Co-working spaces flourish in the suburbs, drawing moms who seek quiet and camaraderie

Swapna Venugopal Ramaswamy
Co-working spaces flourish in the suburbs, drawing moms who seek quiet and camaraderie

Dani Geraci opted out of full-time work at an advertising agency after her first child was born. When her second child was 10 months old, Geraci decided it was time to put her business skills back to use in some way.

That's when she decided to try out Work and Play, a shared workspace near her home. 

Geraci, a Maplewood, New Jersey, resident, described the neighborhood co-working space in South Orange as a “magical place” that helped her launch her branding and marketing business.

Geraci said she knew the alone time would benefit her work and enable her to figure out her business plan, but she hadn’t anticipated how much she would enjoy the collegiality of being in an office setting.

HudCo co-founders from left, Judy Haddad, Christy Knell, Christina Cohen and Katherine Bagby, in their offices in Dobbs Ferry, March 13, 2019. HudCo is a co-working space that blends work, life and well-being.

“I had missed having that environment where you sit down, have a cup of coffee, chitchat for five or 10 minutes before getting down to business,” she said. “That is a huge part of who I am.”

For those chasing work-life balance, particularly working moms, flexible work schedules are an alternative to fully leaning in or entirely opting out.

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Co-working spaces, which offer uninterrupted time away from the distractions of home, are the perfect solution for flex moms. Some, like Work and Play, offer perks specifically targeted at moms, including on-site childcare. Women make up more than 75 percent of the membership, most of whom are mothers in flexible work arrangements.

“Because I didn’t know what I was doing, I just wanted a space that I could use to think for a couple of hours without any distractions,” said Geraci. “I could drop my son off at preschool and drop my baby off at childcare at Work and Play and walk upstairs and just focus on me for the first time in a couple of years. At least for a couple of hours at a time.”

From 2005 to 2015, the percentage of women who were employed in an alternative work arrangement or “gig economy” (which includes freelancers, contract workers and on-call workers) more than doubled, rising from 8.3 percent to 17 percent, according to a Harvard University study.

The study also found that women were now more likely than men to be employed in the remote or on-demand economy. Little wonder that women-only co-working spaces are sprouting all over the country.

At HudCo, 80 percent of the membership is women.

On a recent tour of the newly opened 9,000-square-foot space in a former brewery in a warehouse overlooking the Hudson River in Dobbs Ferry, New York, Christina Cohen, an interior designer and co-founder, said she wanted the aesthetics to resonate with women without being "pink."

The result? An Instagrammer’s fantasy.

Light streams through tall, leaded windows in the converted warehouse space with high ceilings and concrete floors. A large, marble check-in counter mimics a bar, complete with bronze foot railings. Blonde wood tables, fabric couches imported from Italy, statement lighting fixtures, area rugs and a kitchen with custom cabinetry and a dining table that can double as a ping-pong table after-hours lends to a clubby vibe. Oh, and the facility also includes a wellness space.

Cohen described the look as “warm industrial.”

Cooking instructor Kate Sonders Solomon of Irvington works on an upcoming lecture at HudCo, a co-working space in Dobbs Ferry, March 13, 2019.

Cohen said a brainstorming session during a weekend “momference” in Maine with fellow Dobbs moms and HudCo co-founders Christy Knell and Katherine Bagby – all New York City transplants who moved into the village around 2012 to raise their families – led the three women to pursue the idea.

Knell, a graphic designer who previously worked for Martha Stewart Living and Wired, and Bagby, a physical therapist, had been working out of a much smaller space in the same building as HudCo – the renovated warehouse had previously housed a brewery and a bible printing factory.

“We had been running a sort of tester, bootstrapped version that was just our own shared office space,” said Knell of their initial venture, known as the Hudson Collective. “And we wanted to build on the interest and knowledge from that experience.”

Members working in the offices of HudCo, a co-working space that blends work, life and well-being in Dobbs Ferry, March 13, 2019.

In two years, membership grew to 30 members. At HudCo, which requires a three-month minimum membership, the least expensive option is $99 per month for four visits.

The number of co-working spaces in the U.S. in 2019, projected to be 5,026, is nearly double the amount offered in 2015, according to Statista, a provider of market and consumer data.

“If you're home, there’s always something to do other than work,” said Bagby. “Your kids or dogs or laundry will need your attention.”

The popularity of co-working spaces is not just about having a distraction-free workplace.

An increase in the number of remote and independent gig economy workers was cited as one of the main reasons for the growing “loneliness epidemic,” by Vivek Murthy, the former Surgeon General of the United States.

Co-working might be the antidote.

Lorraine Ash, who edits and ghostwrites books, drives to CILK119, a co-working space in Nanuet, New York, five times a week.

“This space is the perfect mix of the solitary and the communal,” Ash said. “You are left alone to create what you want to create, do what you want to do and yet you are doing it enveloped in a community with other members.” 

Co-working facilities offer a range of amenities, membership plans and perks. They can be housed in high-end spaces or no-frills offices, offer walk-in usage or require mandatory minimums; have perks that can include on-site childcare and wellness programs. 

Deborah Engel who founded at Work and Play was photographed the office space in South Orange, N.J. March 12, 2019.

The camaraderie of colleagues

In 2012, two years after her second daughter was born, Deborah Engel, who grew up in New City and now lives in South Orange, New Jersey, left her job as a public relations professional in New York City to pursue freelance work from home.

Engel said she grew lonely “hiding” in her small home office and missed the camaraderie of colleagues.

That’s when she began exploring the idea of co-working spaces.

“Even if you're a freelancer, you're not sitting in your apartment alone, you actually can go and work with others,” said Engel.

As a mom, she also knew that loneliness was not the only issue with which freelancers struggle. Flexible childcare was also a hurdle.

Work and Play offers child care center in South Orange, N.J. March 12, 2019.

In 2015, weeks before her third child was born, Engel purchased an 1800s fixer-upper in South Orange, New Jersey, in which she established Work and Play. A year later, she obtained a license to run a daycare out of the gray clapboard house. Her own home, in nearby Maplewood, is a 7-minute commute away. 

Visitors to Work and Play enter through an orange door into a brightly lit space with work stations and long tables. Window seats offer cozy nooks and hardwood floors add to the warmth.

The lower floor houses the childcare center.

“As a working mom, I found my village here,” said Engel.

Work and Play common office space in South Orange, N.J. March 12, 2019.

Unlike most daycare facilities, which charge parents for a full day, Work and Play lets them build their own schedules. Children can attend for as little as two hours per week to as many as 30 hours per week. For those attending 4-plus hours per day, the rate is $15 per hour. For two-hour classes, the rate is $16.50 per hour. A la carte bookings (for workspace members only) are $18 per hour.

Excluding childcare, Work and Play charges range from a $25 day rate to unlimited weekday hours for $275.

Geraci said co-working has led to new business opportunities.

The first couple of projects came out a collaboration with a graphic designer.

“It’s been a great networking and collaborative space,” she said. “I can’t imagine not having that outlet at this point.”

A place for writers

In Nanuet, editor and fiction writer Donna Miele’s desire to have a dedicated space for writers led to the creation of CILK119. 

After initially operating out of a bookstore, she and her husband, Ken Herndon, expanded the concept to create a co-working and meeting space that would accommodate various professionals, from real estate agents to business networking groups. Most patrons at CILK119 are women.

Donna Miele, and her husband Ken Herndon, owners of the CILK119 co-working place in Nanuet March 12, 2019.

“Many of us would prefer not to completely sacrifice our professional lives in order to give our domestic lives the attention they deserve,” said Miele, talking about moms looking for flexibility at work. 

The space now offers writing salons, robotics classes, seminars and wine tastings. Rates range from $20 for two hours to $450 per month for a dedicated office.

Lorraine Ash of Allendale, N.J. works at CILK119, a co-working place in Nanuet March 12, 2019.

Ash, who has been using the space for four years, said it’s about having long swaths of uninterrupted time.

“I have a beautiful home office and I use my work desk for multiple things,” she said. “When I come here, it’s sustained concentration. Here I dedicate my desk and my mind to my project. When you go to a gym, you don’t do anything but exercise.”

“We don’t want the place to resemble a Starbucks,” said HudCo's Knell, talking about her desire to create a space that evokes a sense of belonging and loyalty. “We want people to get to know each other and to be motivated, inspired and connect with the community.”

Swapna Venugopal Ramaswamy writes about women in power for the USA TODAY NETWORK, focusing on trends in politics, culture and business through the lens of gender. Drop her a line with story ideas or thoughts at svenugop@lohud.com

 

This article originally appeared on Rockland/Westchester Journal News: Co-working spaces flourish in the suburbs, drawing moms who seek quiet and camaraderie