Working from home has many benefits, but let’s face it, considerable challenges also. The most dangerous of which I believe is the possibility of becoming isolated. Human beings are social creatures. Even if your personality makes you happy with your own company for long periods of time, you may not realise just how much you draw on outside stimulation until it is no longer there.
All the things about working outside the home that can be sources of annoyance – the commute, the greeting of colleagues, office banter, going out to get a sandwich at lunchtime and so on – are also bombarding you with images, ideas and personalities that you just don’t get when you only have to roll out of bed and into your home workspace.
Working alone is great for concentration in short bursts, but if there is no relief from the thoughts in your own head, it can quickly become demoralising. The trouble is that the process is an insidious one and can creep up without you noticing until suddenly you feel demotivated and out of sorts for no apparent reason.
The problem is compounded by the fact that home workers talk freely enough about what they do, but not very much about how they do it. It’s understandable – you’re not going to go to a networking event and chat to a complete stranger about your struggles with procrastination and how you think you might be going quietly mad in the back bedroom.
From the perspective of the home office, it can look as though everyone else is hugely successful and thriving while you are the only one struggling. It’s natural that you compare yourself with others, but when you’re not working alongside other people, the picture is distorted and you see only the public success – new clients, publication of a book, an award or honour – and none of the struggle and the failures. You are, however, all too aware of the bumps in the road in your own life. Ironically social media, which does so much to help home workers feel connected, can also make you feel quite inadequate.
The danger here is not only that you make yourself miserable but succumb to something I’ve heard called ‘small fish syndrome’. You unconsciously start to feel you have less to offer in comparison with competitors and limit the scope of what you’re doing, sticking with work that doesn’t take you out of your comfort zone or charging less than you could. The end results on potential and income are obvious.
So, over the many years I’ve been working from home, I’ve come to believe that the most important priority is to plan in your diary, every week, the contact you need with other people and the outside world.
I know you’re probably thinking “But I don’t have time for that, I have to get my work done”. My answer is that all too often we limit ourselves to the home office, believing we are being more productive when in fact we’re wasting time fretting about upcoming tasks and not focusing. Getting out brings all kinds of benefits – fresh perspective, new ideas and a renewed passion for what we do.
So how can you vary your routine to get the input you need?
Phone calls: Make business calls first thing in the morning so you’re immediately hooked into life outside the house. It can also help you plan priorities for the day. Sometimes you might want a chat with friends or family, but take care that you’re not encouraging them to ring you during the working day when it could be a distraction.
Skype: Use it to catch up with contacts as well as for business, with the same proviso as above.
Social media: A brilliant way to connect with likeminded people all over the world, but do use it in a disciplined way with an goal in mind and log off when you need to concentrate.
Get out of the house: Do it at least once a day, even if it’s just a walk to the shops, and enjoy the time out instead of rushing back. Stop for a chat with a neighbour, do some window shopping, or take a different route home.
Attend events: Conferences, networking and training. Go to networking not with the thought of getting more business, but as a way to meet people and build a support network.
Work outside: Take your laptop, tablet or a notebook and spend time outside the house. This could be in the local park, a coffee shop, hotel lobby, library or any public space with free Wi-Fi. Go out and work regularly in a coworking space or attend Jelly, groups of home workers, freelances and small business owners who work alongside each other for the day.
I’ve found through my own experience that making these activities a priority not only prevents the slide down the slippery slope of isolation, but makes my everyday routine much more lively and enjoyable. It might take you a while to find the combination that suits you best, but will pay dividends in many ways.