Working Alone from Home?

Q: Six months ago I started my home-based business after leaving a corporate job where I worked in an office with 2,000 people. I haven’t quite adjusted to the isolation. How can I replicate some of the stimulation of other people? I’m concerned that I may not be cut out to work on my own.

A: Just because you no longer physically work with hundreds of other people in the same building doesn’t mean you’re sentencing the rest of your career to operating solo. There are effective ways to mirror working among peers while enjoying the comfort and freedom of a home-based business.

Even though you no longer have the formality of going into a traditional setting working from home, set regular working hours and dress as if you’re headed to the office. To make up for the built-in camaraderie of working side by side with others, plan frequent breaks just as you would in an office when you might visit a colleague in another cubicle or get up to refresh your coffee. Take a short walk or do stretches.

Figure out how your clients and partners prefer to communicate. Is it in person, on the phone, via emails or by text- or other instant-messaging? I like phone calls, but some clients I work with love to text, so I do both. I also have home-based clients who favor video technology because they want face-to-face connections. Video chats via Skype and FaceTime (free applications for many uses) are a perfect lifeline to the outside world and great for fighting the sense of isolation that can creep up when working alone. The personal interaction of these apps allows both sides to gauge facial expressions and body language; their simplicity allows almost any computer user access from home. By varying your communication methods, you’re less likely to find yourself in a workday rut.

Although your former employer probably had a cafeteria or other place for employees to gather, now you must find places to meet colleagues and clients. While you don’t need to schedule daily lunches (especially if time and money are issues), it’s smart to leave home every day to break up your routine. Find a coffee shop or two you like and meet there instead. Chatting over a cup of joe is quicker and less expensive than a full meal.

Another way to avoid loneliness is by working once or twice a week from a coffee shop, hotel lobby or public space offering free Wi-Fi. In mild weather, you can work from a park on your laptop or make cellphone calls for a while during the day. The change of scenery will perk you up and keep you abreast of what people are talking about and doing. Plus, you might meet someone who’ll turn out to be your next collaborator.

Finally, consider sharing space in the co-working sites and small-business incubators that are sprouting up across the country. They’re designed so entrepreneurs in diverse fields can benefit from the other folks working under the same roof. Maybe you’re in product development but there’s a thorny legal or technical issue that you can’t handle—an expert a few cubicles away might be able to help. Just search for “co-working” on the Internet to find a nearby option.

If you use these tactics every workday, you’re likely to feel a major improvement in stamina and stimulation.

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