#10Q: Paul Keursten, Workshop17 CEO

Retailing Africa interviews Workshop17 co-founder and CEO, Paul Keursten, on the changing work revolution.

COVID-19 has changed the traditional office work set-up radically for many; and increased remote work environments or the need for more flexible options. Some of the trends identified by the Workshop17 innovative workspace provider co-founder and CEO, Paul Keursten, are the need for better virtual office resources to support remote workers; smaller offices; more flexible office leases; and diverse locations for employees who want to work close to home. As a result, Workshop17, best known for its multi-functional entrepreneurial hub at the V&A Waterfront in Cape Town, has extended its services to support home offices and changing corporate office needs. We asked Keursten to elaborate.

1. How has the Covid pandemic impacted your industry?

The pandemic created the biggest work from home experiment one could imagine. It drastically accelerated developments that were already happening in some forward thinking companies, and made remote working and flexible working part of the mainstream of work. Work will not go back to where it was and remote work and work from home will remain part of the mix. Furthermore, flexibility will be in great demand for companies looking at their office needs. People and companies now know that remote work can be very effective and studies even report increased productivity. But work from home is not a complete solution. Offices, whether it is a corporate office or a shared facility like Workshop17, will remain important. But the role of these offices will change: to meet colleagues and others, to build culture and synergy, to get inspired and develop new ideas. Furthermore, we see that people are avoiding city centres and prefer less dense areas like suburbs and rural (beautiful) areas to live and to work. They are also enjoying not sitting in traffic as long as they used to. And it will be hard to convince them to go back in traffic to go to an office if they can also do the work at home.

2. How are you reinventing your business under lockdown?

As a first, we had to adjust our approach to members in order to comply with the safety precautions around COVID-19. Our members are welcomed at reception daily to undergo a check-in and screening process. This allows us to know exactly who is in our spaces and we can act swiftly should a member test positive, by reaching out to the rest of the relevant members who were in the space that day. We’ve also removed seats in our hot-desking spaces, which allows our members to practice social distancing and our meeting spaces now have restrictions on the amount of people allowed. On a more fundamental level, we are adjusting our business to the ‘new normal’ of work, which is still unfolding. We have launched new offers, we are restructuring our arrangements with landlords, we are expanding our model to accommodate larger companies, and we are growing our network of locations.

3. What makes your reimagined business model unique?

It’s always hard to call ourselves unique. But I think we offer a strong combination, providing: a network of safe and beautiful spaces in great locations; a lot of flexibility adapted to the new way of working; very personal service from our teams that have a passion to make our members work lives easier. We support you at home, at a Workshop17 location, as well as at your corporate office. We’ve been approached by companies looking to downsize their office space from 3000m2 to 1000m2 overnight. Our teams are excellent at working out remote and flexible work strategies, using our spaces as well as our ICT and software solutions, by listening to the new needs of our clients. Our flexibility allows companies to still have their dedicated and branded offices, but smaller and thus more cost effective than before. And they can combine it with support at home and the flexibility for their teams to work at one of our Workshop17 locations. In this time of transition, companies can opt for our “Flexi connect’ in which they only pay for what they use.

4. Will you return to your core business?

Our core focus remains the same: offering flexible, high quality and beautiful spaces for companies and individuals be successful. We take care of the facilities, so they can focus on their core business. While our purpose remains the same, the ways this purpose takes shape in practice is expanding. Pre-Covid our focus was to create an environment and community for small businesses and entrepreneurs. Post-Covid we are using our experience to offer flexible solutions for corporates, small businesses and entrepreneurs. We’re even going so far as to embrace the new work from home model and are conceptualising a product that offers the home user a reliable internet connection with a UPS should load shedding strike.

5. Tell us more about your strategy?

Our strategy shifted from a focus to attract members to Workshop17 locations, and to make their work life as easy as possible when they are in our locations; to understanding that the workplace is a continuum of spaces, and choosing to bring Workshop17 to where people want to work. This means supporting work from home, supporting work online, looking at opening locations closer to where people live, and supporting corporates to re-imagine their corporate offices.

6. What impact do you hope to make?

We want companies that work with us to be able to say: working with Workshop17 made our lives easier, we could focus on what we need to focus on, we felt comfortable and safe being at Workshop17; our people enjoyed it there and got ideas and inspiration through accidental meetings with others; we were able to grow and shrink when needed, and it was more beautiful and less costly than if we would have done it ourselves.

7. Do you have a life philosophy?

Yes: try to positively impact at least one person per day – create an opportunity, make their life easier, more fun, more enjoyable.

8. How do you inspire others?

I focus on purpose – our purpose as a business and their purpose as a person and how they can come together. I try helping them find their strength and passion, allowing them the freedom to make choices and trusting that they will endeavour to make choices that are good for the company. We are all allowed to make mistakes, as long as we take responsibility and learn from it. I believe that as a leader I need to be transparent: no secrets, just be honest and open, also about my own doubts.

9. What are you currently reading?

I am reading The world as it is by Ben Rhodes, the former speech writer for President Barrack Obama. A well written book that starts from the early campaign days of Senator Obama in Chicago and covers all the years until the end of his presidency. It gives great insights into the thoughts, choices, and conversations of a great leader.

10. What legacy do you hope to leave?

I hope that people who have met me think it was worth it to meet me.


– Receive the Retailing Africa newsletter every Monday and Thursday • Subscribe here

– Take advantage of Retailing Africa’s ‘Pay-what-you-can’ business support package • Read more