Baby on Boardroom
Before you assume that a baby in the office is a distraction, intrusion, or nuisance, spend some time with the team at Masters Group Design, and with the one-year-old resident of their spare front room, Paul.
Paul has been coming to the office with his mother, creative partner Vicki Gray-Wolfe, since he was three months old. Masters Group Design is unusual in its approach to supporting employees who are also new moms—but they aren’t alone.
The bring-your-baby-to-work movement surged with the 2008 recession, which inspired some businesses to offer the option in order to retain employees and cut down on the costs of maternity leave. The Parenting in the Workplace Institute currently lists 175 businesses across the country with baby-in-the-workplace policies. However, despite these programs’ overwhelming success, conversations about the benefits or practicality of the idea are scarce.
The team at MGD hopes to reignite the discussion and offer their own insight into how inviting Paul to spend his babyhood in the office has taught them invaluable lessons in work efficiency, teamwork, parenthood, and community.
“Having Paul in the office never feels like an intrusion and is surprisingly conducive to getting work done,” says fellow creative partner Benjamin Brown.
“I can’t think of any real negatives,” says owner and creative director Lisa Weinberger. If she does need Vicki’s attention at the same time Paul does, “I quickly gather my thoughts and get to the point, which is good for me,” she laughs. “But if the baby has a demand that takes Vicki away from a job for a moment, we work it out. It’s no different than an employee being overloaded or distracted. When that happens, someone else takes over and we just keep moving. We’re a team. This is how you support your co-workers—baby or no baby.”
For Vicki, having her son in the office has sharpened both her work skills and her mothering skills. “I use all my time very efficiently. I am motivated to work harder because it’s a rare thing to have your child at work, and I don’t want to take advantage of that,” she says.
Lisa found herself in a similar position 14 years ago, when pregnant with her first baby. “I was freaked out because I didn’t know what it would mean for my career, which I loved,” she remembers.
When she decided to bring her son to work, Lisa spent a good deal of mental energy preparing herself for the problems that never arose.
“The big unknown benefit was how happy he made everyone around us,” Lisa says. “I was always having meetings in the studio with the baby on my lap, and I was pleasantly surprised at how open everyone was to the idea. Clients told me it was wonderful. It completely lessened the stress level in the office.”
Lisa was moved by the support of her work community, by the professionals who would take her son on a walk if he was fussy and she was on a deadline, and by the creative freedom her in-office parenting allowed.
“Being at work with the baby meant that I could be more productive. I wasn’t worried about leaving to get to day care, and I wasn’t splitting my time between work and the baby. Plus, my clients knew they had a happier designer working for them.” So when Lisa heard that Vicki was expecting her first child, “I told her that if she chose to come back to work after her maternity leave, the baby was welcome to join her. I don’t think she really believed me!”
Even in these days of flexible schedules and portable offices, this work-and-parent situation is rare. MGD shares its philosophy with companies like Zutano, a child clothing company in Vermont with 35 employees and 19 in-office babies, and the North Dakota Department of Health, with more than 300 employees and 45 babies in the office.
As long as the company can offer a private space for the parent and the baby to work together, it’s an easy setup. “Preparing for Paul’s arrival meant tidying up a room we hardly ever used. He was a good excuse for a major spring cleaning,” Lisa recalls. Vicki brought in her portable crib, a bunch of toys, and lullaby music, and the team easily converted the front room to a nursery.
Vicki hasn’t had to miss a single milestone moment of Paul’s babyhood. She saw him roll over, start crawling, and take his first steps—all while at work.
“I didn’t have to sacrifice any time with him, worry about losing my job or finding a new one. And I didn’t have to choose between my job or my baby and being a good mom.”
Benjamin says, “Paul runs up to me and gives me hugs. It’s always a fun break. It’s rewarding to be an influential person in Paul’s life.” Vicki observes that “Paul brightens the mood in the office and helps to put things in perspective.”
“It’s exciting for our clients, vendors, and collaborators to visit a creative workspace and get to interact with a smiling child,” says Lisa. “Once, one of our clients dropped by unannounced. First he was greeted by our studio dog Parker and then he saw the baby. He just lit up. Now he closes his emails with, ‘Pet the dog and kiss the baby.’”
Jennifer is a Philadelphia-based freelance copywriter, weekly blogger for Jewish Exponent, former journalist and an official collaborator at Masters Group Design. You name it, she can write it! As the author of the blog Mother Words, she has a particular interest in MGD’s bring-your-baby-to-work philosophy.