Areas and Places

Members’ clubs, not cubicles: Cape Town’s co-working trends

Roamwork co-working space in Cape Town CBD.
Roamwork co-working space in Cape Town CBD.

In 2019, Cape Town’s CBD hosted 16 co-working spaces. 2020 ended with 15 – just one less, despite the devastation of lockdowns. This is according to research done by the Cape Town Central City Improvement District (CCID).

CCID researcher, Sandra Gordon, says this sector held its own well, with new companies opening to replace those that closed or relocated outside of the city centre. Now, with many offices seeking alternative spaces and remote workers on the hunt for shared hubs, there is more opportunity than ever with clever co-working spaces to capitalise on.

Tasso Evangelinos, CEO of CCID, says the co-working sector is one of the few that have managed to survive the economic effects of Covid-19. “It is heartening that this sector has proved to be resilient in the face of the pandemic, which has been a major disruptor especially when it comes to where and how people choose to work”.

Co-working spaces usually consist of different companies and individuals who share office space and the cost of common infrastructures like Wi-Fi, equipment, receptionists and more. These first started gaining traction in Cape Town three years ago as the city emerged as a tech hub. Remarkably, most city centre players were able to weather the lockdown storm by carefully managing cashflow and offering financial relief via discounted packages.

Now, with the vaccination programme rolling out and companies looking for office alternatives, and the potential unveiling of the Cape Town Digital Nomad Visa, the clouds seem to be clearing for co-working hubs. In fact, they have seen more growth than ever before.

How have co-working spaces survived the pandemic?

Sean Friedrich, Financial Director at Cube Workspace, says the co-working company ‘survived’ through constant communication and excellent client relationships.

Key to weathering the storm has been understanding the needs of our clients – and bending over backwards to meet those needs. We needed to ensure our working environment was safe for clients to feel comfortable to return to. We also supported our clients’ businesses wherever possible, recognising they were going through their own difficult financial times.”

One other co-working company – Flexi Suite – made the bold move to open its Cape Town city centre office in 35 Lower Long towards the end of 2020. Flexi Suite has a unique model that sees it offer quality office spaces at highly competitive rates, on flexible lease terms.

Suné Snyman, Leasing Manager, says the company decided to open its Cape Town office off the back of its success Johannesburg and Pretoria developments. Since opening, uptake has been a little slower than desired, but Snyman expects this to pick up fast, “Once a few tenants have experienced the offer, word gets out. Positively, most of our tenants have signed on for a longer lease (12 months plus).”

An industry on the mend

The global trend of office decentralization could play a part in the co-working sector’s recovery. Many offices are adopting a ‘hub and spoke’ model, where they keep one centralized office, with a series of smaller satellite offices. There is much potential for co-working centres to facilitate these satellites.

Roamwork, a shared workspace in Harrington Street, has seen more and more people making use of its space. Founder Darren Epstein says, “It is not just the camaraderie and networking opportunities afforded by a community space that’s accelerating adoption, but the shared resources – like super-fast Wi-Fi and protection against load shedding – as well.

He adds that people are using co-working spaces on a full- and part-time basis. “The beauty of a co-working space is its flexibility – there are choices for private offices, solo desks, hot desks and meeting rooms that can be used by drop-ins.”

People can also choose their level of commitment. “We see a combination of adhoc business and long-term renters. The attractiveness of flexible terms appeals to traditional ‘tenants’. By signing up for longer terms, they receive a discount.” He is expecting more of this going forward as companies seek spaces for their employees to work and congregate on a more flexible basis.

Top co-working trends:

Here are some top trends in the co-working space, according to Epstein and Niel Bekker, CEO of CHIPS co-working spaces:

New clientele

Bekker says that CHIPS is now getting enquiries from larger businesses who want more flexible leases and employees of big corporates who are suddenly receiving stipends to work from anywhere. That has meant more people are considering co-working as an option.

Property developers

Property developers have caught on to the co-working trend. For example, Neighbourgood property developers is converting the Townhouse Hotel into furnished office suites for short-term rental.

Getting niche

Bekker adds that turning on the Wi-Fi in an empty office and calling it a co-working space does not really cut it anymore. It helps if you offer something specialised to a particular class of clients. There will be more spaces with unique benefits for differentiated communities. Roamwork has an in-house production studio with an infinity curve and green screen. There is also catering available and showering facilities. Plus, it is dog friendly.

Clubs not cubicles

Epstein says today’s spaces are not simply desk-chairs and cubicles … globally, they are becoming more like members’ clubs rather than just spaces to plug in a laptop. Roamwork, for example, boasts a full art collection sponsored by Art Gazette.

Cross-pollination

Shared spaces create networking opportunities in a time when people have serious Zoom fatigue and limited chances to connect in person.

A home for headquarters

Several businesses are now seeking a space to connect monthly, but do not want an office of their own. There’s massive opportunity for communal spaces to accommodate this new use case.