Atomic’s “Alternative Commuters” Win getDowntown Challenge

Atomic Object’s Ann Arbor office pedaled, stepped, bused, and carpooled our way to clinching this year’s first place for small organizations in the getDowntown Commuter Challenge.

Each May, Ann Arbor companies compete against one another to log the most “alternative” commutes—those that forgo driving solo. getDowntown determines the winner based on measurements of participation, average trips per employee, and total miles logged.

Overall, Atoms logged more than 1,800 miles over 294 trips (the 15,000 calories lost will be graciously recouped by the pizza party prize).

Stepping up to a Common Goal

Developer & Consultant Drew Hoover had already been walking to work before May, but he said the challenge gave him extra motivation.

“During the challenge, there were a few days where I grabbed a raincoat instead of driving to work,” he said. “Walking in gives me a chance to clear my head. It’s meditative, and it’s a nice punctuation to the day.”

Drew and other Atoms started checking Atomic’s standing each day on the leaderboard, as our competitiveness grew.

“It was really satisfying to see everyone logging their trips and working toward a common goal,” he said.

Kelly Schwartz is getDowntown’s Commuter Services Specialist at the Ann Arbor Area Transit Authority. She says she was heartened to see 100 percent employee participation from Atomic and some other competing firms.

“It’s amazing to think that they got all their employees to try other ways of getting to work,” she said. “They’re all showing concern for their day and making sure they do something that’s good for themselves, good for the environment—and maybe there’s a little bit of competition in there, too.”

Founding a Walkable Workplace

Atomic CEO Carl Erickson, who has walked to work for the past 16 years, says the award ties back to the company’s founding.

“When choosing our first office in 2001, we limited our search to human-scaled buildings where it was easy to get in and out,” he said, “a place where the neighborhood becomes part of your office.”

Carl says this decision eventually shaped the type of company Atomic has become.

“The people who decided that the neighborhood is cool and moved there to walk and ride to work became the Atoms we are today,” he said. “You make your building, and your building makes you.”

Over time, Atomic formalized its embrace of these alternative commuters, developing a Bike Commuter Reimbursement program, offering space to store bicycles, installing showers in offices, and organizing social bicycle outings.

Driving an Empathetic Culture

Atomic applied those lessons when selecting both the former Detroit office and the second-floor office we now occupy in downtown Ann Arbor.

Jonah Bailey, one of the office’s managing partners, says commuting to the downtown office has financial, physical, and even emotional benefits for Atoms.

“As a software consultancy, we end up focusing a lot on solving technical problems and interfacing with computers,” he said. “By choosing to work in an area where we interface with the modern, urban problems that confront us all, we promote a culture of empathy.”

Atoms in the Ann Arbor office are setting their sights on getDowntown’s chillier commuter challenge this winter: Conquer the Cold.