As a working mother of 2-year-old twins, Nikki Miller has a lot on her plate.
Miller, 39, commutes from Holbrook to Boston, where she is the worldwide credit manager for the software firm PTC, a job that often requires her to work at all hours. Needless to say, making it back to Holbrook by 5:30 p.m. for day-care pickup is stressful. Miller recently participated in a conference call while running to catch the commuter rail, then ran “like a mad person” to get to her car on the other end — making it to the day care with a minute to spare.
On-site child care is offered at a number of businesses and some co-working spaces, but a day care in the Seaport District is set to flip that concept on its head, offering a dedicated space where harried parents like Miller can work for free for an hour or two, or all day, while their kids are in classrooms down the hall. When the co-working space opens Sept. 3, it will be the first such operation of its kind in the country, according to Kids & Company, the Canadian child-care provider that runs the Seaport site.
When Miller and her husband, a real estate agent who also works in Boston — and often uses his car as an office — recently discovered the Kids & Company center a three-minute walk from Miller’s office, they were intrigued. Then they saw the co-working space, where, if Miller is running late, she could drop off the twins and immediately launch into the back-to back calls she often has in the morning. They switched to Kids & Company a few weeks ago.
“Wait, I can take calls and meetings here?” Miller remembers thinking. “I’m sold.”
Kids & Company launched its first Kidco Work location in Toronto this summer, after seeing the significant interest generated by co-working spaces that offer child care. Cofounder and chief executive Victoria Sopik realized her centers could offer the same convenience, in reverse.
“The child care is the harder piece to operate,” she said. “The desks in the room are easy to deliver.”
The Toronto center has not attracted as many parents as expected so far, Sopik said, but they expect interest to pick up in the fall.
In the Seaport, parents who work remotely can reserve one of the four desks, or just drop in if there’s room, at the bright, colorful co-working space. The workspace is located in a corner of the 20,000-square-foot complex, out of sight of the children, and is equipped with a conference table, printer, sink, refrigerator, and bathroom, as well as coffee and snacks. Parents who have an office but need a place to make a call — or get some work done while they wait for traffic to die down — can also use the space. And if demand is high, there’s room to expand.
“Sometimes the parents will come in like this,” said Kelley Joyce, vice president of Kids & Company for Massachusetts, putting her phone to her ear.
As work becomes more all-encompassing, and more flexible, with millennials especially spending less time in offices and more in their homes or at coffee shops, Kids & Company saw an opportunity to expand its offerings. The child-care provider picked the Seaport location for its first US co-working space in part because “the vibe was right,” said Sopik, with a high concentration of millennials working and living nearby.
“There’s so many people that are independent graphic artists, or freelance writers, or they have their own business or a startup,” she said. “They actually need child care more than the people who work at the big corporations.”
The nearly two-year-old Seaport center, which is licensed for 49 children but has space for 170, isn’t cheap. The $2,890-a-month cost for an infant enrolled full time is considerably more than the $1,743 average cost for infant care in Massachusetts, the second highest rate in the country.
The Seaport Kids & Company site includes largely organic meals and snacks prepared by an in-house chef, such as Thai noodles and mango smoothies; flexible days that accommodate parents with fluctuating schedules; and French and sign language programs. A nursing room for new mothers adjacent to the co-working space is also set to open Sept. 3.
Child-care providers such as Watertown-based Bright Horizons have long catered to working parents, offering backup care and onsite locations for employers, and Kids & Company’s co-working space is a natural evolution that will likely be replicated, said Thomas Kochan, codirector of the Institute for Work and Employment Research at MIT’s Sloan School of Management. The cost will limit the benefit to higher-income parents, he noted. But it fits in with the kind of flexibility that employers increasingly offer, especially as workers seek to avoid the rush-hour commute.
“Providing that kind of service is going to become more important as traffic congestion is more of an issue,” Kochan said.
In Canada, where Kids & Company operates most of its 127 centers, the child-care provider partners with companies that pay upward of $10,000 a year to reserve spots for employees’ children, in addition to other services. In the United States, where there are eight locations around Chicago and four in the Boston area, most parents enroll their children independently, but interest in corporate partnerships is growing.
Sopik and her cofounder Jennifer Nashmi started the company in 2002, building off Sopik’s experience running a nonprofit offering before- and after-school care in the Toronto school system — a venture she started after the first of her eight children was born. The private company has roughly 2,500 employees and more than $100 million in annual revenues, Sopik said. Within the next year, it expects to operate up to 10 centers in the Boston area.
The company is in good standing in Massachusetts, according to the state’s Department of Early Education and Care.
Kunal Shah and his wife just enrolled their 17-month-old daughter at the Seaport site, and they are hoping the co-working space can provide a place for Shah’s wife to work occasionally, especially as their toddler adjusts to her new surroundings. Their older daughter had a rough transition when she started at the center two years ago, and Shah’s wife, an IT product specialist who mostly works from home in South Boston, will be able to stick around to check in on their younger daughter — and get some work done at the same time.
“We want to prepare for the worst,” Shah said.