Maria Vogelei recalls a time before COVID-19 when her life was neatly categorized into delineated blocks where she could focus on either her children or her work. “In the early months of the pandemic, those lines were blurred beyond recognition and the constant struggle to balance work with kids felt insurmountable,” she says. And she acknowledges she wasn’t alone.
The co-founder of Nook, a modern play space with locations in Ballston Quarter and Bethesda Row, noticed headlines about how changes like virtual learning were forcing mothers out of the workforce. She was also trying to figure out how to use the space, since its original intention of serving as a convivial, supportive community for families no longer worked in the era of restricted gatherings. “I started to think of Nook less as space to convene, and more as space to provide support–specifically I wanted to support working moms.”
The result was a pivot at the Ballston Quarter location dubbed Huddle at Nook, where parents can work in a welcoming, productivity-boosting space while their children are cared for by staff in the adjoining play areas. Since Nook places emphasis on design and aesthetics replacing the typical inflatables, rainbow colors and plastic toys with architecturally-designed play structures and high-quality wooden toys in a minimalist, neutral decor, it was an easy transition to add in adult-friendly work areas.
There are two options available. A Private Huddle ($150-$200/session) includes private use of the space for two hours for up to five kids and five adults. An Open Huddle ($240 for 4 sessions, i.e. $30/hour) lets you join a maximum of five kids and five adults for four two-hour sessions; Nook will do its best to match you up with a group according to your children’s age and your needs. COVID-19 safety guidelines include masks for anyone age 5 and over, hand-washing on arrival, thorough cleaning and sanitizing and Covid-screened staff.
Vogelei is currently working with local employers to offer Huddle at Nook as an employee benefit, and to stir them to start a conversation about how they can better support working parents. They recently surveyed the community and found that among those juggling a career and family, the most pressing needs are flexibility and childcare.
As far as how to work in the current climate with small children underfoot, Vogelei suggests being vocal about what you need to do your job, and be present with your children. “We need to normalize, not hide, what it takes to be a working parent with small children,” she believes. “We’ll be more productive in both areas– work and family–if we feel supported in both.”
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