Using Underutilized Space In Seattle For Coworking With In-house Child Care: A Q&A With Marlene Mejia Weiss Of The INC.

WITH REBECCA BRIAN PAN (1)
Marlene Mejia Weiss from The INC. in Seattle shares what it takes to successfully operate a coworking space with in-house child care
  • Coworking with in-house child care may be the next big trend in coworking
  • Nonprofit organization, The INC., provides coworking with child care for professionals in Seattle
  • In order to successfully run a coworking space with child care, operators need to think like a child care director and a workspace manager

Coworking with in-house child care may be the next big trend in coworking. As the workforce of remote workers, independent professionals, freelancers and small teams continues to grow, they need a place to work. They also need child care that is flexible and affordable.

The INC. in Seattle, Washington, is doing pioneering work merging coworking and child care. A nonprofit on a mission to serve professionals with children, the organization provides coworking space for parents, as well as a preschool room and teacher, a toddler room, and a community room for both parents and kids. They do all this in the basement of St Andrew’s Episcopal Church in North Seattle’s Greenlake neighborhood in a space that was formerly a preschool.

Allwork.space spoke with Marlene Mejia Weiss, Executive Director of Outreach at The INC., about coworking in underutilized spaces, the growing need for affordable, flexible childcare and expanding the INC. model to other neighborhoods and cities.

Allwork.Space: Last time we spoke, you were in the middle of rebranding from the Women’s Business Incubator to the INC. How are things going with the space and project?

Marlene Mejia Weiss: We are officially the INC. now, with the tagline, “Community coworking and preschool.” There’s still an education piece, so we want to really spell out who we are and what we do. Now, parents get it right away and we’re seeing more dads in the space, which is wonderful. That’s what we want to see.

Allwork.Space: Has the organization changed since you launched in 2015?

When we were acting as the Women’s Business Incubator, we planned to do a number of things to support women’s entrepreneurship, and childcare was only a piece of it. But as we opened the space, we realized the focus and need of our local market was childcare, so we brought that to the forefront. The focus now is on the space, onsite child care, and bringing this model to other neighborhoods.

Allwork.Space: There’s a growing demand for coworking spaces that offer child care, but it’s not an easy model to pull off. How big of a role did finding the right space play in getting The INC. off the ground? And how can you scale this model to other neighborhoods?

We couldn’t have started up without finding the space we currently have. Being a nonprofit, we’re lucky that we’re able to work with churches. We’re focused on churches and there are many church spaces in Seattle that are underutilized and also have the child care rooms already built out.

With just a little imagination and elbow grease, we’re able to make the coworking piece for the parents work. It’s really about finding these spaces. For instance, in Greenlake, the preschool room was already built out because there was a preschool in that space before. So we had a lot of the materials, the furniture, everything, Our startup costs were minimal.

We opened the toddler room last year in what the church uses for their nursery. It’s just being creative and thinking outside of the box with what already exists in our neighborhoods. We plan to scale by going into other churches and community spaces that are underutilized in other neighborhoods. We’ll see what we can bring and how we can create the space we need that will work for parents and their children.

Allwork.Space: Providing affordable coworking for parents is at the heart of The INC. mission. Why is affordability high priority for the organization?

The parents we’re targeting, or who are interested in us, aren’t able to afford full-time daycare—or even get in, for that matter. Even if they are able to afford it, they can’t get in because there are few openings. Plus, There are few full-time, licensed care centers and there’s a very high demand; waitlists are one to two years long.

No matter what income level you are, it’s challenging just trying to figure child care out. We’re targeting middle class parents and we’d like to eventually offer more options for low-income parents.

For middle class parents, this is an option because child care is unaffordable. Child care is also pretty inflexible. If you do get into a full-time, licensed care center, you’re either in or out. You’re either paying the full amount or you’re not getting that spot, so it doesn’t work financially for parents with flexible work. That’s why affordability and flexibility are high priority for us. Those two elements just don’t exist right now. We’re trying to offer more options to parents.

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Allwork.Space: What’s the response to The INC. been? Any numbers you can share?

We have 80 families we’re serving who are members. It’s exciting to see that number grow and to see interest grow. We hit our one year birthday on February 7 and we’re really excited. It’s unbelievable to think how much we’ve grown in that time. It feels like a completely different space, and it is.

Allwork.Space: What events and programming do you offer?

In the fall, Kate Holmes Thompson who is one of our members and a career coach, did open office hours for Motivation Monday. She offered advice to any other members who wanted to be productive for the week. She was able to gain traction and in January she started a weekly group coaching series. It’s been awesome to see that cohort get together every Monday and to see their progression.

We just partnered with Business Among Moms, a nationwide networking group directed at women entrepreneurs. It’s a lot of moms but it’s all women at varying levels of business ownership. We’ve partnered with them to host a business book club in our space with their members, our members and hopefully some new members. It’s not your typical book club. You really get a deep dive into a business book, you’re able to discuss it, then you can apply how you want to use it, professionally or personally.

Allwork.Space: What are the biggest challenges for The INC. team?

We’re streamlining our processes. We’re trying to get better at that. It’s such a unique model that there are no tools out there that are specifically for our business model. We had to go out, find out what works for us, and hack a solution together. Or we’ve had to create something on our own. That’s a challenge because it just takes time. The model has evolved since day one, so we’re constantly looking at our processes to make sure they make sense for us and make sense for our members.

We also plan to expand, so we want to make sure we have all our ducks in a row so we can expand quickly and efficiently. Another challenge is just managing the capacity. It’s a smaller space and we have parents and children in there. We need to make sure everyone has the space they need for work and for play, and that the noise level works. It’s just really unique. For the most part, we have it under control, but we’re always conscious of that.

Allwork.Space: What’s the big picture vision for The INC.? What would you and the team like to accomplish?

We would love to raise funds through a big grant. That is one of our goals for this year. Without that, we can’t hit our other goal, which is expanding into other neighborhoods. Parents love the idea but need it in their neighborhood. We also have people contact us who want to build this in their neighborhood or city. We want to expand and we need to figure out the right way to do that.

Our ultimate vision is just to normalize this. I’d love if, with the next generation of new parents, there was no choice between work or raising a family. There would be a place they can go when they onramp back to work, whether it’s six months or two years after they leave, and they’re right back on their way.

Allwork.Space: Do you have any advice for coworking space operators who would like to integrate child care into their coworking space?
Talk to your community and make sure it’s really something they want. There’s a lot of work that goes into it. There are children involved, so you’re not just worrying about the printer, you also have to make sure the kids have enough snacks. You have to think like a child care director and an office manager. Luckily, we have a team and volunteers with expertise in both. If you are going down that road, connect with early childhood experts. It’s good to know all the things that go into it before you start.