Living alone, working at home, and no socializing? Both your work and health are likely suffering. Here is a look at the problem and some solutions.
While the freedom of being self-employed is often glamorized nowadays, many freelancers find themselves falling into a rut of loneliness and malaise due to social isolation. Searches for “freelancer isolation” and similar keywords return many pages of results, indicating this issue is prevalent. It can quickly become a problem for introverts who live alone and work from home online, serving clients remotely via crowdsourcing sites such as Conyac.
However, working online from home alone is not the problem. It’s how we balance it with the right amount of positive social interactions that matters. In this article, we’ll examine some of the problems caused by excess social self-isolation, why some people fall into this pattern, and how even introverts can establish a fulfilling and balanced social life that enhances their productivity.
What Attracts People to Working at Home Alone
Many people who live alone at home choose to also use their living space for working. There can be tremendous benefits including the following.
Better Focus: It’s easier to get into a flow state, you have more control over your environment, and there are minimal unscheduled interruptions.
More Freedom: You can usually take breaks whenever you want, for as long as you want.
More Relaxed: No need to talk to anyone if you’re not feeling up to it, no office politics, no need to worry about your appearance, and no having to keep your environment tidy.
Saving Money: No paying rent for office space and no overpriced food or drinks.
Saving Time: The time you would have otherwise spent commuting can be put to better use.
How Some People Learn to Prefer Solitude
In addition to the perks mentioned above, some people have a tendency to isolate themselves. My theory is that this may partially be due to influences during childhood and early adulthood.
Studying Alone: Growing up in a household where they were expected to go to their room and study alone versus with family members or friends. This indirectly conditioned them to associate hanging out to chat in the kitchen or living room as being “bad” and being alone in their room as being “good.”
Incentives: If academic achievements were won through efforts made while studying alone, then the resulting parental approval may have reinforced the subconscious belief that working alone is better.
Being Grounded: Perhaps when they broke the rules, their parents punished them by forbidding them from going out to play or socialize for a week, month, or longer without going out. Venturing out would have incurred further parental wrath, inadvertently adding further programming that being alone was the correct behavior.
Social Awkwardness: If they were painfully shy or lacking in confidence, then coming home and going into their room to be alone may have felt like a great relief each day.
Bullying and Abuse: If retreating somewhere to be alone provided a respite from the pain of bullying or abuse, then this may have also contributed.
Addictions: Any kind of addiction can result in us feeling ashamed and preferring to be alone.
Location: Their isolation may have been exacerbated if they lived in an area where the local community didn’t regularly interact socially.
This kind of upbringing may have programmed their subconscious to associate staying home alone with being safer, easier and leading to achieving results that pleased their parents. After graduating from high school and legally becoming adults, depending on circumstances, their tendency to isolate themselves may have continued and even been further reinforced.
Why Freelancers Choose to Isolate Themselves
1. No More Student Life
While attending school, kids and teenagers have their school days to provide some amount of face-to-face interaction with others. Living at home with family hopefully also offered some positive interactions regularly. These circumstances may have encouraged some balance. However, later, once transitioning to living alone and freelancing full-time, some find that their social life fades away and they have few requirements to interact with others.
2. Drifting Apart from Friends
When people relocate to another city or state, their old friendships may slowly fade away. Even if people don’t move, their friends may. Or, perhaps their friends got busy with raising a family while they stayed single.
3. The Shame of Financial Failure
Another factor often not discussed is that a significant number of freelancers struggle financially. Some even invest large sums in their workspace, tools (software, computer, online services, etc.), taking courses, marketing, and other items before they can afford them. Eventually, they find themselves in debt and struggling.
Meanwhile, their friends who got traditional jobs seem to have thriving careers and, according to their social media posts, appear to be increasingly doing well financially. This can create a sense of shame and embarrassment that makes freelancers feel reluctant to go out and socialize with their friends.
4. The Hustle and Grind Mentality
There is a broad variety of influencers who provide advice and motivation for freelancers through social media. Many glorify the “hustle” and “grind.” They boast about going without sleep, working marathon hours, not taking a day off for years, and achieving massive success as a result. This can encourage the self-isolated freelancer to believe that if they could only focus and work harder, then they would achieve similar success. Since their default mode is to go it alone, they think that more solitary toil is required to earn the right to go out and enjoy socializing.
Why Too Much Isolation is Unhealthy
People who are naturally outgoing and gregarious are continually seeking opportunities to be around other people to socialize and connect with in every part of their lives. Thus it is people who naturally feel comfortable spending time alone that are prone to slipping into increasing isolation that can turn unhealthy.
Excessive deprivation from social contact gradually drains people of energy and creativity while stressing them out. Yet, loners are often unaware of this causation and automatically assume that the best solution is to stay home to work longer and harder until they are redeemed by the fruits of their labor and have earned the perk of being able to go out to socialize.
The stress from this triggers our base impulses, and we may find ourselves seeking solace by overindulging in food, alcohol, television, social media, and anything else that might provide momentary relief. The guilt and shame from this can make us even less keen on going out.
Naturally, our productivity and the quality of your work also suffer from this situation, which can further exacerbate the negative cycle. As a result, we can feel stuck in a rut.
Ways to Fit Socializing into Your Work Routine
It’s clear that excessive social isolation is a problem. While each individual’s thresholds will differ, it’s clear that we all have a need for having a certain amount of positive and meaningful social interactions on a regular basis.
If you’re prone to self-isolation, you’re probably worried that socializing will take away from your work. This may lead you to join freelancer forums such as xtra.community to connect with people in a similar situation as yourself. These online resources certainly have their value, but they cannot replace face-to-face interactions with humans.
Let’s look at several solutions that combine work with socializing. If approached correctly, they will actually boost your productivity while improving your mental health. I’ll list three ideas in rough order of commitment and feasibility.
Meetups are a low-cost and low-risk way to encounter more people with common interests. Check out sites such as CraigsList, EventBrite, and Meetup to find events in your area that match your interests and schedule. If you go there and it’s not for you, it should be easy to slip out discreetly.
The focus of the meetup doesn’t necessarily need to be directly connected to your work. You may find that by choosing one that is about one of your hobbies, you make more authentic connections with people. This can often lead to their taking an interest in what you do for a living. They may have needs for your services or can refer you to someone who does.
You may not be the physical type to go hiking or train martial arts. If you are, consider slowly getting back into those pursuits by joining a club. If not, see what other clubs might be in your area. Perhaps something like art or photography is more up your alley. Try attending once and if a club isn’t a good fit for you, keep looking.
Courses and Classes
Is there something you would like to learn that would improve your marketability and productivity as a freelancer? Instead of courses and information online, consider attending classes in real life. This might give you a chance to meet classmates with shared interests and interact with the teacher. Check it out first before committing.
2. Cafe Work Dates
If you are friends with one or more local freelancers and there is a suitable cafe in your area, consider scheduling times to work together. The arrangement can have several benefits.
Refreshing: Even if you’re just going to the local Starbucks, it forces you to get out of your pajamas, clean yourself up a bit, put on clothes, step outside and go somewhere. This simple process can be energizing.
Social Contact: You will interact with the baristas and possibly other patrons.
Variety: Finally, you have something on your calendar other than job deadlines. This can help break you out of your working-at-home routine. The background buzz and ambiance of the cafe can be a welcome change.
Schedule: If the meeting is regular, it can give you something to look forward to and plan around.
Motivation: Being around other people who are also working can inspire you to put more effort into your own work.
Sharing: If you have complementary skills or experience, you can ask each other questions and help each other solve problems. You might even share contacts or refer each other to clients.
It doesn’t need to be all day, every day. Even a few hours a week will be good for you both. In addition to cafes, other venues to consider for work dates include libraries or each others’ homes.
3. Coworking and Co-living
If you’re struggling financially, skip this section because the costs involved will only make things worse. For those who have their finances in order, coworking and co-living can allow you to socialize and network during your breaks.
A coworking space is a shared facility designed for independent individuals to work. There are a broad variety of coworking spaces around the world. Some have more of an office-like setting, while others feel like cafes. Many offer amenities like kitchens stocked with snacks and beverages, high-speed internet, printers, meeting rooms, and couches to take a relaxing break.
There is no standard format or fee structure. Some allow you to drop in for as little as an hour. Others have a monthly fee that provides you with various benefits. If you’re able to commit to more extended periods, discounts may be available.
Apart from offering facilities better suited to getting work done, coworking spaces have another advantage over cafes and libraries in that they provide more opportunities to meet other people spontaneously. If might feel weird to strike up a conversation with a random stranger in a cafe, whereas in a coworking space, you already have something in common - you’re both professionals there to work and wanting to grow professionally.
You’ll likely find yourself chatting to people in the shared kitchen, break area, or at the coffee machine. Some coworking spaces organize regular networking events to help their members connect and feel a sense of community.
Not all coworking space users are freelancers or solopreneurs; companies of all sizes contract with global coworking space providers such as WeWork to provide them with workspace for traveling employees or teams coming together for ad-hoc projects. You might meet someone from a company which just happens to have a need for someone with your skills and would prefer to contract with a freelancer than hire a full-time staff member.
Coworking spaces can range from casual places in suburbs to fancy setups in downtown landmark office towers. Depending on the cost of the underlying real estate and the offerings included in the package, price levels can vary dramatically.
These are facilities that combine a coworking space with living quarters. There are various living/working formats, property grades, locations, pricing schemes, and amenities available.
One popular format in urban areas is an apartment building that has one or two floors of shared facilities. The rooms may or may not have their own toilet, shower, bath, or kitchen.
Some properties offer housekeeping services. The common areas may include a kitchen and laundry. Others may have their own cafe, restaurant, or bar. Exercise facilities, rooftop balconies, and gardens may also be features. Other properties may be large houses or even farms.
Many operate similarly to hotels or serviced apartments. Some allow stays as short as one night, while others are geared for residents staying for months or longer. Some offer all of these and charge lower rates for longer stays.
The social benefits are similar to those of coworking spaces, but closer connections may be formed as you live with people and might encounter them at all hours throughout the week in different situations. Depending on the property, there may be a mixture of long-term residents or people just passing through.
Everyone has different interests and appetite for social interaction. The most important thing is to find ways to get regular positive social interactions that fit your lifestyle, work situation, and personality. Find the right fit, and it will help you climb out of the rut and shift into a positive cycle of both personal and professional growth.
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