Coworking in Cape Town
Due to a particularly small chair, working on our apartment’s balcony led to some, well, posterior pain. To avoid that - and just be more productive, in general - Chipp opted for a new workplace in Cape Town: a coworking spot.
Working in Cape Town: Instagram vs. Reality
We’re writing a travel blog, so it’d be somewhat disingenuous to criticize travel “influencers” as a whole. But, we’ve also tried to be, well, honest about the realities of travel. And, the above picture is a prime example.
At first glance, it appears Chipp is “living his best life” - working remotely in Cape Town on a beautiful balcony overlooking the city. Yep, that may be the Insta-perspective on the picture. In reality, though, his ass doesn’t properly fit on the outdoor folding chair, with the metal frame jamming into his cheeks and cutting off circulation to his lower body… Instagram vs reality.
Staying at this apartment for the next three weeks, the status quo clearly wouldn’t work. Writing for 10 minutes then standing up to stretch, massage your butt, and get blood flowing back to your legs just isn’t a productive approach.
Craft+Graft Coworking and a Small World Experience
Enter coworking! Chipp - like most of America - had heard about the whole WeWork cult but never actually been to a coworking spot himself. It’s a pretty simple concept. Rather than rent an entire office, you pay a daily, weekly, or monthly rate to use some open space in a larger, often-freelance-focused environment. To independent contractors, this system aptly balances A) keeping costs down, while B) still allowing you to work in a non-coffee-shop, non-home, quasi-office atmosphere.
Interested in trying out a coworking space but not quite ready to dive into the “energy and spirituality” of the WeWork brand, Chipp did some quick Google-izing and found a local spot, Craft+Graft. After some back-and-forth e-mails with the space’s office manager, he decided to give it a shot.
Located in Cape Town’s quiet Gardens neighborhood, Craft+Graft is more of a hybrid than a pure coworking space. Owned by two business partners, the building houses a company that provides wi-fi service to townships on one side, the open-plan coworking space on the other, and a small cafe with a walk-up window facing the street.
So, while there were always fellow freelancers, the place also had an exciting, alive-feeling vibe with employees coming and going throughout the day. Bottom line, it was the perfect balance of being in an office setting while still having enough hustle and bustle to break up the monotony of a work day.
And, for us being on the road for nearly a year, waking up in the morning, hopping in an Uber, and heading to the “office” was another way to impose a much-needed sense of routine on our daily lives. (NOTE: Unlike Chipp, Jenna just has the discipline to work from home, making the coworking thing a moot point for her).
Oh yeah, one of the business partners also happened to be a former Marine who’d been stationed on Camp Pendleton a few years prior to Chipp’s time there. He married a German girl he met in the States, and the two decided to move to Cape Town to start a business. Small world.
“Plunger’s Over There…”
Arriving at Craft+Graft for the first time, Chipp was warmly welcomed by the office manager, Dee, who’d been his e-mail point of contact. Despite seeming to be about 11 months pregnant at the time, Dee showed him the place, introducing him to everyone floating around and just generally making him feel at home.
But, this was also another prime example of the entertainment value of cultural/linguistic differences. Despite many South Africans speaking English as their first language, plenty of differences exist between their version and American English.
Dee, showing Chipp the kitchenette: “Here’s a fridge where you can store food, here’s the coffee, and there’s the plunger.”
Chipp, in his head: “I’m all for the digestive value of coffee, but that’s a little frank, isn’t it?”
Chipp, finally realizing that the “plunger” was the French press: “Ah… the plunger. Thanks!”
Yep, turns out the South African “plunger” refers to a coffee-making technique - not a plumbing tool!
Lunch in the Shadow of Table Mountain
In addition to the Gardens just being a quaint neighborhood, it also falls under the shadow of Table Mountain. From a need-a-break-from-work point of view, it’s pretty incredible to walk out the Craft+Graft front door, look up to the right, and see the stunningly beautiful face of Table Mountain towering above you.
Nestled into the slopes heading up from the City Bowl, the Gardens is best described as an inner-city suburb. That description doesn’t quite do it justice, though. Yes, the neighborhood’s suburb-like in its single-family homes with beautifully manicured lawns and gardens. But, it’s also a hub of incredible restaurants, bars, cafes, boutique hotels, and the city’s creative industry.
Ducking out for a midday snack, you feel pretty spoiled walking with Table Mountain behind you and delicious, outdoor dining in front of you. Definitely beats having the metal frame of a too-small folding chair put indentations into your backside!
The Efficiency and Community of Coworking Spaces
If Chipp viewed his time at Craft+Graft as a coworking experiment, it was most certainly a successful one. For the latter half of our six weeks in Cape Town, he’d spend three days a week “commuting to the office,” that is, waking up, having breakfast with Jenna, then catching an Uber up to the Gardens.
When you’re on the road but still trying to have a somewhat normal work routine, coworking spaces offer a great compromise. You’re not shelling out a ton of cash for a private office, but you still can tap into the productivity of working in an office-type environment (read: you don’t have access to your bed to go take a nap in lieu of working…). Moving forward, Chipp would embrace the coworking thing for the rest of our travels, finding cool spaces in Namibia and Croatia to post up during the day.
And, from a community perspective, coworking spaces just have a way of making you feel like you’re part of the local area, not just an outsider holed up in a hotel room or apartment. At Craft+Graft, Chipp met some incredible people. In particular, Jonathan, the South African co-founder of the wifi/coworking/building enterprise, happened to have incredibly keen insight into US politics, having lived in the States for a while. Always on the lookout for an excuse to procrastinate, Chipp eagerly looked forward to going down daily rabbit holes of political discussions with him!