Commentary – Working from Home – How to be Alone Without Feeling Lonely.

Shortly after the pandemic drove us all into quarantine, we talked about how to set up a home office.  Now that we have been in quarantine for nearly a year, I wanted to tackle some of the less tangible considerations of working from home.

As I mentioned before, I have been working from home for about 4 years.  Throughout that time, my feelings about working from home (WFH) have evolved and they have not always been positive. 

In contrast to working in an office, working from home can be very isolating.  Dealing with feelings of isolation can be challenging, but after a little time, and by making a few adjustments, these feelings can be overcome.

Private work Environments

In a post from an AIA discussion forum on the topic of remote working, a contributor made the following comments, “working by yourself (when you were accustomed to working in teams) can be very challenging“. 

In an article I wrote about the evolution of office environments and it’s impact on working styles, I addressed how open office environments impact the psychology and sociology of it’s occupants. 

Studies suggest that more private work environments foster a greater sense of ownership over work product.  Workers that have grown accustomed to working in groups may find it difficult to think independently.  This is a side-effect of open-office environments where a single dominant figure orchestrates a group of doers. 

Breeding a culture of independent work will require a fundamental shift from both the manager and staff, but in the end the output from these teams could surpass the results of a group environment.

So according to those studies, working independently (from home) could foster more autonomy, independence, and discretion over one’s work.  This could be a positive result, but the psychological effect of working solo may not.

Working solo

The nature of humans is that we are first and foremost social creatures.  We long for and seek out opportunities to interact and connect with others.  When you work from home, this is not always possible.

Let’s set aside the current quarantine situation where we are surrounded by our families throughout our work day. 

When you work from home all day with no one else in the house, it’s common to feel disconnected and alone.  Most days, I’m in back-to-back meetings which means I get plenty of interaction, but these formal interactions don’t substitute casual peer-to-peer connections.

These connections are critical for maintaining a positive frame of mind.  They offer opportunities to vent, share ideas, and collaborate.  If you work from home long enough without these interactions, it’s common to feel disconnected and estranged.

Coping with these feelings requires deliberate action.

Staying Connected

In order to overcome feelings of isolation, it’s important to stay connected with your peers.  I like to schedule regular recurring one-on-one meetings.  These need not be hour long sessions.  A short 15 to 30 minute call should be sufficient.

I recommend not having an agenda for these calls.  These should be friendly free-form conversations where each of you share thoughts openly.  Talking about work is okay.  Just don’t make it a formal discussion.  Treat this like a conversation you might have on your way to grab coffee, water, or lunch.

Change your Work Venue

Even the most seasoned WFH veteran can begin feeling constrained from being home all day.  Some days you might simply need to get out-of-the-house. 

Under normal (non-quarantine) circumstances, changing your work venue can simply mean heading to a coffee shop or meeting someone for a lunch.  These days those options are not available, but you might not always need to be at your desk for every meeting.

One way that I manage this is by taking walking meetings which allow me to get up from my desk and walk around my neighborhood.  This  tends to coincide with my less formal one-on-one sessions, but it meets multiple needs and gets me out of the house.  This is another reason to have a noise cancelling Bluetooth headphone as part of your WFH office.

You can also break up the monotony of WFH by working from different parts of your house.  Why not take a call in your backyard? Or take your laptop to the couch and work from there for a few hours? 

Whatever approach you take, getting up and moving away from your computer could make the doldrums fade.   

Segmenting work from personal

Another key to making work from home successful is to create a clear division between your time at work and your time away from work. 

You should not allow your work day to begin abruptly when you wake up in the morning or persist late into the evening.  The urge to check your work emails right after you wake up or make just one more call at quitting time may make it seem like you are working 24 hours a day.  Don’t do it!

Stop working at the same time every day and start working at the same time every day.  Create a habit of shutting down your work computer and shift your focus towards something else.  Physically move away from your work computer; work on a hobby, take a walk, go for a run, or simply sit on the couch and watch the news.

I begin my day by working on this blog and I end my day with an hour of woodworking.  These activities create a buffer between my work day and my personal day.  I often have late night calls, so I sometimes do need to work late, but even on those days, the act of shutting down the machine and focusing on something completely unrelated to work lets me feel like I’m in greater control of my schedule.

Whatever activity you choose, make it something you can do every day.  This will create a habit which will signal your brain to stop working.  Segmenting your work life from your personal life is essential for a healthy WFH routine.

Closing

Working from home is great as long as you maintain healthy habits.  Embrace this as an opportunity to restructure your life in a positive way. 

I sincerely believe that the number of people who will continue to work from home (even after the Corona Quarantine is lifted) will be greater than it’s ever been.  Businesses will come to realize that they no longer need to spend hundreds of millions maintaining huge high-rise buildings in expensive high-rent cities.  They will come to recognize that independent workers are productive workers and that technology can help keep us united even if we are working apart.

These realizations will foster a WFH revolution and I suspect more people will chose WFH options.

What about you?  What habits have you created for your WFH Routine?  Do you follow any of these habits?  Tell me your stories.

Thanks for reading.  If you enjoyed this content, please feel free to browse my previous articles and please like, share, comment, and subscribe.  This helps promote my content and is greatly appreciated.

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