Until a few years ago I always worked in an office of some kind. They have not always been conventional office spaces, but whether it has been a large, open-plan office, a vast newsroom or studio, smaller rooms with just one or two people, or darkened edit suites with perhaps one other, I was working alongside somebody else.
There were moments where I was incredibly focused, working to a deadline and barely raising my head but there was always background noise and chatter. There were occasional moments of laughter and banter, there was discussion, commentary, and even the complaining, which served as the soundtrack to my working day.
It was companionship and friendships which made even the dullest or most challenging of days more bearable. There was a friendly colleague in moments of stress, somebody who could relate to the tough days or the poor attitudes of another co-worker and somebody you could bounce ideas off, or just have a little chuckle with. There was company over lunch and a friendly ear when you wanted to have a little rant about some aspect of home life.
Then I began working from home. I woke up that first day, not having to pack myself on to a crowded commuter train, able to enjoy a leisurely breakfast, a run before work, and I could plan my day to my own schedule. It was amazing.
But, it soon hit me. It hit me when former work colleagues began talking about the office party and the after-work drinks; it hit me when I was staring at a blank page and thinking how nice it would be to quickly chat to my friend to get some ideas flowing. It hit me at the end of the day when I realised I had not spoken to another person.
Yep, work-from-home loneliness can be a problem. There are so many wonderfully positive aspects to it but one thing that doesn’t always get discussed is the isolation.
Work from home loneliness and mental health
Is it important? Well, it depends on you as a person and whether you are more extrovert or introvert, but even the most introverted benefit from human interaction! We can all feel lonely at times but long-term isolation and prolonged feelings of loneliness are inevitably bad for your mental health and could even lead to depression.
It’s also important to note that loneliness is not the same as being alone. You can feel alone even when you’re surrounded by people, or see people on a daily basis. Some people might feel lonely because of a disability, belonging to a minority group, having a mental health condition or because of being a single parent. Sometimes it’s due to lack of human contact, sometimes it’s down to not feeling understood or accepted.
Sometimes, all we need is a little jolt back into the real world to feel connected again and although taking breaks to interact on social media is fine, nothing beats face-to-face communication. In fact, if you are predisposed to feeling low or going through a period where you’re struggling with isolation, then social media breaks can sometimes exacerbate those feelings when all you see are your friends getting together and seemingly having a great time or achieving ‘huge success’ in their life.
Remember, you will not get a true, rounded picture from a filtered Instagram post or one-off status
Learning to be content and happy with your own company is really powerful and can help fulfil you as much as a buzzing social life.
One thing I do try to do is appreciate the moments of calm and solitude when I need to focus, and don’t get me wrong, sometimes being on my own is my preference. Let’s not forget the lack of office politics!
It is great to be able to work without distractions from other people and to be able to work under the conditions in which I want to work. If I want to play music, I can. If I want to sing along, I can! And yep, if I get a bit carried away and want to get up and do a little wiggle to said music, I can do that too!
Radio is a great way to feel less ‘alone’. Choosing a station which combines your own music tastes and a little talk can be really good background noise if you are someone who doesn’t do too well with complete silence.
Getting outside and meeting other people can be a brilliant antidote to isolation but also forces you to take a break.
Meeting a friend for a quick coffee, almost as if you would grab a coffee break in the office is a good use of time if you are disciplined around not letting it drag on and eat into your working time.
Setting a clear objective and letting the other person know a set time when you need to be back is good to do from the outset.
Purpose and Meaning
I know that feeling a bit lost, aimless and comparing yourself to others can heighten feelings of isolation and loneliness.
I’ve always found that when I have a clear goal and something meaningful that I’m working towards, those feelings dissipate. It gives you purpose and identity that can be empowering. It might be a work initiative but it could be volunteering your time for an event or charity.
It can help make you feel part of something bigger and that in itself helps to combat work from home loneliness.
Equally, try to find meaningful connections in your week with people who you have a bond with. In our Flex issue of The Homeworker we looked at ways to stay connected during lockdown. A catch up with an old friend and bonding time with family can help to instil more meaning and ward off feelings of loneliness.
You can be most cognizant of your lone situation when you’re facing a challenge or problem with your work. I know when I’m hitting a roadblock, I recognise how useful it would be to turn to the person at the neighbouring desk or knock on the office down the corridor to ask for help from that trusted colleague or maybe even a boss who you value as a mentor.
Being an entrepreneur working at home, or a remote worker, finding a mentor of some kind, someone you can connect with on a regular basis, can be hugely beneficial. It can help you with your business but also to combat work from home loneliness.
This person may not be a business mentor, it might be a friend who can relate or an accountability partner to keep you in check. If you can meet them in person, it offers a win-win solution but even an online meeting can help give you a new perspective.
Sweat and forget
A gym session gives you a screen break, a good sweat and the opportunity to socialise. Scheduling a session with a friend is ideal but even if you don’t have a workout companion, the gym is a place where you will inevitably end up talking to someone, even if just the receptionist or one of the trainers.
Better still, fitting in a class workout ticks all the boxes or why not become part of a walking Meetup group?
If it’s impossible to go to the gym, a long workout outdoors can still help you feel part of the world again. You’ll see other people out and about and running is great to get your creative juices flowing as well.
Pop to the shops. There are a number of times I have just ‘popped out’ to the shops to buy some milk or bread (or some new paperclips) because it gets me out of the house and it gives me some interaction with another human!
While meaningful conversations help you to feel reconnected, any conversation, however short, can be enough to make you feel part of the world again and not cut off in your home office bubble.
Work from home loneliness often becomes apparent at certain time of the year or at key moments in your business journey. The office parties and socialising are much harder when you’re all working remotely. Not only are the spontaneous decisions to “pop to the pub” after work not happening but there can be less feeling of camaraderie if you rarely see each other face to face. Scheduling social meetups is still important to keep those relationships warm, even if they’re virtual.
As a self-employed homeworker, you might not be part of a large team, but you might have a few people whose services you use occasionally: maybe a designer, a VA, an accountant, a website builder for example. At key points in your business’ growth, get them together, organise a mini party to say thanks and have a celebration. If you’re all living in different places (and often remote teams are just that), a virtual party is still a good chance to connect.
On that note, never forget to celebrate, however small the wins! The launch of a website, the registration of your business name, your first 1000 followers… It’s always a good excuse to acknowledge your progress and share your success with friends and family, even if you don’t have an office full of colleagues to do it with.
Nurturing your network is vital when you work from home. As we discussed in our Flex issue of The Homeworker magazine, the opportunities to network become harder when you’re alone at home and need to be more carefully engineered.
Remember to check out your local networking hubs and groups. There are small business networking groups, online networking and events that allow time to network with fellow attendees.
In issue 5 of The Homeworker, we share a personal journey of networking from the fear and anxiety to the ways to do it that work for you.
Meetups are great places to get to interact in person and help to combat work from home loneliness. If it’s tough finding friends in a similar position or who are free to grab coffee once a week then a Meetup group offers the perfect opportunity to network and socialise. There are Meetups covering all sorts of topics too so whether it’s entrepreneur groups or fans of fur-babies, there will be a groups out there!
If you want to add an online element to your interaction or in the first instance, just want somewhere to reach out, say hey, and see if anyone can relate, The Homeworker Community is a good space to do that. It’s a place where Homeworkers can share, comment and generally feel heard and understood. Come on over!
If you do feel isolated, disconnected or just alone with your problems then there are lots of organisations out there. Reach out and don’t be afraid to ask for help.
For more ideas and inspiration when you work alone at home, an annual subscription to The Homeworker magazine gives you a quarterly dose of expert tips and strategies and helps form that sense of being less alone. Find out more here on how to subscribe.