By Claire West
Babies could become a regular sight in Britain's boardrooms thanks to a new scheme which encourages mums and dads to take their toddlers to work.
The childcare alternative, being trialled by officebroker.com, has no crèche and instead the children have office corners, meeting rooms and mum and dads workspace to play in.
The trial took place on the firms' busy sales floor, with the babies sharing office space with over 30 telephone-based consultants.
As well as coping with the demands of their children, the parents also have to manage their day to day office duties.
Four of the officebroker.com team have taken part in the experiment, with their children ranging from just four months old to 16 months.
The trial has been met with mixed results. Although at times distracting for the parents and their colleagues, it also fostered an increase in team spirit and the children bought departments from across the business together.
MD Jim Venables believes companies have to support employees as best they can when it comes to childcare arrangements, or they risk losing a lot of good people.
He said: "We find it difficult to replace parents on maternity leave and those who choose not to come back to work. More often than not their decision on returning to work is based on the childcare options open to them and whether or not they are affordable.
"It's a very real problem for us, and I'm sure for thousands of other companies across the UK, so looking into alternatives or ways to support parents is always high on our agenda. We heard about this particular programme so decided to try it out to see how successful it is."
Training and development manager Fiona Spruce took in her four month old Grace. She was joined by receptionist Kerry Norman with Hayden, also four months, account manager Dean Ridsill with one year old Harry and sales support Cassie Radley with 16 month old Herbie.
For Fiona and Kerry, the mums with the four month olds, their biggest problem was keeping the babies fed and comfortable, finding them quiet places to sleep and keeping them in some kind of normal routine. The general noise and comings and goings of the office was enough to keep the babies happy for most of the time, with the odd quiet moment with mum needed now
For Dean and Cassie, the day was much more of a challenge. Being mobile meant Harry and Herbie were keen to explore their new surroundings and were on the move most of the time.
The biggest issue was distraction which affected most of the open plan office. For the parents, their day was dictated by the needs of their children with the most work being done when they were asleep or being supervised by a colleague.
Head of UK sales, Chris Meredith, said: "The day wasn't a complete write off. For Dean and Cassie it was much harder because of the age of their children. They spent a lot of time following them around the office and retrieving them. Their roles within the business are phone based, and the result was they couldn't commit the time talking to their clients.
"With Kerry and Fiona the situation was more manageable. I think over time the babies would settle into a routine within the office, but both mums left the office exhausted by the end of the day because they spent a lot of time standing up and moving around with them.
"I'm sure for some companies this could work well. For us we'd need to consider it on a case by case basis depending on the age of the child and the role of the parent."
Jim Venables concluded: "The key benefit for me was the increase in team spirit. The parents and their colleagues worked really well together to supervise the babies. Another bonus was Kerry and Fiona coming into the office for a day, even though they're still on maternity leave.
"The distraction, loss of productivity and exhaustion which comes with looking after children far outweighed any positive points. I want to find a suitable childcare solution for our employees, and am always keen to give
new ideas a go. However, this isn't the right one for us."
officebroker.com provides a free and independent service to businesses, helping them to locate and secure office space in the UK and internationally. To learn more visit www.officebroker.com.