On Workantile’s 10th Birthday

A Message on Jan. 31st 2011

“oh, btw: I’m working at the workantile exchange today…seems to be very nice”

But Why

I showed up to Workantile after a year of working from home. To say I was feeling isolated is an understatement. I’d moved to be closer to my then-girlfriend now-wife who was in the midst of a PhD program. She was tremendously busy. I was tremendously not. Days would pass where I didn’t leave the apartment or, honestly, talk to anyone. It was a bad scene.

Eventually she convinced me to get out there and try working from anywhere other than my apartment. I did, and it helped. Even going to a coffeeshop for an hour a day was a breath of fresh air. On a whim one day I poked my head into Workantile and it was like coming home.

I sent her the following message the next day:

“Working at the workantile exchange makes me feel like I’m not alone. “

Loneliness in Remote Work

Being in your 20s in a new place, unmoored and rootless is tough.

In 2019, most people at least get the general idea of “remote work”. In 2011 you had to explain it whenever it came up in conversation, and your choices for getting out of the house were either: rent an office, or huddle at tables in coffee shops or the library. Be sure to pack everything up when you have to use the bathroom or make a call! And good luck with the wifi situation. I didn’t even know what coworking was until I wandered in the door, but quickly realized that it needed to be part of my daily routine.

On day 2 I sent this message to a friend:

“everyone here understands what it’s like to telecommute…they’ve created a telecommuters paradise”

A Note to Workantile

I sent this note to our email list at the end of my first week. I spent far too time worrying about sending it.

Was it coming across too strongly? Too eager? Will they kick me out for being honest?

Reading it 8 years later I’m extremely glad I clicked send:

Everyone’s willingness to [invite] some guy who wandered in off the street was incredibly refreshing. Quite a different experience than working from a too-quiet isolating house. You all know this already, but the Workantile Exchange is a pretty special place.

We’re thankfully more diverse than in 2011; however, the aspects that attracted me to Workantile are still the same. Everyone here is still curious and friendly. Our coffee comes from Hyperion instead of Zingerman’s now. We have a different name, new chairs, more monitors, people have different laptops. We’ve weathered budget crises and are working towards becoming a non-profit. For my part, in 2013 I changed jobs, but stayed at workantile. My boss and I met at Workantile and still keep memberships here along with our ever increasing number of coworkers.

It’s good, it’s constant, it’s foundational to so many of our lives.

The Future

The physical space on main street is ancillary to Workantile’s purpose of bringing remote workers together. Heck, most of my friends in Ann Arbor are former or current members. And it’s not an overstatement to say that without the community here my wife and I wouldn’t have chosen to settle down here. It’s made opportunities and decisions possible for us that flat out wouldn’t have been the case if it didn’t exist.

10 years is an extremely long time in business years and no matter what happens in the future we should celebrate that it made it that long. I’m personally hopeful we make it another 10 (and another 50 after that). For now though I’m just proud and excited.

As I type this we have two folks doing trial memberships with us this week. There’s also a social lunch going on downstairs (pizza and salad), and later on this week we’ll have an open house and a party to celebrate.

Here’s to Workantile’s 10th birthday! I’m going to go downstairs and talk to one of the new members and see if there’s any pizza left.