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February 15, 2015 8:27 AM   Subscribe

Work remote, live alone: how to mitigate the isolation?

I'm evaluating a job opportunity that will be just about 100% remote. From all appearances it would be a career pinnacle for me - I'll know more after I visit in the coming couple of weeks. I don't have an offer yet but they are flying me out to visit.

My current job is about 95% in-office, and I like being able to say hi to people, chat with some co-workers, etc. I don't have close friendships at work but one of my coworkers and I have the occasional long meaningful conversation.

I'm not positive that I would take to the practicalities of working remote: presence can matter quite a bit. But that's not my main worry. I'm more concerned about feeling very isolated during the work day. I'm an introvert but I'm not all the way to that side of the scale.

I live alone and have some decent social connections, all of whom work full-time on site at their jobs. I have one newish friend who lives close by, who I believe works out of her home. I have social things that I do during the week and on weekends. I am in therapy and I have a Zen practice as well. (These issues will be discussed with my therapist and with trusted friends IRL as well.)

Anyone else in a similar boat? How do you handle it? Work at coffeeshops/libraries? Text/call friends during the day? Meet folks for lunch?

Thank you for sharing your experience with me.
posted by Sheydem-tants to Work & Money (19 answers total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: When I did this for a while, I was able to arrange the work into two half days with a long break between. Meaning, starting early, taking a three-hour break for lunch, errands and hitting the gym, then coming back and finishing late. The break helped me get up and out of the "office" and the staggered schedule helped my co-workers in other time zones stay in synch.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 8:44 AM on February 15, 2015 [6 favorites]

Best answer: Hey! I'm being considered for a remote position as well. I'm like you, I enjoy going to the office. But there's a lot to be said for working from home.

One way to mitigate the isolation is to get out of the house. Go to Starbucks for a "coffee break." Meet friends for lunch.

Another thing is to join a gym. You can take classes with folks. Take evening classes, learn a language, or a new piece of software, Project Management, whatever.

I love the freedom of working from home (I've done it before.) I like going to the grocery store when it's relatively empty on a weekday. I like taking the noon yoga at the gym. I like cooking my breakfast and lunch at home.

I can make it work, especially for a great opportunity, but given my druthers, I'd rather work in an office. But it's a 51/49% thing.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 8:46 AM on February 15, 2015 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Are there coworking spaces near you? You could have an office environment without same-company coworkers.
posted by deludingmyself at 8:59 AM on February 15, 2015 [4 favorites]

Best answer: I worked nearly 100% remotely for 6 years. I found a good coffeeshop nearby for the first couple of years and worked there from 8 to about noon most days (actually buying things so I wasn't just taking up space) then I'd get lunch on my walk back to my apartment. It helped that I lived in large cities the entire time so everything was walkable. Having a schedule like that kept me on track too. I kind of had an "office" to walk to in the morning.

I have other friends who also work remote or are self employed and we'd chat back and forth pretty often, not enough to be distracted, but for the social interaction and small breaks.

Working remotely is awesome and even though I work in an office now I'll still take work from home days when I need to focus on a project without distractions. It's also much easier to work remotely if you live alone since other people tend to think that working from home isn't real work when they live with you so there's always the "hey, I know you're working, but could you run to the store for laundry detergent" stuff to deal with.

So yeah: Find somewhere else to work occasionally, find like minded people to talk with occasionally for microbreaks, set a schedule, and get out of the house when you're done working for the day for a bit. It helped that I lived right upstairs from a bar. A quick drink with regulars at the end of the day was just about all the social interaction I needed for the day.

Also, I don't know if this still goes on since it's been a while but Jelly is fun every now and then. People set up impromptu coworking spaces once a week just to get out of their houses and socialize while working.
posted by mikesch at 9:09 AM on February 15, 2015 [3 favorites]

Best answer: The first few weeks of my WFH job I was so busy acclimating to the job that I didn't even notice I wasn't in an office. My experience is that I absolutely love working from home and find I don't miss my office environment. At all. If it's possible to make your own hours, I encourage you (as do others above) to start a day class at the gym. It's a brand new community for me and we have a shared hobby to discuss, not the dreariness of deadlines or meetings.

I don't often meet friends for lunch - at first, there were some respect issues with my time/availability. Working from home isn't being available any time for anything, nor is it code for sitting on the couch and binge watching television. For me, I've found balance in maintaining the same social schedule I had with my office job (evenings/weekends) and am really enjoying the extra time I make for myself with my daily classes at the Y.

When there is a time that I do find myself feeling isolated and alone, I will call a coworker (the near dozen of us are scattered across the country and all work from home) for a quick chat or decide that's when I need to run to Trader Joe's or maybe even a lap around the mall. I'm an introvert who does a good job of masquerading on the extrovert side, and find this level of interaction is enough to get me through. Also, this might sound weird, I like to go to Hallmark and buy a card for someone when I feel this way. I might not even send it, but connecting to someone (sometimes without even speaking to them) helps me through.

Much success to you through the process! I hope that if you get and accept the offer that you'll find this new lifestyle a great fit for you.
posted by ovenmitt at 9:46 AM on February 15, 2015 [3 favorites]

The key is going elsewhere for coffee breaks/lunch/yoga class/whatever: something, in other words, that forces you to get dressed and get out of the house every day.

It's not the isolation of working from home that'll turn you into some cranky caveman, it's the total lack of regular, daily interactions with someone, anyone, else. Doesn't matter it the interaction is only a daily trip to Starbucks: you'll have to make it a rule to get out of the house for something every single day. And no cheating: dashing into 7-11 in your jammies & slippers with a coat thrown over it doesn't count!
posted by easily confused at 9:59 AM on February 15, 2015 [1 favorite]

Get a cat? Mine are great company when I work from home.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 10:28 AM on February 15, 2015 [2 favorites]

Several years ago a guy in NYC who worked from home started a group called the lunch club, so that he would get to socialize during the work day. I believe he initially target other remote workers, but the scope expanded eventually.

You could look for a similar group in your area, or just use something like facebook to look for other remote workers who would like to get coffee or lunch to break up the day.
posted by bunderful at 10:30 AM on February 15, 2015 [1 favorite]

In combination with some of the suggestions above, have you tried and/or Neither is a sure bet, but might be a good way to find one or more others nearby to take a break with.
posted by mmiddle at 10:37 AM on February 15, 2015 [2 favorites]

I work from home and have always struggled with it. Now I go to the public library every day and have a normal schedule (I do 11-7 instead of 9-5 because I like sleeping late). I hang out on weekends and evenings (but as a bit of a workaholic I find myself often working nights in my home office) and I bring lunch to the library to minimize stopping work. When I stop and do other stuff I have limited success in getting back to it.

Try the public library. It works super well for me.
posted by sockermom at 11:01 AM on February 15, 2015 [3 favorites]

I had a 100% WFH job for about 6 years, though the time at home was broken up by frequent travel. I would work at home in my office in the morning, then usually find a coffeeshop to work at in the afternoons (I had about 5-6 that I would rotate through). I definitely met friends for lunch or a walk in the park on occasion, too.

I work in an office 4 days a week now; it's pretty horrible. I would kill to go back to my old situation.
posted by medeine at 11:04 AM on February 15, 2015

There are probaby start up meetup and the like around town that you can join to get out the house once or twice a week.
posted by COD at 11:55 AM on February 15, 2015

If you get to the point of getting an offer, consider negotiating x number of paid trips to the office per year as part of your compensation. I work from home, but travel to the city the home office is in about once a month, so I'm able to have some of that unstructured "catch up with colleagues" face time that is so valuable.
posted by msbubbaclees at 12:05 PM on February 15, 2015 [1 favorite]

It helps me to shower, get dressed in non-sweatpants clothing, and put on shoes. Even if I don't plan to leave the house that day, the feeling of non being all blobbed out helps my body believe it's work time.
posted by the_blizz at 12:30 PM on February 15, 2015 [2 favorites]

(I mean, that doesn't have so much to do with isolation in and of itself, but being fully dressed will make you ready to leave the house...)
posted by the_blizz at 12:32 PM on February 15, 2015

posted by HuronBob at 1:47 PM on February 15, 2015 [1 favorite]

I instant message one of my close friends throughout the day while we are both working at home on our computers, nearly all day every day. I think most people find this too distracting. I don't know anyone else who uses IM, but lots of people, say, leave a facebook window open just in case there is someone to chat with for a minute while they are working.

I get lonely when I am alone most of the day and have no one to talk to online. There are lots of similarly minded people out there who you will find sitting in the same IRC chatroom, all day every day. I used to have a couple chatrooms that I would have open in the background while I was at my computer. All were hobby group related, but for the most part we were all people who worked alone at our computers all day and just wanted someone to chat to about our daily goings-on much like you'd chat with someone at the work station next to you.
posted by wrabbit at 4:15 PM on February 15, 2015 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Here's some of the things we do for our remote team. Many of these require some buy-in from the rest of the company, but they've all worked well for us.

1) we make extremely heavy use of Slack for instant messaging and ambient information.

2) we videoconference and screenshare regularly. (we invested in some nice equipment from BlueJeans to improve this)

3) we make sure the employee's on-site on boarding period includes a lot of socialization, so they can start to build out those connections.

4) everybody flies to HQ 3 or 4 times per year, and we schedule happy hours and parties during those times, for extra face time.

5) we pay for coworking spaces for those who want them. We discovered that this has a happy side effect when it comes to recruiting, as people grow fairly large networks of people who are interested in and capable of working remote.

6) we suggest that people attend meetups and other group activities, whether it's a running club, a ToastMaster's meeting, or yoga.

7) we routinely solicit feedback from our remote team about what we can be doing better / how we can better support them, and we run nearly any inexpensive experiment they suggest.
posted by grudgebgon at 7:01 PM on February 15, 2015 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: I am pleased to report that I'll be putting these suggestions into practice! Thanks everyone.
posted by Sheydem-tants at 9:03 AM on March 7, 2015 [1 favorite]

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