Like millions of British parents, each August our childcare falls apart. Not only is it the school holidays, but our regular childcarers also take well-deserved breaks. My husband and I have to scramble to cover the gaps.
Unlike millions of British parents, I happen to run a business that trains nannies. This means I am the last person who should ever have childcare issues.
So I decided to do a crazy thing as an experiment.
What if I took both my kids — 4 year old daughter and 9 month old son — in to the Koru Kids office for the day, and hired one of our nannies to look after them there? We’ve got plenty of space and they could take over a meeting room. I could bring in board games, and order some arts and crafts activities ahead of time. I knew a Koru Kids nanny would be fantastic, and anyway I’d be in the next room in case either kid needed a cuddle. Great plan, right?
I was so optimistic that I booked two days of Koru Kids nanny time.
Here’s what I learned.
1. Taking your children on the Tube at rush hour is complete madness. Our offices are near Old St in Central London, which is 40 minutes from home on the Northern Line. It’s always standing room only, and some days it’s so crowded you end up standing with your nose in a stranger’s armpit. Small children are easily trampled, and have terrible balance. None of this is a good combination. Worse still, we needed a buggy for the baby to sleep in later. I always thought our buggy was relatively small, but it suddenly seemed unfathomably enormous when I needed to get it into a packed Tube. ‘That’s like taking a suitcase on the Tube at rush hour!’ a friend said to me later that day. ‘I’d never do that!’ Yes, and now imagine your suitcase is crying.
2. Londoners are incredibly kind. As we stood on the platform I braced for comments and swearing from the people of the Northern Line, but I got nothing of the sort. In fact, quite the opposite. The platform staff spotted us and came to help even before the train arrived. People cooed at my baby and strangers jumped to help us up and down every single set of stairs. One guy didn’t even speak to me, just wordlessly grabbed one end of the buggy, lifted it up the stairs and disappeared into the crowd like a Tube fairy.
3. There are more steps than you think. I estimated before we left that there were about 50 steps between my house and work. Actually there were over 100. I’d remembered the big ups and downs but never noticed all the other little sets of 3–5 steps. You cannot not notice steps when you are pushing a buggy, a buggy board, and two children.
4. I never, ever, ever want to take children on the Tube in rush hour again.
5. Kids in the office can be delightful. Just as I’d hoped, my daughter and the lovely nanny did arts and crafts in a meeting room. My daughter scootered out to show me things, then scootered back in to make more. My baby crawled around and smiled at people. Team members came and played with the kids as a break from their work. The kids and nanny went to a local playground for a couple of hours, then came back for board games. My daughter scootered out of the room over to my desk and whispered ‘I love you,’ then scootered back in.
6. Some office activities are compatible with a baby. I had a couple of meetings where my baby crawled around under the table happily while we talked. I also did a job interview while holding the baby, and that worked fine too. (It was unexpected for the candidate but if you’re someone who is put off by a baby, you’re probably not a good fit for the Koru Kids team.)
7. But kids in the office are also super disruptive. The day after the experiment, I did an anonymous poll of my team. The results were basically unanimous. Everyone said something like, ‘I love the idea of parents being able to bring their kids to work, but I couldn’t actually concentrate while they were here.’ One person put a number on it ‘Super funny, but lowered productivity by 60%’. Our open plan office is quite noisy, with lots of people speaking on the phone, so this wasn’t necessarily a comment on the kids’ volume — they were not generally louder than the adults — but they were somehow just more attention-grabbing. They moved around the office more erratically. You noticed them more. You worried about them more.
8. And I went home feeling like I hadn’t really got anything done that day. It was impossible to do anything that required concentration. I couldn’t read a document or write anything longer than a paragraph. I always had an eye on my baby, making sure he wasn’t about to hurt himself or annoy other people with noise, even when it was cute noise like cooing or laughing. I felt extremely responsible for everyone’s happiness. By about 3pm, my baby having finally gone to sleep after I’d rocked him in the lift entrance, I was emotionally exhausted. I hadn’t done any real work, and I hadn’t played much with my kids either.
As a one-off experiment, it was worth it. My daughter loved visiting the office and begged to come back the next day. Most of my team are not parents, and it’s important for them to have insight into what parenting is like. When they’re talking to parents on the phone, it’s good for them to understand why parents might seem a bit distracted, why they might miss an email or send only half a message.
But children and work are tough to combine. Maybe, if I drove or cycled to work, and if the kids were in a completely separate nursery space, segregated from everything, including me… it might work out. But not otherwise.
I’m the founder and CEO of a childcare business. If anyone should feel able to do this, it’s me. But the outcome was clear.
I cancelled the nanny for Day 2 and took the day off work instead.
Rachel Carrell is CEO and Founder of Koru Kids