Mum's at the office - and so are the kids

Trehaus is an office space that allows parents to juggle professional and personal life without having to choose between the two.

IT'S time to call it a day. Laptops are powered down and parents get ready to spend time with their children - just steps away from them.

No, this is not Days of Our Lives - work-from-home version. These parents, who are also professionals, are plying their trade out of Trehaus, a co-working space which started in 2016.

Elaine Kim, co-founder of the company, says: "Trehaus has a fully-equipped office space. It has three zones - the kids atelier with full child-minding services, the Commons, where parents can work with their child next to them, and the Sanctuary, which is an adults-only section where meetings can be conducted and members can work in a quiet surrounding."

Trehaus also has enrichment programmes - ranging from coding to robotics - which incorporates the Reggio-Emilia inspired pedagogy.

Dr Kim and her three other co-founders recognised parents' wish to spend more time with their children while working - and decided to set up Trehaus. From conceptualisation to fruition, the journey took less than a year.

"We (the co-founders) came together because we felt there isn't really an option for a workplace that allows you to spend time with your family as you work. We want to change the workplace environment where you have work-life integration.

"Hence, we are the first such co-working space in Asia . . . The setting up of Trehaus also stems from a desire to create social change, as we are living in the age of technology where we can work remotely."

The 34-year-old adds that the workplace of the future should be performance and outcome-based, and not dependent on the number of hours one spends at the desk.

"This concept will also sit well with millenials as they have a desire for work-life integration and pursue purpose and fulfillment through their work."

The co-founders met through Crib (Creating Responsible and Innovative Businesses), a non-profit social enterprise which supports and empowers female entrepreneurs through its network.

Crib - of which Dr Kim is also the co-founder - helps women raise seed funding for their businesses, as "women-started businesses mostly garner only 60 per cent of what businesses started by men raise".

Through Crib's fund-matching programme, Crib Match, Trehaus found its first few angel investors.

"That was where we found our institutional investor, Omnibridge, a forward-thinking investment firm who were our first angels. They provided the seed funding to launch the proof concept and they are still helping us in our expansion plan."

She adds that Trehaus has two models of expansion: co-working space, and Trehaus Kids, the kids atelier concept.

The mother of three has big plans for the business, and intends to take it to countries such as Malaysia and Indonesia.

"We are not only going to open new locations in Singapore and regionally, we are also going to open more Trehaus Kids in conjunction with existing office space."

About half a million dollars was pumped into the business initially.

She says: "At the end of the day, Trehaus is a for-profit business with an exciting business model that has the potential to be game-changing."

In fact, Trehaus has multiple revenue streams - from the co-working space and the childcare space.

"So even if the co-working space is saturated, we have this other revenue stream from childcare which is in demand at the moment."

Companies and corporations

Dr Kim adds that as the business is taking flight, another round of fund-raising is in the pipeline. And there is more, as there are still entrenched stereotypes and societal norms to overcome.

"I think we still have a long way to go with regard to educating the corporate sector, and getting firms to recognise that this is an exciting, viable option."

Hence, staff at Trehaus organise open-house events for companies to raise awareness and clinched clients such as Facebook to sign up for their corporate package, which allows organisations to send their staff to work out of Trehaus.

Dr Kim says that it is a win-win situation for corporations as staff such as freelancers are able to make use of the co-working space, which saves money, and it helps companies retain their employees.

"Trehaus provides a solution for corporations which are losing talent due to the lack of work-life integration. A lot of mums do not want to come back after four months of maternity leave as they do not want to go back to a full-time role at the expense of time spent with their kids. Hence, Trehaus plays that intermediate role between working from home - as that has some limitations - and in an office."

Dr Kim comes from a family of doctors and has a medical degree herself. However, she was never quite able to shake off her passion for business.

"Being a doctor, it is a profession that you are able to make an impact and help others. But I also had a lot of business ideas. I figured I could go to medical school first and do business later."

Going into business at 17

And that she did. After her first dip into the business world at just 17 - which she jests was just "something she did during her school days", she went on to become co-owner of Trinity Gallery Singapore and Trinity Bridal Hong Kong - which brings in gowns by high-end designer labels.

When asked if she ever gets into a tizzy over the multiple hats that she wears, she laughs and says it is all about priority and careful planning.

"I go through seasons where I focus on different things. I concentrated on Crib during the launch period. I was a silent investor in Trehaus until recently. So surrounding yourself with good business partners who can support you is crucial."

An avid writer as well, she writes for magazines such as Tatler Traveller when she travels with her husband - a venture capitalist - and her three children.

"My husband commutes a lot between Singapore and San Francisco's Silicon Valley, so the time we spend together as a family is precious. I bounce my ideas off him as he has a wealth of knowledge. I learn from him, but I feel that this space (Trehaus) is best started by a woman."

She adds that everything she does is embedded in a desire to make a positive impact on society.

"I feel that women can contribute to the economy. I am all for people who want to be a stay-home, full-time working mum or an entrepreneur. These are all great options. But the point with Crib and Trehaus is that we want to create these options for women to choose."