I left the house, and I liked it
Reflections of a first time coworker…
This month we asked CTO Chief, Sarah to reflect on her first month (ever) in a coworking space and here is what she had to say.
So, my thoughts on my first month of being in a coworking space: I can honestly say that now that I’m able to look back on my time working from home, I can only laugh at myself in semi-exhausted hysteria. We all hear the stories of entrepreneurs and how tough it is, the sleepless nights and needing to be a jack of all trades. Not to mention that creating a successful business becomes synonymous with how little sleep you are getting, instead of how efficient you are actually being. Now two thoughts come to mind: first, that the jack of all trades is the master of none, and second, a line I remember from Scrooge Mc’Duck: “work smarter not harder.” I am now acutely aware of both in hindsight.
So perhaps, before I go on, I should mention what it is that I do for a living (to put this all in perspective). I am an Airbnb host, as well as an interior designer for Airbnb spaces and vacation rental homes. The focus of my interior design company is offering e-design packages, and while I’m based in Cape Town most of my clients thus far have been based in America. Sounds ideal, right? Airbnb host and designer, working from the comfort of home with an incredible view of Table Mountain, earning in US dollars.
No, No No. Let me elaborate. Airbnb guests, as incredible as they are, are more interested in discussing the tourist attractions the city has to offer than your design conundrums (or, more importantly, acknowledging your looming deadline). The two roles become very blurred, and it’s hard to distinguish which one is the most important to nurture in that moment, as both are in fact income-generating. The human desire to be “likable” wins, and you find yourself negotiating how many hour of sleep are necessary for human survival while answering trivial touristy questions.
The fallacy that I am living the dream of living in Cape Town while working with American clients and earning US dollars needs to be right sized, and quickly. Why? Well, I have two reasons, but both come down to the same frustrating issue: the internet. Firstly, have you ever tried having Skype consultations while you are trying to troubleshoot your WiFi connection? Let me tell you, it is most unpleasant. Secondly, the Design software I use is available online, which has two benefits: I don’t have to pay for licencing software, and I don’t have to upgrade my laptop (which solves the start-up’s ongoing problem of managing expenses). Have you ever tried to explain to Americans, a nation renowned for suing the likes of Nike because their shoelace came undone, that you are unable to meet your deadline because the internet has stopped working? There is not enough Prozac in the world to prepare you for that WhatsApp conversation.
So five consultants and a few twitter posts later I realise that I need to “cease fighting” and get on with the designs that are now very overdue, as Uncle Sam is a bit hot under the collar. The only problem is that the WiFi still isn’t working, and the technician is only due the following day. So the only solution is the WLAN cable (which is too short to reach the desk) and I end up setting up shop on the kitchen floor. My Airbnb guest is strongly advised that cooking dinner is a really bad option given the current state of affairs, and is thrust a takeout menu.
The other conundrum one faces is the design of your interior space: Is it that your bed is too close to your desk, or your desk too close to your bed? Both are true. There are days when you just seem to be in the flow and the ideas feel endless and you really want ride the wave, so to speak. So as you climb into bed and the next idea hits you like a lightning bolt, the desk is just too close to resist jumping up and switching on the laptop to start beavering away again till the early hours. The following day is generally when your motivation and your concentration are at an all-time low. Then it the bed that is too close to your desk. It would be so easy to just jump in and have that refreshing nap, the only thing stopping you is guilt. If it weren’t for that feeling of guilt and the fear of missing that one email that is about to change your destiny forever, you would Nike it (or said another way, Just do it).
So instead you convince yourself that to carry on working is the best option. You spend hours researching whether a WordPress or Wix website is the best option. So the journey into the internet begins, and suddenly I am wondering when it was that I started caring about Brad and Angelina’s divorce? And just as I am arriving at a point where I am about to make a decision as to whether I am team Brad or team Jolie, the internet bombs out on me, again.
So, given my flair for drama, I think I have painted a fairly accurate picture of some of the frustrations experienced while working from home. It still does not negate that starting a business is stressful, and there are serious and sometimes paralyzing fears regarding expenditure. So why did I opt to join a co–work space? Sanity is the most concise answer I can give you. I based my final decision on this simple formula: Number of chargeable hours lost due to internet issues multiplied by my hourly rate. Viola! It suddenly made sense.
In fact I could in all probability rent two desks a months based on my elementary calculation. Why would I even contemplate two desks? So that I had somewhere for my ego and a whole new set of fears to sit while I was trying to get work done. I could not believe that lunacy had returned on my first day at my new desk – it was like my first day at school all over again. What if nobody likes me? What if everyone thinks what I do for a job is stupid? What if they peer over my shoulder watching me as I surf the World Wide Web?
Honestly, as if someone could even read the words on my screen when they are five desks away. The words are smaller than the last letter on those eye tests that optometrists make you take. The other truth that was hard for ego to digest is that people are not like cats: they don’t hover around my computer watching the mouse dart across the screen. They are genuinely interested in themselves and committed to their daily tasks.
Having said all that, it does not mean that they don’t care about you – there are plenty of opportunities to engage over the coffee machine, while preparing lunch, or on the collaboration platform. And yes, they may know someone who knows someone who is interested in your services. With such a variety of companies that use the space, I have been fortunate enough to meet someone who has untangled the spider web of confusion I had spun around WordPress vs Wix. So, combined with the advice, step-by-step guidance, and fear of what people will think of me if they find out if I am team Brad or team Jolie, I have managed to focus my efforts and get on with tasks.
What it really comes down to is – yup, you guessed it – connection, both internet and human.
Sarah is the founder of Urban Savvy Design, a consultancy based in Cape Town that provides bespoke design services to Air B&B hosts and operators.