for freelancers with irregular hours and home offices.

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After years of working in website design and user experience with sites such as traffic.com last year Schlabach joined one of the companies involved with the DreamIt Ventures startup accelerator which provides, along with seed money and mentoring, communal office space.

“I love this idea of people coming together, of getting rid of the isolation, and getting out of your element, but also the social possibility,” Schlabach said. “But as a woman, as a mother of young kids, I want something like this but for my needs. I just had this lightbulb moment and thought what if we could actually bring our kids — not into the workspace, but in an adjacent space.”

Schlabach sought the advice of Alex Hillman, founder of Old City’s Independents Hall coworking space and an acknowledged local guru both on coworking and on making business venture ideas a reality.

“Community first, both as a mindset and an order of operations,” Hillman said. Traditionally, shared offices were viewed simply as a utility, creating high turnover as members cycle in and out of need, he said. Indy Hall has taken a different approach — one that has proven key to its success, and likely the reason Hillman spent this past weekend knocking out walls as the coworking space continues to grow.

“We encourage people to think of a coworking space like a clubhouse. The caveat there is that in order for there to be a clubhouse, you need a club in need of a home,” Hillman said.

To that end, Schlabach has been gathering coworking parents informally on Wednesdays at the Manayunk Brewery (they’re generous with space and have dependable wi-fi, she said) on Main Street building a Facebook community and putting out a biweekly newsletter. She’s secured both a professional mentor and a child-care adviser who has a history in curriculum and day-care center management.

She also has her eye on a possible location in Manayunk, the top floor of a building which would afford enough room for both the coworking space and an adjacent, but separate, child-care area. Schlabach would own the enterprise as a business, but members would support it financially and child care would only be for members.

There are plenty of details to work out on any potential space, like zoning questions and whether the facility would need to be licensed as a child-care center. That could become a necessity, she said, if parents want to be able to leave their children at the site to attend client meetings.

“I’m crossing my fingers, and hopefully we will know in a few weeks whether [the Manayunk site] is going to go,” she said.

Hillman said a California-based coworking space called Cubes and Crayons was the groundbreaker in the parent-friendly coworking concept, offering both drop-in workspace and playspace. But interest is growing. The UK-based Third Door, which describes itself as “workhub and nursery,” is a notable recent effort, he said.

Schlabach’s coworking group will next meet from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Wednesday at the Manayunk Brewery, 4120 Main St. Details are here.  For more information, go to coworkingforparents.com.

NewsWorks has partnered with independent news gatherer PlanPhilly to provide regular, in-depth, timely coverage of planning, zoning and development news. Contact Amy Z. Quinn at azquinn@planphilly.com.

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