With flexible spaces and costs that vary from a few hundred rand for once-off use to several thousand a month, the benefits include high-speed WiFi, access to meeting rooms and presentation facilities. Besides these obvious advantages, there are other spin-offs, like meeting new people, gaining business through innovative collaborations, flexibility and a sense of community. The shared-space industry has been growing fast since 2014, according to the US-based company, JLL Research. Cape Town is catching onto this global trend, and is the leader on the African continent, with more than 20 co-working spaces available to freelancers, small businesses and temps, according to Paul Keursten from local firm, OPEN Collaborative Spaces.
OPEN manages one of the latest co-working spaces, Workshop 17 in the Watershed at the V&A Waterfront, as well as one in Maboneng in downtown Johannesburg. Keursten describes OPEN as a “platform that people can use to collaborate” and says that the co-work space is only a small part of this. Plans are in the pipeline to launch another. His advice to those venturing into the co-working space for the first time is to make sure that they understand all the costs, be flexible and look for a diverse environment that can adapt to the business’s changing needs. He cautions against the pitfalls of not thoroughly investigating all the costs involved in a membership package when signing up for office space.
Since launching Workshop17, he has seen many success stories emerge including collaborations between start-ups and venture capital firms, business owners doubling their staff numbers and turnover. He attributes these successes to the sense of community business owners feel when in a co-working environment.
Since launching Workshop 17, he has seen many success stories emerge including collaborations between start-ups and venture capital firms, business owners doubling their staff numbers and turnover. He attributes these successes to the sense of community business owners feel when in a co-working environment.
“Be diverse. At Workshop 17 we want to create a meeting ground where everyone feels comfortable whether you’re a start-up or have experience.” For Philip van Zyl, who owns a cloud bookkeeping business called Simple Books, the convenience is a major factor. He used to run his four-year-old business from home and then an office in Gardens before joining the co-working revolution. “We have access to the building 24/7 with security, there’s parking at R10 per day and I like having other small business owners around. It gets lonely running your own business. It’s nice to have other people around to bounce ideas off,” he says.
Graphic designer Jacklyn Kawana has worked from Workshop 17 for a month and says it has been a good change. “I don’t have to sit in one space, but I favour this cubicle. The environment is safe. I can leave everything and go to lunch without having to worry that anything will go missing.” She adds that she especially likes the “look and feel”, which adds to creating an environment that is safe and relaxed. Workshop 17’s space is divided into open-plan offices, glass-enclosed offices, meeting rooms and training rooms, as well as an on-site café that is open to the public with members getting discount prices. Rates range from occasional user for R225 to R3500 a month for full-time members.
At the other end of the spectrum is the Nest Space in Longmarket Street, a co-working facility aimed at “young African creatives”, which has 105 members from across the continent. Project manager Wongie Mafilika says that freelancers and business people between the ages of 18 and 35 years old can join for an annual membership of R750. This provides the member with internet access, meeting space, access to the network of creatives and mentoring where needed.
Artist Godfrey Makopa is a member of The Nest Space and has been working there for four months. Besides the internet access and work space, he believes the biggest advantage is working with fellow members. “Being based here has enabled me to collaborate with fellow artists. There is one artist specifically who I am collaborating with on a number of projects,” he says.
Co-working space was almost non-existent in Africa in 2013, but by 2015 there were almost 200 tech hubs. About a third of these operate from South Africa, putting it ahead of the rest of Africa. South Africa has 42 co-working spaces, 23 of which are tech hubs, and Cape Town is home to more than half.
Source: Co-working in Africa research by Global Enterprise, organisers of the 2015 Co-working Conference.