Overcoming the Isolation of Working From Home

The grass is always greener. For a lot of people who are more traditionally employed, working from home can sound awfully alluring. Even if you don’t want to quit your day job just yet, the prospect of telecommuting rather than actually making the physical trip to the office each day sounds pretty great. And don’t get me wrong, working from home can be really great. No one is going to steal your lunch (except for your wife and kids). And you can work in your pajamas. That’s pretty nice.

The Water Cooler Banter

The strange thing, though, is that some of the things that may have once annoyed or frustrated you are also some of the things you might start to miss when you move away from the traditional office setting. You know all that background chatter from the other people at their desks? It’s replaced with complete and utter silence. That might sound appealing to some, but it can also feel draining and empty for others, especially over time.

You know that annoying guy who cracks bad jokes at the water cooler? You might come to miss laughing at his groan-worthy puns. Or maybe you were that guy and now you miss having an audience. When you work from home, like GooseChase customer experience director Rebecca Yaffa, you may have a change of heart. “I really missed the social interaction,” she says, “that I used to have in a more traditional office setting.”

A Real Health Hazard

According to CBC News, people who worked from home reported the highest incidence of “extreme personal isolation.” This affects physical health and mental health. There are higher rates of and a greater risk for pain disorders, depression, anxiety, cardiovascular disease, immune system disease… all sorts of personal well-being.

In an interview with the Boston Globe, former US surgeon general Dr. Vivek Murthy said that the “mortality effect associated with loneliness is even similar to the life-shortening that we see with smoking 15 cigarettes a day.” A startling statistic indeed.

When I told my wife about this story, she told me that I still see people all the time. I spend pretty much all day with my daughter, we go out to eat frequently, we visit the library and go shopping. But what my wife doesn’t understand is this sense of social isolation from other professionals in the same industry, doing a similar kind of work. Online interactions through social networks aren’t enough. We need that face-to-face.

Noodles and Networking

More than 10 years ago, before John moved down to California, I wrote about why I attend Dot Com Pho, the once weekly get-together we’d have over Vietnamese noodles. It’s there that I met John in person for the first time, and it’s also where I connected with many of the people who are still my friends today. Some still make money online full-time and others have moved on to other things. These regular gatherings helped a lot in the relatively early days of my online career.

These days, we don’t get together nearly as often as we did before. Many of us have grown up, gotten married, had kids, and finding a time that works for everyone is that much harder. We spend much more time with our families and understandably so. But we have to make it a priority to see one another more often. We still get together now and then, like we did in the 360 vlog. That helps with the isolation for sure. In John’s case, he still has weekly lunches in Orange County and that’s where he shoots many of his videos too.

We have to remember that being “alone” and “loneliness” are not necessarily the same thing. If you choose to take the path of remote working, particularly as a digital nomad, you may indeed by surrounded by lots of people and interact with them every day. At the same time, you can feel incredibly lonely and isolated, because those interactions are so superficial. As human beings, we need meaningful relationships and interactions.

Turn URL into IRL RN

So, put yourself out there and find those like-minded individuals. Find your tribe, whether that’s through the local blogging and vlogging community, at meetups, at conferences and trade shows. Meet those online friends and actually shake their hands. Turn that URL into an IRL interaction. That’s what I’ve been trying to do more with the local blogging and vlogging community here in Vancouver. Because as much as I love my family, I need to connect with other blogging and Internet-type people every now and then too.