Business and Babies – The Office Experiment
Can the office double-up as a creche?
On Friday 5th November, officebroker.com tried something completely new. We invited four employees to bring their children into work for the day to see if business and babies are a successful mix.
The concept of ‘bring your child to work day’ is nothing new. But the main difference here is that all the children are under 2 years old, and there is no cr├¿che environment – the children spend their day in the office with mum or dad while they work.
Some forward-thinking companies in the US have tried this alternative method of childcare, and some have made it work. But would it work in the UK – and crucially, would it work at officebroker.com? We decided to find out.
So on Friday 5th November, four children aged between 4 months and 16 months old came into the office for the day to see what mum or dad got up to.
Dean with 1-year-old Harry
Taking part were Training & Development Manager Fiona with 4-month old Grace, Receptionist Kerry with Hayden who is also 4 months old, Account Manager Dean with 1-year old Harry, and Sales Support Cassie with the eldest of the group, 16-month old Herbie.
“Very real situation”
With no cr├¿che environment and merely office corners or meeting rooms for the youngsters to play in, it was always going to be a challenge. But it was also a valid experiment – as many of the team have reached the stage in their lives where they are starting a family, and officebroker.com are losing key people to maternity leave and part-time hours.
As commented by Jim Venables, officebroker.com’s Managing Director, it is a situation that genuinely affects the way the company works. “We are losing some of our best people, and we simply donΓÇÖt have another Fiona or another Kerry to replace them with,” said Jim.
“It’s a very real situation for us, so we are looking into several different ways to try and get around it. We heard that some companies in the US have successfully introduced programmes where parents take their kids to work, so we thought we would try it to see how successful it is.”
Fiona and Grace
By 9.00am, all of the parents had arrived and were settling their children into the work environment with an array of play mats, toys and baby paraphernalia to help keep the youngsters occupied.
The first part of the morning had an edge of chaos as parents contended with wide-eyed babies and cooing colleagues – some of which were keen to get in on the action and take over whenever possible. Others however kept their distance, and edged around the ‘baby zones’ with caution.
As a hive of activity, the sales floor at officebroker.com would not normally be considered a suitable cr├¿che, but the younger children – Grace and Hayden – managed to catch some naps during the day. At other times, they were bounced on laps or carried to and fro as Fiona and Kerry went about their routine.
Inevitably at various points throughout the day the youngest became unsettled and needed attention – such as a nappy change, a bottle, or a quiet moment with mum. But generally, Grace and Hayden were able to stay in their bouncer chair and have enough to keep them occupied for periods of time with the general hubbub of the office, and the attention they received from other colleagues.
Kerry and Hayden on reception
However at the other end of the scale, 1-year old Harry and 16-month old Herbie were more mobile than Grace and Hayden, which caused plenty of distraction for their parents and colleagues alike.
Naturally, with the ability to crawl and walk, and with a brand new environment to explore, Harry and Herbie were constantly on the move to discover their make-shift cr├¿che.
In true officebroker.com style, Dean found himself teaming up with his colleague Richard, and together they worked as a pair by taking the supervision in turns.
Similarly on Reception, Kerry was helped throughout the day by her colleague Nicky, who was a pillar of support – fetching bottles, playing with Hayden, or taking over KerryΓÇÖs tasks whenever she attended to him.
For Fiona, who as Training & Development Manager would usually be in training sessions throughout the day, she found that she was able to carry on with her tasks by taking Grace along to the sessions. At times this was short-lived and Fiona had to choose her moments carefully, but as the day progressed she was able to find a certain element of routine which Grace adapted to.
Fiona speaking to Rav with baby Grace, and Marcus in the background.
How Successful Was It?
The main problem was distraction, which affected the majority of employees in the open-plan office.
For all the parents, the pattern of their day was fully dictated by their children, which in turn depended largely on their age, and how well they adapted to the environment. Often the parents got the most work done when their child was asleep, or being supervised by a colleague. But this was always short-lived and all parents were constantly distracted.
At one point Cassie commented that she was struggling to settle down to work: “I have been reading the same email about 10 times!” she said.
The novelty factor of the day also had an impact – it’s possible that if children were brought into work on a regular basis, the parents and children might be able to find something of a routine.
Nicky (left) with Kerry and Hayden on reception
Chris Meredith, officebroker.com’s head of UK Sales, commented that the day wasn’t completely unsuccessful.
“It really came down to three main factors – job role, age of the child, and their parents’ attitude,” he said. “Dean and Cassie really struggled because they couldn’t commit the time to talking to clients on the phone, and they found it difficult to focus. Another problem for them was the age of their children. As their kids are mobile they were often getting up and retrieving them or following them around the office. They were exhausted!”
With regard to Kerry and Fiona however, Chris felt that the situation was more manageable and believed that it could potentially work.
“Fiona’s role means she is not tied to a desk and spends time with the team. On Friday she was training and in one-to-ones and Grace was perfectly happy, which was partly down to her age and character but also because as a person, Fiona just gets on with it. This makes a big difference.
“I think once the novelty factor wears off, I genuinely believe that Fiona could make this work.”
Chris was also optimistic about Kerry, which again comes down to Hayden’s age and character, and Kerry’s role at officebroker.com.
Cassie and Herbie meet consultant Jade
Again one of the biggest problems for Kerry was exhaustion, partly due to the distraction, but also because she had to spend a lot of time standing up and moving around with Hayden. At times she literally had Hayden in one arm and the phone in the other.
“I think if we ever considered this as a company, we would have to approach it on a case-by-case basis, depending on job type and the age of the child,” said Chris. “But then you would be faced with the issue of discrimination – it’s not fair that one person can bring their child to work but the other can’t. This would be a major issue.”
For MD Jim Venables, one of the key benefits that he observed was the increase in team spirit, notably between the partnerships and supervision-sharing (such as Richard and Dean, and Kerry and Nicky) – and also the childrenΓÇÖs ability to bring people together from all departments.
Another obvious benefit was that Kerry and Fiona, who are currently on maternity leave, came back in for the day and were able to carry out some of their normal working duties.
The radiator makes a temporary toy-shelf
To sum up the day, the problems faced by distraction across the whole team, the loss of productivity and the exhaustion which comes with childcare and full-time work simply outweighed any positive points.
By the end of the day it was clear that in its current form, bringing young children into the office could not be sustained like this on a long-term basis.
Jim, who had to vacate his office on more than one occasion when one of the toddlers needed to sleep in a quiet environment, commented:
“It didn’t work for me. The parents were constantly struggling to get any work done because they had to entertain their children, and naturally some other people were affected too.
“But there were definitely some positives. It was great for team morale and it created a good team spirit in the office with loads of banter. That side of it was great – it definitely beats the usual corporate team-builders. But as we expected, there is just too much distraction for the team to cope with.
“I want to find a childcare solution for our employees and I am keen to give new ideas a go – but this isnΓÇÖt the right solution for us.”