Makeup done? Check. Laptop fully charged? Check. Matcha latte in hand? Check.
I’m working from a coffee shop for the first time in months, and I can already feel a deep sense of energy bubbling up inside of me. I haven’t experienced this sense of motivation in ages. I’m self-employed as a freelance writer, and waking up and rolling over to my home desk day after day began growing old. By 2 p.m., my shoulders would hunch, my eyes would grow heavy and I’d lose all motivation to keep typing.
A self-professed introvert, I don’t mind spending time alone. It’s part of the reason I became a freelance writer. But after my husband, a medical resident, began working 70-hour weeks (including many overnight shifts), I began growing lonely. Coupled with the fact that I had a falling out with my mother and my grandmother passed away, I began to feel isolated, as though I had no one to talk to when work got slow. Some days, I’d go six or seven hours without speaking to anyone, save for occasional texting with friends.
As of 2022, 35% of Americans have the ability to work from home full-time, according to a McKinsey report, not to mention those who work from home part-time. I’ve chatted with other work-from-homers, and the consensus is clear: The freedom is awesome, but the loneliness can be pervasive.
Below, you’ll find a guide for avoiding loneliness when you work from home. They’re tips from writers like myself and other professionals who’ve learned the best ways to be social without an office to visit or co-workers to chat with.
1. Grab lunch with a friend to avoid work-from-home loneliness.
This has been one of the best ways for me to combat loneliness. I try to schedule lunch or coffee with a friend once a week in order to have a little socialization on my calendar. I aim for Wednesday or Thursday, when my work motivation begins to wane.
Hilary Billings, a speaker and influencer, calls these supercharged interactions. “Set up weekly routines that involve being around other people who energize you,” she says. “Whether this is creating a standing lunch appointment with a close friend, joining an after-hours workout class or Skyping someone for a daily 15-minute power conversation, having those connection moments to look forward to releases thought patterns of loneliness.”
2. Volunteer once a week.
I know several freelance writers who get out of the house by having a part-time job. Although this can be a great way to socialize a few times a week, I didn’t like the idea of being beholden to an employer. (That’s why I became a freelancer in the first place.) Instead of getting a job, I began volunteering at a local Head Start preschool once a week for two hours. Playing with a group of 5-year-olds every Wednesday afternoon gave me a much-needed pick-me-up.
3. Head to the library to avoid loneliness when you work from home.
Many people eschew coffee shops because they can be noisy and full of distractions. If you fall into this camp, consider heading to the library instead. You’ll get out of the house for a bit, and you’ll have a quiet setting to work in. It’s a win-win.
4. Keep meaningful photographs on your desk.
Lucy Harris, CEO of Hello Baby Bump, says one way she fights the work-from-home loneliness is by keeping photographs of her loved ones near her workspace. “Even though I may be alone, I look at the pictures to reminisce on the memory or the people in it, and suddenly I don’t feel as lonely because I know there are others around me and in my life,” she says.
5. Foster your weak-tie connections.
In life, we have both weak-tie and strong-tie connections. People like your parents, spouse and friends are strong ties. Weak ties are people who aren’t strangers, but aren’t friends, either: the front-desk clerk at your gym, the seafood guy at your grocery store, the barista at your favorite coffee shop. While the benefits weak ties provide in regards to social support has been questioned, studies have found that weak ties can improve emotional well-being in older adults. Additionally, a study published in Science found that, to a point, weak ties can increase job mobility, particularly within digital and tech industries.
Business coach and marketer Stacy Caprio says she always makes a point of getting out of the house once a day. “As you do, smile and say ‘hi’ to everyone you see, including your building’s door manager, the janitor, any neighbor walking outside, the person taking your order at the restaurant or anyone [else] you happen to see,” she says. “These small social connections and conversations will go a long way toward making you feel connected and less lonely without being a huge time draw or anything you have to plan in advance.”
6. Put on a podcast to prevent work-from-home loneliness.
This tip comes from Sharon Rosenblatt, director of communications at Accessibility Partners. “I listen to podcasts during work,” she says. “While not ‘real people,’ it provides a nice background that is humanizing.”
7. Join a coworking space.
Cities across the country are now filled with coworking spaces, with hundreds of thousands of people paying a fee each month to rent a desk or office in a shared workspace. Although these spaces can provide a sense of community for the work-from-home crowd, there’s one caveat: They can often be pricey, with costs per desk ranging from “as little as $200 per month and as high as $700,” with an average of “around $300-$400 per dedicated desk in an open office floor plan,” according to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
8. Exercise to combat loneliness when working from home.
No list of ways to avoid loneliness when working from home would be complete without mention of exercise. Exercise has countless benefits we’re all well versed in, one of which is improved mental well-being. If you’re not doing so already, head to the gym or join an intramural sports league to get some much-needed mental energy.
9. Consider getting a furry friend.
I spoke with countless people who work from home for this article, and more than one touted the benefits of having a pet nearby. Their advice is shrewd—a 2020 study published in PLOS One found that pets can serve as “potential social buffers for psychological distress and loneliness, regardless of species.”
Health psychologist and neuroscientist Sabina Brennan can vouch for the benefits of having dogs. “I have four rescue dogs, and they help me address loneliness in so many ways,” she says. “They have to be walked every day, so that forces me out of the house, and dogs are a great ice breaker—people will often stop to say ‘hello’ to you and your dog.”
Brennan also says simply smiling at her pets improves her mood. “Smiling is critical for our health: It boosts our immune function, it lowers blood pressure and it releases hormones that make us feel good—it’s a natural stress buster. Many of us see smiling as a reaction to something funny or in response to someone else’s smile, so if we work from home, we can forget to smile, which can compound feelings of loneliness. My dogs always give me something to smile about.”
This article was published in July 2019 and has been updated. Photo by PeopleImages.com – Yuri A/Shutterstock
Jamie Friedlander is a freelance writer based in Chicago and the former features editor of SUCCESS magazine. Her work has been published in The Cut, VICE, Inc., The Chicago Tribune and Business Insider, among other publications. When she's not writing, she can usually be found drinking matcha tea into excess, traveling somewhere new with her husband or surfing Etsy late into the night.