GQ (South Africa)
The buzz around co-working spaces
Co-working spaces are all the rage and those who value flexibility and the company of like-minded people are benefiting from this phenomenon. We chat to the brains behind some of the most innovative spaces in SA.
GQ: Please talk us through the concept of Workshop17?
Paul Keursten: Workshop17’s purpose is to provide a space and community where people and organisations can be successful, grow and make a positive contribution to others and the world around us. We aim to be a fertile ground for ideas, innovation and entrepreneurship.
GQ: What’s the significance of the different locations in Joburg and Cape Town? PK: Every location is different. We don’t roll out a formula. The design takes its cue from the environment, the character of the building and the people we are expecting in that location.
Our V&A Waterfront location is very open, transparent, and colourful, maximising the views in line with the Watershed building, which is open and public. Our location in Kloof
Street is in a heritage building, which makes it homely and full of character, while the new floors on top are very transparent and connect you to the buzzing street environment and views of Table Mountain. Our location in The Harrington in Cape Town’s East City is in a trendy, up-and-coming area filled with modern art. Tabakhuis in Paarl is our first location in a non-urban setting and caters for professionals and businesses who choose to enjoy the great lifestyle the area has to offer. It is in an old tobacco storage, with thick walls and is oozing character. It’s also our first location to house a professional pilates and yoga studio.
We started in 2012 in Maboneng, a very open space, with a central indoor nine-hole putting course, and caters for inner-city entrepreneurs and houses various learnership programmes. Our Sandton space is the first office in the area where you can walk in off the street. We took down the fence, which is characteristic for all Sandton office buildings, and created a public café with a large terrace where public and members can meet. Its internal open staircase keeps people out of the lifts and has become the place for lots of accidental meetings and connections. Our space in The Fire Station in Rosebank is in part modern, with floor to ceiling windows allowing great views over the parks all the way to Magaliesberg, and in part heritage, with character and warmth.
GQ: What does the demand for co-working spaces speak to?
PK: From being a niche market for startups who can’t afford their own office, it has become a mainstream offering. It speaks to the need for flexibility, change and connections. It is also a reflection of how work has changed: less and less people work or want to work 9-5
every day in the same cubicle. Technology has allowed us to work everywhere and our work is a combination of meetings, connections, teamwork and individual concentrated work. Traditional offices don’t cater for this very well. People want to be in a space that is beautiful, inspiring and where they meet interesting people, in a space with a positive energy. Smaller companies who can choose themselves prefer this. So do more and more larger companies, who understand that they need to provide an aesthetic work environment to attract and keep talent. Thirdly, it takes away all the hassle of setting up and managing your own office, dealing with service providers, internet, printing and aircon issues and the like. If you can get a great office without the hassle, with flexibility, community and at similar or even lower costs than when you would do it yourself, why wouldn’t you go for it?
GQ: Who would you say is your target market?
PK: We are an inclusive and diverse community, ranging from grass roots entrepreneurs to large companies, and from learners to very seasoned professionals and (ex)ceo’s who left their corner office.
GQ: What gives Workshop17 the edge?
PK: I believe it is our unique mix of public café’s, accessible to everyone, meeting and eventing spaces, which bring in thousands of people and cater for meaningful events of which our community benefits, flexible and dedicated open work areas, and dedicated offices. We don’t have long passages with doors to offices on either side. We carefully design a mix of open and closed areas, concentration and creative areas, individual and team spaces where energy can flow. Secondly, it is our community of over 1 500 members accessible in our spaces and on our virtual platform. If you need support or ideas, chances are someone amongst these 1 500 can help you. Thirdly, and very importantly, it is the network of trusted partners we built over the years and who provide value to our members through expertise and events. Think of Heavy Chef, The Hookup Dinner, Startupgrind, Future Females, and Simodisa, amongst others.
GQ: What do people mostly seek out in co-working spaces?
PK: A combination of comfort, community, functionality, lifestyle, beauty and flexibility.
GQ: Do you think traditional office spaces will soon be a thing of the past?
PK: They will still have their place, but co-working (or flexible office spaces) will become a much larger part of the market and will grow to 20%-30%. We are seeing rapid growth in South Africa already, and when you look at how it has already developed on other continents, we are just scratching the surface. Offices will become a service instead of a building. And the service needs to be of high quality.
GQ: What do you think makes the model so successful?
PK: Work has changed and needs a different environment than the traditional office.
The economy is uncertain and companies need flexibility and don’t want to be tied into 5-10 year leases. Companies want to cut their office costs in a tough economical environment. And the traditional office market doesn’t cater very well for smaller companies and startups. Larger companies understand that their innovation and business development teams need a different environment than their head office offers and need to be exposed to ideas and developments outside. Co-working has come a long way since the early days of the grungy spaces with a bunch of tables and eclectic chairs.
The quality and diversity of the offering have grown tremendously, which means it now has offerings across the spectrum from basic to advanced, from alternative to the mainstream. And this speaks to a more varied market.
GQ: Are you looking to expand to other parts of the country?
PK: Yes. We are looking to create a national footprint and are well on our way. We want to provide access points close to where people live, close to where they need to be to meet other people and clients, and across the social and economic spectrum of South Africa. »
GQ: Please tell us more about Spaces.
Carolyn Elliman: Spaces – part of the International Workplace Group (IWG plc) – is a creative work environment with a unique entrepreneurial spirit. Our dynamic workspaces in 12 key locations in South Africa (300 globally) help our members think, create and collaborate. We believe work is about interesting people doing exciting things, and that everyone should feel welcome. We develop inspiring workspaces and community events – with a love for design, where our energetic team takes care of all the details so our members can focus on developing the next big idea.
GQ: It seems that the term co-working can mean a lot of things to different people.
CE: Though co-working and flexible working are often used interchangeably, there are differences. Co-working offers a collaborative, open-plan environment which can mean either a dedicated or an open desk and access to a telephone and communal spaces and services, whereas flexible office solutions may include an office with access to utilities, meeting rooms, administrative support and mail handling services.
GQ: Where does this concept stem from?
CE: The work landscape has undoubtedly changed. We talk about “Generation Flex” – an ever-expanding pool of independent, skilled workers across generations for whom employment no longer means a destination to reach or a rigid daily routine. Tech-savvy, smart and dynamic, this is a modern workforce that expects – indeed demands – a more flexible approach to working. With the benefits of flexible working for businesses including increased productivity, lower overheads and accelerated speed to market, it’s no coincidence that, over the past decade, 85% of employers have implemented a flexible workspace policy or are planning to do so according to an IWG Global Workspace survey.
GQ: The co-working space in SA has grown rapidly. What do you believe are the factors behind this? CE: South Africa’s current local and global economic and political climates and the uncertainty around it, has seen the flexible workspace market prove that the co-working model offers the most attractive and appropriate solution to an uncertain economy. The lack of surplus funds and an expanding entrepreneurial community has seen higher demand for flexible workspaces for three reasons:
> Digitalisation and new technologies are changing how people work
> People want the benefits of flexible working > Businesses want the financial and strategic benefits of flexible working
GQ: Do you agree that co-working spaces foster “a culture of community” and a more “innovative and creative thinking working space”?
CE: It certainly is so with Spaces. The energy of the community is contagious – and even if you don’t find a new business associate, you may find a friend. Add an international network of mobile workspaces and a full calendar of business events, speakers and networking lunches – we work hard to keep our clients engaged and to spark creativity.
GQ: Is the traditional office dying out or is it just evolving into a new normal?
CE: I think it is evolving from a 9-5 mindset to one of better balance. Smart offices are fast becoming the norm. Smart furniture and technology are coming together to help better support mobility in the workplace. Employers are now incorporating some of the elements of co-working like desk-sharing and better communal zones in their traditional offices. With the popularity of co-working spaces, it is no surprise that many companies are also exploring the option of moving their business into the hub of a dynamic co-working environment.
GQ: What do people want in terms of a co-working space?
CE: It depends on the individual and their reasons for using our space. Some are trying to negate the loneliness
that comes with working at home and want the buzz that comes with our coffee shops and communal workspaces. Others require privacy and peace and quiet at times for phone calls (hence the handy phone booths) or for more mentally intensive work. We have something for everyone.
GQ: How does the design process of a co-working space differ from that of the traditional company office?
CE: Contrary to popular belief, it’s not just about ping-pong tables, meditation rooms or beer on tap in the communal lounge. The secrets of a truly great office lie deeper – in its fundamental design. A welldesigned office can boost employee happiness by 33%, while more than half of workers believe their productivity would increase if they could attain their ideal office environment. It’s important to create the same Spaces look and feel at every location, but it’s a challenge. When you walk through those doors, anywhere in the world, you immediately get that homey feeling created by the inviting seating, the European design and the entrepreneurial spirit that makes this dynamic workspace work.
GQ: What is Ideas Cartel and what inspired it? Schuyler Vorster: Ideas Cartel is a co-working and shared office space solution in Cape Town. Memberships are available to individuals, teams and businesses that require a workspace conducive to productivity, creativity and opportunity. I was working remotely in Cape Town for a Johannesburg tech company and the shared office I was renting depressed me. Whilst on a holiday to New York, I visited a shared workspace in the Ace Hotel and realised that there was a much better way of working and that I could create it back home.
GQ: Can you give us a bit of insight into what co-working is and who it’s for?
SV: It’s for anyone, big or small that would like a value added relationship with their office and its general community. It’s not for everyone, but those brave enough to try it, generally stick around for a very long time.
GQ: Why do you think the co-working space in SA has seen tremendous growth over the years?
SV: Traditional landlords are not very flexible and are not used to treating tenants like customers. It was a very arm’s length relationship. Co-working opened up a world of value added services within a community of opportunity at a price that suits both parties.
GQ: How do co-working spaces differ from the traditional office space? SV: Term of lease, smaller office space, but with amazing shared facilities and a general dialogue amongst tenants encouraged by the weekly events organised by a community manager.
GQ: And in what ways are they more beneficial?
SV: A member just needs to concern themselves about their actual job, the rest is taken care of by the co-working space. Most people want to be a part of something, being a part »
‘Co-working opened up a world of value-added services within a community of opportunity at a price that suits both parties’
of a co-working space opens up unlikely friendships and opportunities.
GQ: With regards to Ideas Cartel, what are most of the co-working spaces made up of?
SV: Private office spaces of
4-20 people with a hotel and members club arm. The office space ranges from co-working, shared offices, private offices, boardroom and meeting room facilities to communal breakaway areas and relaxation lounges. The members club is for those who already have an office, but want an inspiring space they can meet others in or just grab a meal.
GQ: Do you think the traditional office is dead? SV: Never. Brands and businesses that want to acquire their own property and decorate or run it their way will always exist.
GQ: What do people want in terms of a co-working space?
SV: Essentially they want convenience in a well-designed and decorated environment.
Very similar to how a hotel guest chooses their hotel. Everyone is different, but we do make sure that a gym, restaurant and bar is attached to the membership. Our concierge service does assist our members daily.
GQ: How has Ideas Cartel evolved since its creation? SV: We started as a co-working space, but now our hotels and members club have equal focus. A work-play-stay environment all at the convenience of an app. The members club looks to empower entrepreneurs in South Africa so that they can empower others. Cartel Members Club is a members club for founders, funders and freethinkers. Founders of companies need safe spaces to meet, work a while or just eat a good meal.
The difference between a members club and your office or co-working space, is that you do not sit amongst fellow co-workers all day, so the chances of them distracting you is removed. Instead, members club spaces allow you to get away from all the noise and focus on what you want to do.