Babies at work? Work-life balance could soon mean bringing your little one to the office
Leslie Brogdon recalls a stressful preschool pickup, when the full-time marketing executive and part-time families minister at Peachtree Baptist Church took a video call with an important client. “I had to pretend that I was completely available—while driving and trying to make sure my kids’ preschool wasn’t visible in the background!” she says. Leslie has an 18-month-old son and a four-year-old daughter, and she and her husband, an academic librarian, share parenting duties to escape the crushing expense of full-time daycare. Most days, Brogdon masters the juggle, but some days, not so much. “I’ll get up at 6 a.m. and work the whole day, organizing my kids’ meals and naps around a call at 2 p.m. And then, somebody changes the call to 2:30, and I can’t make that work.”
With all the talk about work-life balance and cool employee benefits, the issue of childcare remains an elephant in the room. Childcare for two kids runs, on average, $20,927 annually in Atlanta and $17,236 in the suburbs, according to a 2017 study by Zillow and Care.com.
Some of Atlanta’s largest corporations, including Georgia-Pacific, Chick-fil-A, and Mercedes-Benz, have leapt forward to provide arguably the most-ever appreciated fringe benefit for working parents: on-site daycare. Mercedes-Benz USA’s new Sandy Springs headquarters features a gleaming “Little Stars Academy” on its garden level, with ecofriendly wood paneling, built-in reading nooks, and a bright outdoor playground that would make any working parent’s heart race with delight.
Lars Minns, a father of three and Mercedes’s chief human resources officer here, says building the daycare enhances employee experience. Plus, given the overall age demo of their staff, it helps attract and retain talent. “There’s something special about extending the time with your child,” he says. “You’re with your child during, say, a 30-minute commute to work. Then, you drop off, and you can go down to visit multiple times a day. Oh, by the way, you can extend your day at the office a bit because there’s no [pickup] at another location.”
At companies without such deep pockets, a new concept is emerging: bringing your infant to work—literally. Take Austin-based advertising firm T3, which has an office at Industrious in Ponce City Market that offers a program called “T3 and Under.” Babies aged six months to about three years can come to work with their parents.
Do some coworkers think it’s weird? Maybe at first, but acceptance is signaled and normalized from the top, says Jill Prentice, T3’s Director of People & Culture. “Our CEO, Gay Gaddis, is a Southern woman, five feet tall, and she takes no crap at all. If she said she supported it, then everyone got on board. You can invariably see her walking around with a staffer’s baby on her hip!” The program is meant as a bridge to help working parents reengage sooner and keep client relationships intact. “The humanity of it all works out really well,” says Prentice.
Brodgon’s struggles inspired her and other moms to launch a new coworking/childcare co-op at Peachtree Baptist Church. “We already have childcare during Sunday mornings, so the vision sought to utilize the church’s extra space and figure out a way to serve families in the way they need help,” she explains. The layout includes six different rooms for kids, plus a nearby communal space with four private offices. Parents, who need not be members of the church, have to remain onsite, pay $100 per month, and sometimes assist the lead teacher (one four-hour shift for every 10 days of care). Brodgon thinks of the arrangement as an experiment to create more options for remote professionals needing some distance—but not too much—from their kids to complete that conference call or presentation. Says Brogdon, “You can’t exactly have everything in every season, but I think it would be great if we could weave kids more into the fabric of our work lives.”