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Community Shines for Remote Workers Moving to Ann Arbor

January 11, 2023 Talent

Laura O’Connor shares the story of her move from Washington, DC to Ann Arbor and how she found community — both professionally and personally — and even an appreciation for Michigan winters.

In February 2021, my husband and I moved from our rental house on Ann Arbor’s Old West Side to a place we bought in the Eberwhite neighborhood. Relocating during a Michigan winter was a rookie mistake because, of course, the moving van arrived during a snowstorm. That morning, we stressed over not having the chance to shovel at our Eberwhite house, which would surely annoy the movers and hold up the process of getting everything off the van and into our new house. Much to our surprise, we pulled up to our house only to find EVERYTHING — sidewalk, driveway, walkway, front and back stoops — pristinely shoveled. 

Days later, a neighbor knocked on our door to welcome us to the neighborhood. I asked him, “Do you know who shoveled for us on our moving day?” He just smiled and said, “I did. I knew that new owners were moving in, and you probably didn’t want to deal with all that snow.” 

I love this story because it encapsulates the spirit of nearly everyone we come across in Ann Arbor and one of the reasons we moved here: community. 

My husband Dominic and I moved here from Washington, DC in 2017. We had both lived in DC for more than 15 years and just wanted to switch things up a bit, particularly because we both had jobs where we could work remotely. We considered a few different cities: Denver, Los Angeles, New York, Charlottesville, Philadelphia, and Ann Arbor. Ann Arbor won out, in part, because we thought it was perfectly sized to easily make friends in our late 30s and large enough that interesting things would be going on. 

Luckily, our hunch was right. January 27 will mark six years here, and we couldn’t be happier with the decision to relocate. People who have been here for years are such proud Michiganders that you can’t help but want to be part of it. People get excited for winter and all its accompaniments like snow and winter sports, which has also changed my attitude toward the season. Before I moved here, I thought, “Will I actually survive that long winter?” Now I can emphatically say my concerns were unfounded: we’ve made some of the best friends we’ve ever had and have gone on some bucket-list adventures (dog sledding in the UP – a winter outing I would never have dreamed of taking 10 years ago).

I love living here so much that I sometimes feel like a walking billboard for Michigan; I love the people, the natural beauty, and the plethora of things to do across the state. Beyond the personal success I’ve had in meeting such great people, this has also extended to the business community. There is so much pride in the innovation and ideas originating in this area, and it seems that everyone just wants everyone else to succeed. 

For example, I’m part of a 350-member group of women and nonbinary folks, Shine and Rise. We have a Slack channel where people give advice or congratulate each other on personal accomplishments. I shared with a friend (Dawn Verbrigghe of Jottful) that I wanted to work with businesses in person (in Ann Arbor) after feeling too isolated working remotely. That same day, she introduced me to Margarita at SPARK, and shortly after, Margarita had a professional match for me. I started working as a marketing consultant to Ann Arbor-based people analytics company Culturebie, alongside my remote, DC-based job. Culturebie’s founder Jasmit Kaur and I are going on seven months of working together now. When I was toying with the idea to leave the DC firm and start my own, half a dozen acquaintances and even near strangers in Ann Arbor offered thoughts and advice in exchange for a cup of coffee. And as luck would have it, I met a woman (who recently moved back to Michigan from Hawai’i) during an event at Cahoots, and together we have started our new firm, Unfurl

This new year, I’m thankful for the people and places in Michigan that have been a part of my life since 2017. I feel so lucky to call Ann Arbor home.