Claire Harris is working mum of one and an ADF partner who saw a need and created a CoWork CoPlay space in Canberra with support from Duntroon Community Centre. Claire has volunteered her time to this project for the benefit of the Defence and wider community.
What is Cowork CoPlay?
Cowork Coplay provides a space for women to work together and their young children to play. Cowork Coplay sessions are designed to support enterprising mothers in business or working on their own professional development, for example, to get a job or map out a career plan.
This is about helping mothers, and in particular ADF partners, continue to thrive professionally during the early years of parenting.
A definition of coworking is: The practice of working alongside other people, sharing a workplace (even on a temporary basis!) but not necessarily an organisational affiliation.
Coworking spaces are typically shared by people from different organisations, often freelancers, who work alongside each other, share infrastructure and often engage in joint activities associated with learning, innovation and collaboration.
Cowork Coplay will be held at Duntroon Community Centre from Monday 14 October for four Mondays, 09:30-12:30. As it is a first for Canberra, it provides a chance to see if there are many mums interested and gather feedback and it will also help Duntroon and me gauge the desire for a more permanent offering in 2020.
Who is it aimed at?
Mothers with young children (0-3) who want to start or work on a business or professional development. What we mean by professional development is something that’s important to them and the impact they want to have on the world. For example, it could be their resume, career plan or job applications or it might be planning a community event or grant application…
What are the benefits?
Ask mums what they want? Probably a break! This provides an opportunity, for a few hours, to focus on themselves and their projects. Many mothers are trying to get into business or to gain flexible, part-time employment but they have extremely limited time and headspace in the early months and years of motherhood. And, due to some uphill battles (like gender inequality and lack of flexibility in workplaces and limited short-term, affordable and supportive childcare options) engaging in business and professional networks and activities is difficult.
When I first arrived in Canberra, I wanted to find somewhere that could look after my daughter for a few hours and provide social interaction and education for her while I smashed out some work. But I couldn’t find any options. So, as I’ve been around innovation and coworking spaces a lot (in Sydney, Melbourne), I started thinking about combining coworking with childcare and making it available to others as well.
One entrepreneur I spoke to about my idea said it would be a whole lot easier to just get a babysitter while I work at home. Perhaps, but that misses the point.
Bringing people together with coworking and childcare provides many benefits including community, networking, support, better mental health through lowering isolation, shared learning and the financial benefits of group-buying for facilities and services.
For mothers in particular, community support is important; more than 1 in 7 new mums will experience postnatal anxiety or depression .
There’s an amplification effect from having purpose-driven individuals building their businesses and themselves together. Children also benefit from being with other children and in stimulating, child-friendly environments.
Where did you get the idea?
Since I started my own remote business (meaning I can work from anywhere) in 2015, I’ve looked for ways to engage with others in the business and in Defence communities. In the posting locations we’ve been in there hasn’t been a Defence-business network. Wonderful support programs and activities for partners and children for things like playgroups and craft, yes, but nothing for business or professional development.
That’s what I really wanted.
In our last location on the Mornington Peninsula, Victoria, I established Popup Café Coworking Meetups to meet other business people and entrepreneurs. It was great fun and we all got more work done than we would have at home (with another load of washing or the dishwasher always beckoning…).
After I had a baby, that model didn’t work anymore. The more I thought about it, the more I realised there are a lot of signposts pointing to this as being a huge opportunity. Some of these include: combatting isolation, helping bridge career disruptions, supporting the many women wanting to get into business, mental health, capitalising on the opportunity from remote working and flexible working, supporting shared parenting and providing cost-effective and high quality childcare options.
I’ve been an advocate of coworking spaces and community for a long time. And I’m not alone.
In 2017, there were over 300 coworking spaces in Australia. By the end of 2019, almost 2.2 million people are expected to work in over 22,000 coworking spaces worldwide, and the number of spaces is roughly doubling each year.
International surveys have reported that compared to a traditional office 90% of coworkers feel more self-confident and 70% feel healthier.
Coworking spaces are flexible and the environment generally more supportive of diversity and people are generally travelling less than they otherwise would be. For people moving from the home office to a coworking space the key benefits are increased productivity, increased income and decreased isolation.
Unfortunately, only 2% of coworking spaces studied for the Deskmag Global Survey 2018 (almost 2000 operators and participants) had childcare but 26% were child-friendly and 39% were dog-friendly. We need to up the childcare component.
Who is supporting you with this?
Duntroon Community Centre is supporting the program by hosting and promoting it. Katherine Gordon, the Coordinator, really believes in the potential of the program to support mothers and to help them build community, especially when they’ve just moved to Canberra.
I’m grateful for support from Defence Families Australia and Soldier On as well as other business communities like the Economic Security 4 Women Alliance and media outlets like Her Canberra who’ve covered the initiative. My husband is of course a really great supporter and I’ve also got friends and colleagues in Defence and non-Defence places sharing the program widely.
Do you see this eventually coming to other Defence locations?
Yes. My big vision is that all Defence community hubs and the majority of coworking spaces around Australia have childcare and work facilities.
These shared spaces have so much potential to be supporting flexible working arrangements to help mothers and fathers balance building their businesses or professional work with family care. For Defence members and their families, community hubs can provide enormous value through reducing stress associated with childcare, unemployment and financial pressures. I’m also in talks with a group in the UK rolling out military coworking spaces to see if the model might work here.
Watch this space (or let me know if you want to help!
What is your connection to Defence?
My husband is a Navy Officer. My brother has served in the Army and is still a reservist and my ancestors served in the British military and land army.
How can people become involved?
Here’s a few links:
I tweet about a range of things including this program and coworking: twitter.com/claireharrisoz
If they can’t make these particular dates but are keen for something similar in future, please let us know. They can email Katherine firstname.lastname@example.org