Ok, time for a little reciprocal blog love. I’m checking my blog stats and see that I’ve been quoted in this article by Sharon Davis. Thank you, Sharon. So as I’m reading the article the first point it touches on is isolation. Sharon refers to Judi Sohn’s article at the Web Worker Daily that discusses that very issue. It’s an issue I’ve certainly dealt with, so here’s my perspective.
Judi’s article hits on a key part of dealing with isolation: communication. I’ve learned that you must communicate; in fact, you must seem like you’re over-communicating. Now, you can’t overload your co-workers and boss such that they wish you’d shut up (they’ll tune out out and that’s even worse), but you just have to make a greater effort to let them know what’s going on with you. If people in your office use Instant Messaging, you should too. Be on all the relevant networks/protocols for all the relevant people you have to communicate with in your office (using a consolidated IM app can help with this, e.g. I use Adium). Get in the habit of using your IM Status to relay what you’re doing; you don’t have to update the minutia of your life, but it does provide some degree of “Hi, I’m active” to those that work with you. Make sure you do respond to emails promptly. Every Friday I send a weekly status report to my boss and other relevant parties at the office so they can know what I’ve been up to this past week. One thing that you can also consider is that all of these things have “time stamps”. They show when you’re working, when you’re available, how long you’ve been online, and so on. Depending how much your boss wishes they could look over your shoulder to monitor your work habits, these things can be useful to demonstrate “I’m working, even though you cannot see me”. Of course you can manipulate those things, but be mindful… too much fibbing will come back to haunt you.
While you need to communicate with them, they also need to communicate with you. You can’t expect the home office will always tell you what’s going on, so you’ll have to ask. When you’re talking to your office-bound mates, ask them what’s going on around the office. This doesn’t necessarily have to be juicy gossip, it could be simple things like “how’s the office renovation going?” or “I hear some loud noise in the background? What’s going on?” Little things like this help you keep connected to the culture that’s developing within the office walls. You can be “in on the jokes” and other things like that. It’s useful to also have visited the office a time or two so you can know the physical layout, which often is relevant to being “in” on things. You just have to be proactive at getting the information you’d otherwise naturally get if you were in the office.
But while these things cover information, they don’t exactly cover one important thing that being in the office gives us: that human interaction. I’m fortunate that I’m not home alone (wife and kids are here), so I get some human interaction in a day. But for human interaction with my office-mates, I’ve found that instead of IM’ing or emails, just pick up the phone. IM is nice for a quick exchange, but if it’s getting lengthy just pick up the phone… it’s faster in the end, and far more personable and productive. Plus it’s nice to hear someone’s voice now and again. Or if you’ve got a real tech-savvy company or co-workers, do a video chat now and again… it’s nice to see faces. And also remember, every conversation does NOT have to be pure business. If you blow a few minutes just chit-chatting about the weather or other non-business things, that’s not a bad thing. Don’t let it dominate and distract too much from work, but we have to be human, we have to develop relationships.
One thing you can also do? Look for places near your home that have Wi-Fi available, that allow you to sit and use that Wi-Fi for a long time. Every so often, get out of the house. Go work somewhere else, even if just for a couple hours. It changes the scenery. It gets you around some people (even if you don’t talk with them). And you can still take your laptop and stay connected and get some work done. I don’t do this very often because I like my wife’s cooking way too much. But it’s an option.
Honestly tho, I think the only thing I really miss about being in an office? Halloween. It’s more fun to dress up when more than your wife and kids can see you.. 😉