June 15, 2021 - 11:38 am

A hidden tech gem in Michigan provides an ideal hybrid work environment in a post-pandemic world

By 20Fathoms

As businesses across the globe shift to a hybrid work model, some companies have already found their ideal balance in shared workspaces and incubators. As a startup founded in 2011 with a nationally distributed workforce, Brightly team members are well versed in shifting between in-person collaboration sessions and remote work. So when CEO of the Grand Rapids-based firm, Larry Faragalli, had the chance to partner with 20Fathoms in Traverse City, he saw it as an opportunity to extend Brightly’s reach in a community that he already believed and invested in.

A Natural Fit

When 20Fathoms first launched, Brightly’s lead developer and Traverse City native, Justin Gauthier, had high hopes for a potential partnership between the two organizations. “I really wanted Brightly to help because we had this advanced outlook on tech and we get to deal with it all day, every day—in a community like this there has to be experts,” he said.

Not only did it seem like a natural fit for Brightly, but the space created a collaborative hybrid environment for workers who were already in the area and provided additional opportunities for learning, growth, and new partnerships. “People in the 20Fathoms community are pretty tight; we generally all know what we’re working on and if we hear about something somewhere we can go to the source and ask about it,” Justin added.

“Brightly has a history of working with skilled technology professionals in Traverse City and has supported the 20Fathoms mission since the organization’s inception,” said Larry Faragalli, Brightly CEO. “Partnering with 20Fathoms has been a key driver of our internal growth by providing several opportunities for collaboration. As more businesses adopt the hybrid working model, we look forward to welcoming new members through our continued relationship with 20Fathoms.”

Megan Swan and Justin Gauthier
Justin Gauthier and Megan Swan from Brightly work together at 20Fathoms in Traverse City.

New Opportunities

Megan Swan, Brightly Senior Account Director and Traverse City local, believes that there’s a community of tech still coming out of the woodwork in the area. “New businesses are being launched that are bringing people back to Traverse City, people who maybe didn’t have the opportunity before,” she said. “Now there are jobs here, and successful people providing their services through mentorship programs like 20Fathoms.”

20Fathoms provides all of its participants a unique outlet for collaboration and, in many cases, it allows workers to fill in the gaps where they may be lacking certain skills or perspective. It’s a space where technology workers and entrepreneurs can easily bounce ideas around and get feedback from one another. Megan noted that people in the area are “very like-minded and strategic, they’re not afraid to challenge ideas if they know it can help improve a product or service, or solve a problem … it’s a different type of mindset.”

“We offer a lot of benefits for businesses that are shifting to a hybrid model. For one, we now offer corporate memberships for businesses in the Traverse City area that no longer have a dedicated office but still want to meet as a team on occasion. They can use our conference rooms and coworking space at an affordable price as needed,” said Lauren Bigelow, 20Fathoms Executive Director. “Related to that is the benefit of flexibility, which business leaders and employees are both prioritizing right now. Our members appreciate that 20Fathoms offers a great workspace that they can work out of on their schedule, and we have a variety of membership packages that accommodate that.”

Work/Life Balance in Action

Collaboration between businesses, impromptu strategy sessions, and free-flowing ideas aren’t the only things that set this space apart from its peers. Its geographic location is also a goal destination for many young professionals. As Megan put it, “Traverse City is a hidden gem—not only do you have the atmosphere and the lakes and the actual environment in which you’re living and working, but you have so many different types of people. We work hard and fast but we also have the environment that allows us to relax.”

During a time when many workers are fleeing the workforce in favor of seeking a freer lifestyle, the true work/life balance that Traverse City provides is a welcome relief. As Justin noted, “People are chill here and the area is just special. They just care about living and that’s about it—and people not taking that for granted. It used to be that if you didn’t own your own businesses or you weren’t a summer employee, then you didn’t have a space or a reason to stay in Traverse City. Working in technology now makes it possible for people to be here.” 

The flexibility that 20Fathoms provides is also a draw for business leaders looking to break away from the pre-pandemic standard of a dedicated office while still offering space for socializing. Lauren noted, “perhaps most importantly, 20Fathoms provides relief from the isolation that many people have experienced working at home. We’re a community where people catch up around the coffee pot, share ideas and opportunities, and have a happy hour drink together.”

You Get What You Give

According to Megan, there are several things about Traverse City that people don’t even know exist including inside opportunities and friendship. “There are a lot of networking events; smaller inland towns and all these places that are even smaller communities, most of them are word of mouth events, conversations in coffee shops—organic conversations. You need to seek out opportunities here, but not be too aggressive.” 

Many of those rare opportunities exist within the tight-knit tech community of 20Fathoms, where ambitious people can accelerate their businesses through funding, mentorship, and other forms of support that give them an edge over their competition.

“Brightly is a great example of how remote tech employees benefit from membership at 20Fathoms. Their Traverse City-based team members work from 20Fathoms, hold meetings in our space, and have realized new opportunities from the interactions with other members,” Lauren said. “In turn, we are grateful for the expertise that they bring and readily share with the community. For instance, Brightly developed the 20Fathoms website and their whole team was incredible to work with throughout the project.”

20Fathoms members often help fill in gaps for each other and seek learning opportunities or mentorship from more seasoned members. As Megan put it, “Not only are you receiving, but you’re also giving. You can get the resource and you can be the resource.”