Rent-a-friend: The Proliferation of Online Helper Communities

08/30/2017 02:59 pm ET

If you are a parent of young children, it isn’t necessary to describe the challenges associated with driving the kids to school and the many after school activities such as sports, music lessons, tutoring, clubs or doctor and dentist appointments.

Parents like to offer their children a variety of activates to help them ultimately make choices later in life based on their childhood experiences.

Whether mom or dad both work outside the home or incorporate work-from-home, the logistics of getting the kids to and from can be a challenge, especially when there is more than one child in the household and the activities can be around the same time and in opposite directions.

According to the US Dept. of Labor, 68 percent of women between the ages of 20 to 24 are in the labor force and 73 percent of women between the ages of 24 to 34 are working outside the home. To balance the statistics, 73 percent of men between the ages of 20 to 24 and 88 percent of men ages 24 to 34 work outside the home.

Consequently, there are a proliferation of websites that offer to help with the many chores that are involved in the day-to-day of the busy family. Relief from these pressures that include shuttling kids to and from school, activities, errands to picking up dry cleaning, marketing, baby sitting and household chores is but a click away.

Online support to the rescue

There are many websites that have been launched that offer help with babysitting, housecleaning, wrapping presents and even dishwashing. The sites are structured as to create a cluster of local communities to create their own online neighborhoods. While many are in the US alone, some have a global reach with “communities” in Europe such as Enfavr.com, which has clusters of neighborhoods in France and Germany.

CEO Aparna Pujar, founded Enfavr based on her own time-challenged life. “A lot of what we do came out of my own experience. Depending on what you need often is where you are in your own life.”

One of the issues for Pujar came about when she was just too busy to pick up her dry-cleaning. She contracted with an errand company to pick it up for her, but the fee cost as much as the dry-cleaning bill. She figured there had to be a better way.

While many charge a fee for service, Enfavr strives to use “time” as the currency which users accrue in “Favrcoins.” Each task gets identified with a trade such as picking up kids from school, buying groceries, getting dry cleaning or babysitting.

Other similar organizations attach a fee based on the logistics and community such as TaskRabbit, where each errand or “tasker” charges by the hour.

Other online services, such as BabysitterExchange, use accumulated or purchased tokens as a way for members to pay for services. The company began as strictly babysitting services, but expanded to offer support such to help around the house, tutoring, house sitting, swapping meals with neighbors, carpooling, odd jobs, and caring for pets, to name a few.

Yet another online service, Care.com, that was founded by Sheila Lirio Marcelo, is a global site offering vetted caregivers and household help. Unlike Enfavr and BabysitterExcchange, Care is strictly “fee-for-service” company.

Other services, such as TaskComplete, offers stand-alone services that they call al a carte services for specific chores or an option for a monthly fee for what they call “Concierge Services” for $200 a month. Using the service can range from grocery shopping, prescription pick up, personal shopping, holiday shopping, meal delivery, bill paying and pet services and other options.

Who is signing up?

Members of these services vary in age and profile. What makes them work is a pool of people in the same neighborhood. The ideal community expands as more people sign up. The issue of hiring strangers to watch children gets resolved as you get to know them as they sign up to online program, much as friend tell each other about a store or restaurant. “The pool begins to overlap as families share the same services,” according to Pujar.

The multi-generational family where grandparents watch the kids while the parents are out in the work world is diminishing, even for traditional cultures.

Not all services are centered around children. Pujar shared the story of a user who needed guidance when researching the issue of finding a senior living facility for his father. Another member of Enfavr had navigated those complicated waters and had some helpful tips for the member.

In other circumstances, a member wanted some opinions of a resume, people she didn’t know, and was offered helpful observations.

Date Night

Almost all the online services reference what they call the all-important “Date Night” for harried married couples. It’s easy to find hundreds of articles online that talk about the importance of date night and what is involved in making it happen when the house is full of little priorities, such as young children.

Marriage and family counselors have stressed said that relationships don’t just roll along on their own. They require work. A multitude of studies show that couples who pay attention to their relationship have more satisfaction with each other.

Finding help, especially in the case of childcare as a major stumbling block for many couples, online services off options to resolve the problem. How couples achieve this often has to do with taking time just for each other, and that “something” is often referred to as scheduling a date night at least monthly at a minimum.

Date Night doesn’t necessarily have to be a major event with wine and candles. It can be just an evening out at the local pizza place, movie or long walk. What is does involve is time for the couple away from household chores and child care.

Small Internet World

Finding assistance for chores, personal time, organizing life or simply running an errand through online websites is a tribute, once again, to the marvels of the Internet. The ability to bring strangers into community circles and solve such everyday problems is a tribute to the human ability to create a group of friends who will trust each other with their children is truly remarkable.

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