“Do you miss people?”
When I mention that I work for myself, I can always tell the more social types, because this is the first thing they ask. It’s funny because depending on the day, I totally vacillate as to whether or not I miss people.
On one hand, I miss being able to exchange ideas in conversation. I miss the nuance that comes from a facial expression rather than an email or an instant message. I miss being able to run to grab coffee around the corner for a break. I miss seeing the full sweep of office politics.
I don’t miss the constant grind of meetings. I don’t miss coworkers looking for an excuse to waste some time. I don’t miss having to put on a happy face for 9 hours when things aren’t going well. And I *really* don’t miss enforced fun (aka “team building exercises”)
The first time I worked remotely it was hard – I was close to everyone in my office, and I left to move back home. I found it hard to stay motivated, and days went by when the only person I saw was my roommate.
The second time I worked remotely (yes, I’ve done this more than once) it was almost effortless. My major job tasks required a lot of concentration and being able to manage the noise and distraction level really helped me get things done. From a productivity standpoint, I was a rockstar and I loved working on my own. At the same time, I was (again) very close to my office mates and had moved to a new city where I knew virtually no one, so it was lonely. I went back to the office once a month because keeping those ties were incredibly important. I almost had the best of both worlds.
At the start of my consulting career, I was effectively doing the same things I’d done at my old job but I wasn’t working on a team. My client was two time zones away and I wasn’t on the phone all day long. It was really lonely, but I did try to connect to the outside world more frequently. By the time I went into consulting full time in 2009, I had several clients in town. Over the past two years I’ve been able to cobble together that allows me to get my work done while also engaging with other people – clients, friends and other people in my industry – with whom I can exchange ideas.
Here are a few things that I recommend you do to keep yourself connected:
- Get some facetime with your clients – Email, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Skype…etc….is great but it doesn’t give you the real nuances of a person. I try to meet with my clients in person somewhat regularly – for some it probably feels like I drop by daily, but for others it’s scheduled. Getting that time with them can give you some cues to how a project is going, and some understanding of the person behind the emails/phone calls/etc.
- Find a professional organization – I’ve been really bad about going to local events in the last year or so due to childcare reasons (as in “When I have childcare, I’m usually too busy to go to a luncheon”) but getting involved in my local professional organization was invaluable for my first few years in town, and working on my own. If you work for yourself, or if you work at home, I’d really recommend not just going to meetings but actually volunteering your time. Most of my clients came from referrals of people that I met while on the board of my local organization.
- Get thee a support network – One of the best things that’s happened in recent years is that several friends of my have gone off on their own as well. It’s been great for me, because it’s like a built-in support network of people who get it. We might not all do exactly the same thing, but its close enough that we can share ideas, commiserate (or congratulate) and address issues that might not be something your friend whose worked at the same job for 10 years can answer.
Most of these things can help you stay connected without pulling you outside of your work environment. I’ve actually thought about Coworking as an option, but ultimately the way my day(s) are scheduled I would lose an hour of work time driving, parking and walking into the nearest coworking place. Maybe in the future it would help me be even more connected, but for now, these things keep me going.