Not long ago, companies were rolling out all kinds of work-life benefits, such as child care centers and elder care assistance. Then came the recession, and those benefits dropped to the bottom of most companies' priority lists. Fortunately, the private sector has stepped in. Seeing opportunity, businesses are discovering a huge market in work/life conveniences. From Web entrepreneurs to large drugstore chains, businesses offering convenient solutions to workers are finding consumers want help with work-life balance and will pay for it.
One young entrepreneur has launched an entire website to list businesses open 24 hours. "People taking on more project work and working weird hours," says Jeanette Perez, co-founder of 2itch.com, a directory of 24/7 businesses. "They want to know what's open when they get off."
Here's a look at some of the more innovative and useful work-life services.
24/7 day care. In a trend that has spread to most large cities, 24-hour day care centers are popping up to cater to employees or business owners with odd work hours. These privately owned centers are particularly prevalent near hospitals or medical facilities where many workers have evening schedules.
Backup care. All parents of small children should have a backup plan for child care options, but chances are you don't think about that plan until a crisis hits. Bright Horizons, a national child care provider, typically contracts with companies and arranges backup child care for their employees. Bright Horizons also has some centers that are open to members of the community and can accommodate requests for backup care.
Sitter search sites. In the past five years, at least a half-dozen sitter websites have sprung up online to serve parents across the country. Sites such as SitterCity.com, SitterCafe.com and Babysitters.com offer parents an easier way to find child care, elder care and even pet care.
Walk-in clinics. You're at work and your throat is sore but the thought of waiting hours in a physician's office is a huge turnoff. Drug store chains such as CVS and Walgreens have rolled out walk-in medical clinics staffed by nurse practitioners and physician assistants. These clinics make it easier for working people to get a flu shot or strep throat swab and get their necessary prescriptions filled in one stop.
24-hour vets. When Fido is sick, a trip to the vet can take hours out of the workday. VCA Animal Hospital, a national operator of veterinary clinics, has locations open late in many large cities. The website VetsNearYou.com lists vets with late-night hours by ZIP code.
Pediatric pharmacy windows. Navarro Discount Pharmacies, the largest Hispanic-owned drugstore chain, has opened a pediatric prescription window. The chain created the pediatric window to assist parents — specifically working mothers — who need medications for their children immediately.
Meal assembly. One of the biggest challenges for a working parent is getting dinner on the table. Make-and-take meal assembly stores are all the rage. These are basically commercial kitchens with menus that change monthly. You assemble the dishes at the franchise and take them home. During the next week or two, you can heat them up for your dinner as a fast, healthy and tasty alternative to having to cook from scratch every night of the week.
Meal delivery. The Internet has made it easy for workers to order dinner online and have it delivered to their doors. National companies like DineWise deliver prepared meals to your home and give you a choice of healthy meals, gourmet meals or vegetarian meals.
Virtual assistants. Business owners often wish they had a secretary or personal assistant to keep work from taking over their home lives. The obstacle usually is cost. Now, virtual assistants can give administrative support remotely without the cost of a full-time employee. Most virtual assistants work from home offices and receive instructions by phone, fax, e-mail or even instant message. Although many virtual assistants offer secretarial services, some also specialize in marketing, graphic and Web design, IT support or even translations. Go to the International Virtual Assistants Association at ivaa.org to find a directory.
Suzanne Riss, editor in chief of Working Mother Magazine, sees lots of entrepreneurial working mothers starting errand-running and concierge services companies. "Every working mothers jokes about needing an errand runner or personal assistant. Now they can hire one." The Task Lady or FindBalance Concierge Service will do small things (buying pet food, plant watering, post office runs) or big ones (personal shopping, travel coordination, party planning). A few hundred personal concierges are available in cities nationwide.