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When Deborah Engel, a Maplewood mom of three, realized working her public relations job from home wasn’t nearly as easy as it looked, she had an epiphany. Her work/life balance would be more manageable if she could work outside the home, but still have childcare for her children nearby.
She craved a place where she could experience the office vibe that she missed (without the long commute), combined with a wonderful childcare program in the same facility.
Engel couldn’t find such a place so she decided to open her own. Work and Play opened its doors in South Orange in 2015–it’s a co-working office space and on-site childcare service all-in-one. What was previously a turn-of-the-century home has been completely transformed. The upstairs area is the office space while downstairs serves as the childcare center. It is run by experienced childcare providers and is a fully licensed childcare facility. The childcare area is soundproofed so adults can focus on their work, comfortable in knowing their kids are being cared for downstairs.
“Work and Play is popular with parents with part-time jobs or need to work from home sometimes,” explains Engel, who noticed that her community had many freelancers who worked from home like she did. “We have members who consistently come Tuesdays and Thursdays for example and bring their kids in during those days as well. And we also have members with no children who use the office space to update their resume or do phone interviews.”
Anyone can become a Work and Play member and you don’t need to use the childcare option. It’s a special perk for members only. Membership packages are available at a variety of price points, ranging from the full time member to the occasional drop-in parent.
The upstairs office area has two communal spaces with long shared tables, individual desks, cubicles and easy chairs. “We also have three private offices at the flagship location, as well as two meeting rooms—conference rooms—that can be rented out,” says Engel, adding that there’s also a cozy, private space for nursing moms.
Work and Play grew so fast and became so popular that Engel also opened a second location—called SPACES by Work and Play—just down the block. This smaller space is not inside a house and doesn’t have childcare on-site, but sometimes parents drop their kids off at the main location and walk over to SPACES.
“SPACES has three private offices, a communal workspace with six individual desks that can be licensed as dedicated desk, a conference room, and a common area with table, easy chairs, coffee,” says Engel. “Currently, we have one meeting room at each location that can be rented by anyone in the community and have one meeting room that is exclusively available to members.”
It’s important to note that childcare is only available to Work and Play members, as the facility is not a drop-off babysitting space or a traditional daycare. Any child enrolled in the childcare program must have their parent/guardian working on-site or at SPACES by Work and Play at the same time.
Work and Play accepts children from the age of 3 months old up to age four. The childcare groups are kept small, generally 12 kids per day. Childcare hours usually run from 9:00 am to 3:00 pm on weekdays, although there’s flexibility. “Childcare schedules are customizable. You can set your own schedule and don’t have to arrive at 9:00 am either,” says Engel.
The facility follows state guidelines when it comes to teacher qualifications. “Our teachers are very loving and caring with our children,” says Engel. “Kids engage in many sensory activities both indoors and outdoors, and the program is Reggio-inspired.”
While there are indeed other co-working spaces out there, Work and Play has a real community and family feel to it. Not only is Engel a local mom and entrepreneur, but she’s a natural networker, always trying to help members connect with others who can assist them with projects and tasks if need be.
She also hosts special networking events, such as breakfasts, for Work and Play members to mingle and make professional connections. That personal touch adds levels of comfort, familiarity and warmth to Work and Play, as opposed to other formal co-working spaces that are just row of cubicles with little interaction.