Overcome working from home isolation
The impact of working from home isolation
The grass is always greener on the other side, or so they say. When you work in an office with constant interruptions from colleagues asking questions, multiple meetings and overhearing telephone conversations, that office tucked away in the corner of your sitting room or at the end of the garden in a rustic shed sounds extremely appealing. But working from home isolation is a real problem and one that is increasing as more people work alone from home.
That’s until several months into your new freelance career, you realise that you haven’t interacted with anyone other than the cat for three days and that you long to unravel the plot of the latest Sunday evening drama series with Beth from accounts. You even miss Jon’s daily reporting of his toddler's amazing progress at nursery!
It turns out that our happiness is directly related to the number of social interactions we have on a daily basis. So it’s not surprising that working alone can make you feel miserable.
Isolation is one of the main challenges faced by the respondents to the Homepreneur Survey 2018 with 40% citing it as a problem.
One respondent said:
If I could afford it I would rent an office with other freelancers to get the opportunity to ‘chat in the coffee break'
Naturally, the level of isolation you might face in your home based business depends largely on the type of work you do. Many of us are slaves to our computers, spending almost unhealthy numbers of hours a day staring at a screen. Whilst technically we can work anywhere and at any time, how many of us are doing the 9 to 5 in a similar fashion to the working day of our corporate lives?
This routine is to be expected. Our children go to school between the hours of 9 to 4 (depending on their ages) and our clients, who work in office-based businesses. adopt the traditional working day. Frequently, we are forced to abide by the same ‘rules’ and it’s hard to go against the grain.
So we slip back into the same old routine, which means once the family has left for work and/or school, we're in work mode and, maybe, on our own for 6 hours or more. It’s no wonder then that a few months of this and what started out being a luxury becomes a challenge. The same four walls close in and we're tearing our hair out for some company.
This is heightened even more if you not only work but also live on your own or if your partner, flatmate or housemate works long hours only returning to need their own personal space, not wanting the barrage of chat you want to indulge in as they fill your need for some human contact.
By nature, even the most introvert of us, needs company at some point in the working week. The more extrovert types probably seek out some interaction on a daily basis.
The impact of isolation over long periods of time can have some damaging consequences.
Working on your own reduces beneficial feedback
If you work in an office as part of a team, when you hit a brick wall there’s always someone to bounce ideas off. Merely having to seek out the advice of others strengthens your thought processes. There is the confidence from knowing that someone else has run their eye over your work or proposal and that you’ve sought the views of even just one person. This provides impetus to your work and avoids the procrastination which is a trap we can easily fall into when we work alone.
In corporate life, your team is around you so feedback becomes part of the working day. Separated physically from your client or virtual assistant requires that feedback is planned into your processes.
Isolation increases procrastination
Procrastination comes in many forms. In the office there’s no laundry to do, no vacuuming or dinner to prepare. At home there is no one to tell you to ‘just do it'. Without the impetus of being in other people's company, isolation can result in a lack of motivation to tackle those important, urgent money-making tasks which pay the bills in favour of household chores accompanied by the radio.
Internet time wasters
Seeking out human contact online can mean disappearing down the internet ‘rabbit hole' and spending hours on unproductive social media. Now I’m not suggesting that you should abandon all form of online networking as it’s often great for business and for keeping in touch with people far and wide but it is a time suck.
Flicking from your work onto Facebook every time there's a notification has serious consequences for your ability to concentrate.
Collaboration increases innovation
One of the advantages of working as part of a team is that collaboration yields innovation and to some extent creativity, although I know a lot of solitary artists who have produced great works. However, if you've some serious decision-making to do then bouncing ideas off other people can be far more productive that contemplating alternatives on your own.
Brainstorming is better when there are others involved. One person feeds off another’s ideas. Once someone begins their outpouring of suggestions so the brain seems to release yet more ideas. Being in the company of others is stimulating. Just because you work alone it doesn’t mean you can’t seek out others to battle out ideas.
Get out of your head
When it’s just your own thoughts going round and round inside your head, it can be a demoralising and even stressful experience. With no one to tell you that you’re on the right track it’s easy to slip into a spiral of imposter syndrome (feeling you're not good enough) which is very damaging.
The trouble with this negative thinking is that it starts out slowly but can build into a serious problem.
Whilst in many instances human beings fall foul of optimism bias, when it comes to isolation, the perception is that everyone else is doing so much better. In fact there is more of a negative bias. Whilst we put up a confident front to the outside world, inside our lack of self-confidence is churning away. After all, no one goes to a networking meeting to offload a negative experience of their daily routine. We stick to the positive and cover up our struggles to give off a successful aura. No one is going to recommend someone with a pessimistic personality.
Social media doesn’t help in this regard as we are bombarded with images of the perfect lives of people winning awards, publishing articles, gaining speaking gigs and closing on fantastic deals. This can lead to small fish syndrome where you stick to the safe option, charging less than you might be worth and staying within your comfort zone. The more demoralised you feel the less likely you are to set yourself up for a challenge as taking risks becomes less attractive and causes anxiety.
How to overcome working from home isolation
- Plan, plan, plan
- Go out first thing
- Work in cafes, libraries, bookshops, museums, etc
- Join a networking group
- Spend a day a week in a co-working space
- Set up a Hoffice
- Post a session on KitchinTable
- Search Meetup or Eventbrite
- Attend a local Jelly
- Mix up your social life
- Arrange an online call with an accountability partner
- Go to a gym or a class in the middle of day
- Get a pet!
1. Plan, plan, plan
When you have a goal and a clear roadmap for achieving your goal, working on your own becomes so much easier. Simply waking up and winging it is a recipe for feeling out of control and everything becomes more difficult. Schedule your breaks and make them part of your day. Arrange to meet a friend for a coffee or lunch, or walk around the park or go for a swim. Combining exercise with your social time is a double whammy – healthy in body and mind.
2. Go out early in the day
Whether it’s to buy a newspaper or a walk around the block, unless you’re walking alone in the countryside, getting out first thing means you get your hit of social interaction first thing. A chat at the school gate may just set you up for a whole of working alone at home.
3. Take advantage of free WiFi
For the price of a coffee, you can work in a local cafe, museum or bookshop as long as you can concentrate whilst the world goes on around you. I tend to do admin or other repetitive tasks which I can successfully do on autopilot. You might find that a hotel lobby is quieter.
4. Attend networking events
If you are new to working from home, networking is a great way of meeting local business people who are usually small business owners and freelancers. Not only are there opportunities to spend a couple of hours in the company of others but also the potential for winning new business and learning business skills. I gained two clients at my very first networking event which was an unexpected surprise.
If you’re simply looking for company to solve your working from home isolation the I would avoid the very pushy referral breakfast networking. It's worth trialing a few different groups until you one which suits you.
5. Co-working spaces
There is a trend for office rental companies such as Regus who had formerly just let out office suites, to dedicate part of the building to a co-working lounge or hot desking. For a low entry point these companies offer a desk which can be rented on an hourly, daily or monthly basis. They are springing up all over the United States and in the major towns and cities in the Uk and Europe.
You might not make buddies the first time but show up regularly and you’ll gradually become a familiar face. Get out of your comfort zone and introduce yourself to others around the coffee machine.
6. Set up your own Hoffice
Started in Sweden, Hoffice combines the word ‘home' and ‘office' together and refers to regular, private co-working in peoples homes. I run a monthly Hoffice and have half a dozen local homepreneurs come for a day of focused work and this really helps with working from home isolation.
We use an adapted Pomodoro technique working in 50-minute sprints with 10-minute breaks. Read more about Hoffice here.
A brand new app, KitchinTable is like Airbnb for co-working. You put your offer of space on the app and people can book in for a small fee so that you benefit from the company of others whilst earning extra income.
A jelly is an informal type of co-working opportunity, either open to all or by invitation where the organiser uses a public space such as a pub, canteen or hotel foyer to hold a day of work. In my area we have several different jellies each held monthly. They are great for socialising and making connections but it can be tricky to concentrate if they get busy.
9. Look online
Meetup.com and Eventbrite are listings sites for a wide range of events both work focused and for social get-togethers. If you’re looking to meet likeminded people with a specific interest these sites are well worth researching.
10. Improve your social life
If you work and live on your own days can go by if you don’t intentionally seek out other people’s company. I live with one of my grown-up daughters and we have different social lives. She works in London and meets up with friends some evenings whilst my evenings are spent at choir, with my writing group or with my volunteering organisation
11. Find an Accountability partner
Find someone in a similar situation to yourself and have a regular online meeting over Skype or Zoom. If you’re working on a particular project you can be accountable to them for reaching your targets. Once again it’s that regular human contact which is important.
12. Take a class or go to the gym
Give yourself a guilt-free break in the middle of the day to exercise or take a weekly class. It goes against the grain to be leaving the office in the middle of the day and feels a bit like skiving. But flexibility is just one of the reasons people leave the 9 to 5. After a few weeks of regular attendance you’ll adapt to your new timetable.
13. Get a pet
The ultimate worker partner – they don’t talk back!
In this blog post I have given you thirteen ideas for keeping the problem of working from home isolation at bay. If you have any further suggestions, add them in the comments below.
If you struggle with time management take the Homepreneur Free Time Management video training https://www.homepreneur.co/time-management-video-series/