When serial entrepreneur Jill Salzman had her second child, she was working on her second startup. Then she “kind of freaked out,” she told TODAY. She didn't know how she was going to run two businesses with two babies in a tiny home office.
Out of “complete self-interest,” she started a group for women with businesses and babies to share how they did it. She thought five people might show up, but when 20 people arrived, she had a lightbulb moment.
“More than just me needs this sort of thing?” she asked after that meeting in 2010.
By March of that year, she officially launched her third venture. In August 2011, she sold her second business to focus on the new one. Now, thousands of entrepreneur moms are part of The Founding Moms in 60 cities across 12 countries. The groups often meet in coworking spaces, a trend that Salzman says has increased tremendously since she was starting out.
“More people know what it is. More people are talking about it. More parents are finding that it is extremely convenient,” Salzman told TODAY.
What is a coworking space?
Coworking spaces are exactly what they sound like: shared spaces that offer anyone memberships or day passes to use communal desks, lounge areas and resources without individuals having to take on the financial burden of office space rent. While they have been around for decades — the term was coined in the early 2000s — the industry began to gain traction with the rise of companies like the now-beleaguered WeWork.
There are expected to be approximately 5,700 coworking spaces in the U.S. by the end of this year, which means around a quarter of all coworking spaces are located in the U.S., according to Carsten Foertsch of Deskmag, an online magazine about coworking spaces.
These spaces often appeal to young creatives who typically work from home or have flexible work hours — such as writers, graphic designers or entrepreneurs — due to the professional environment, continuous networking opportunities, educational events, strong Wi-Fi and flowing coffee. They are for the side hustlers and the full-timers — from the self-employed to those working remotely — no matter the individual's age or occupation.
They're also for working moms, who are often overlooked.
“A lot of them are looking to get out, skip the loneliness, find camaraderie, but they are also looking for a space that they don’t have to pay oodles and oodles of money every month for something they can’t use every day, all day,” said Salzman. “They are really just looking for a way to be supported for their business in a space that understands what they do, that understands who they are, understands why they need that kind of space.”
Moms leading the change
Nationwide, companies are slowly adding these amenities, making inclusive workspaces in which moms can thrive. But large coworking spaces with expansive resources such as The Wing, a women-centered coworking space, are leading the way. Currently, the company's branches in New York City's SoHo neighborhood and West Hollywood, California, include The Little Wing, which offers babysitting, enrichment classes, open play, parent support groups and workshops for participating members. Stay tuned for The Little Wing to roll out at other locations as well.
Newer, smaller spaces are popping up nationally, too. And who better to lead the way than moms themselves? Though independent and located across the country, each of the following niche coworking spaces was started by working moms who couldn't find a facility that suited their needs.
MOMentum Coworking and Kids Club, located approximately 45 minutes north of Philadelphia, began thanks to co-founders Mary Beth Thomas and Jackie Maniscalco; it was the first coworking and child care program in the area. As moms themselves, they knew what their fellow mothers needed: regularly scheduled programs, high-speed Wi-Fi, coffee and child care. Up to three days a week, professional caregivers in an adjacent wing provide care from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Additionally, their MOMentum Kids Club provides creative arts after-school programming and summer camps to school-age kids.
Shelly Weiser, a mother of two young children, had a similar problem. In October 2017, she opened The Hive. Located just 20 minutes outside downtown Austin, Texas, the space is welcoming to all — from people simply using the cafe to working parents who need child care — as the space offers open seating in the cafe as well as memberships for those who want a space in one of the two coworking rooms and/or child care.
With two locations in the Los Angeles area, Big and Tiny takes child care to another level, complete with a full curriculum of educational programming for children from 6 months to 6 years old, with a focus on preparing young ones for preschool. Through the design and the curriculum, founder Keltse Bilbao’s goal was to make the coworking space just as much for the children as it was for the adults who used the space — something she once looked for.
Since the industry is still evolving and not yet standardized, Salzman says many companies still don't know what to do. For her, that’s the beauty in it.
“Some women don’t need very many hours and it is a little more expensive even still with the lower coworking prices," she said. "Some women will use all of the hours in the world because they want to work 24/7 because they don’t want to work in a home office or a ‘real office’ because they miss out on a lot of firsts. I don’t know that there is a one-size-fits-all, and I think that is a good thing about this, particularly for moms.”
In fact, the niche spaces will continue to rise, according to Jamie Russo, founder of two workspaces under Enerspace Coworking and the executive director of the Global Workspace Association. She also runs a program to help operators launch spaces. She told TODAY that about a third of those members in the past year have been female-focused operators.
“People want more choice and they want to find the fit for them,” she said. “So I think in major markets, female- and mom-focused spaces will continue to pop up and will come and will be successful. I do see a lot of them popping up in smaller markets."
Why not just work from home?
For moms who would typically work from home, a coworking space provides the same benefits that any other member would get but often with an added bonus: They get to be close to their kids.
This allows for intimate moments such as breastfeeding or simply seeing one’s child on a walk around the office while giving mothers space to actually get work done. For most, this means no more tending to diapers or jumping at every cry. Instead, it is the peace of mind knowing that your child is in the same building and you can get to them quickly and easily. For many moms who haven't yet been away from their children or those returning to the workforce after maternity leave, being nearby is a must.
For others, it is about self-care. Kim Cook, an author and entrepreneur, told TODAY it can have a “tremendous positive impact” when it comes to curbing a mother’s guilt for pursuing professional goals rather than the unseen labor women are typically pulled toward: running errands, planning and executing kids' schedules, grocery shopping and cooking, scheduling medical appointments and more. It hits everyone, from celebrities to new moms and experienced moms. It seems unavoidable.
“But when female entrepreneurs enter a coworking space, she is seen as a professional and is respected for her efforts. She can take a break from invisible labor that inevitably demands her attention when working from home. Coworking spaces allow women to collaborate, network and socialize with other entrepreneurs. This camaraderie can improve their social and emotional health,” said Cook.
In the end, a mom’s happiness is contagious. The more a woman is working comfortably, Salzman said, the less she carries a fear of failure or guilt about parenting. In turn, this energy is put back into her children.
“Not enough people realize that if we are happier, our kids are happier," Salzman said. "Our kids get to see a more optimistic, wonderful parent figure they can aspire to be like when they grow up."