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How do you stay connected when you work from home?

By December 30, 2008 - 10:36am
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In the last two years, I have. I’ve fallen out of touch with a couple of people who are really important to me.

I know that sounds backwards. If they were that important, I would make them a priority, right? I wouldn’t let them go by the wayside if I really cared for them.

But it’s easier than it sounds. There was no fight, no falling out. In fact, there is a lot of love and affection that goes both ways. But it still happened.

I used to work in an office, where email was a way of life. It was easy to steal moments here and there and keep up with friends on email, writing interesting notes, asking about their families, sending along funny experiences, keeping involved in their lives. We were tied to our computers all day, so it was no big deal – our work always got done as well. A note in my box from a friend would usually take precedence over a work email, for sheer interest alone. (Note to former employer: Go easy on me! We all do it!)

Also, in an office, there are incidental exchanges that keep a relationship going. You see someone at the soda machine, you see people in meetings, you get the news of the day, you find out that someone’s engaged, someone’s pregnant, someone’s divorcing. You pick up the vibes in the office and know whether it’s a good or bad day. You are in touch with things, almost without effort.

There’s also this thing in the work world called “lunch.” It often involves food, sometimes a noon exercise class. But it also is a really useful tool for keeping up with people – in an hour you can get caught up with each other’s work and personal lives while doing something you’d do anyway – eat.

Since I’ve worked at home, I find it harder to keep up in all these ways. When my work on the computer is done, I’m not tied to it, so I find other things I want to do, and the email box gets ignored until “later” (and you guessed it, “later” rarely comes). Lunch tends to be something out of the frig. And my work buddies consist of Jesse, Gidget, Shelby, Molly and Max – three collies and two Maine coons. They’re sweet, but they don’t keep up their side of the office conversation.

It’s important to me to reconnect, so I’m going to try to do better at this. Which leads me to my question: If you work at home, how do you stay in touch with the world? How do you connect with friends? And is it as easy as it was if you used to work outside the home?

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HERWriter Guide

I actually prefer to work from home, although when my friends tell stories of fun lunches and hilarious things that happen at work, I do feel a pang. I usually worked in places or with people who were a lot of fun. I like to laugh a lot myself so I do miss the fun and camaraderie at times.

However, that is about all I miss. I don't miss the commute in terrible winter conditions, and I don't miss the workplace politics. Although I always got promoted and worked very hard, my lack of political correctness and penchant for making serious things into funny things raised a few eyebrows! I'm also a little on the...uh...impatient side! I like to get to the point quickly and get on with the task at hand. I'm not one for chit chat in meetings etc and I find there are far too many meetings in workplaces that are long winded and unnecessary.

Nowadays, I like to work on my own, relatively speaking, and it's vital for us that our kids are with a parent almost all the time. I understand the benefits of daycare for many people but it's not for us.

I stay in touch via Facebook, and my girlfriends and I get together for weekly playdates (we rotate our homes) where all our kids play together and we can sit down and have a coffee or glass of wine and catch up. All of my friends work outside the home and I enjoy getting their perspective. Email or instant messaging is an easy and free way to keep in touch, and phone calls are pretty easy on the wallet too, even long distance.

I have a babysitter one morning per week, and I work on my laptop from a cafe near my home. This is where I get my deadlines done, if I have one, and I get to drink good coffee and sneak in a little people-watching!

I also do the occasional girls night out with friends, or a couples night out. We have friends with no children, who are completely career orientated so their lives are a fun and interesting perspective and allows me to keep up with certain industries and trades. It's all too easy to live in a bubble when you work from home.

I take classes every year too, particularly language and writing classes. This is also an excellent (and relatively inexpensive) way to sharpen skills and make new contacts, as well as new friends if that is of interest. A major concern for those of us who work from home is that we lose contact with the world outside us and it can definitely happen. Taking courses or classes in your chosen field and fields that interest you keep you updated, fresh and employable.

My plan is to remain a work-from-home person for life. I really have no interest in returning to the traditional workplace and these days, I don't think it's a huge challenge to work from home. At least, not as huge as it once was.

December 31, 2008 - 5:28pm

Great question!

I spent several years working from home and really appreciated the opportunity to be with my kids while they were going through the difficult middle to high school years. Working for major software companies where WFH was a way of life was also very opportune, allowing me to continue to develop skills in my second career (I used to be an investment banker) and still have a normal life.

Staying connected with other folks, not counting the umpteen weekly web meetings or conference calls, was a matter of a group of us meeting at the office a couple of times per week, or getting together at a coffee shop where we could get free wi-fi and a decent meal while working on a project.

The downside for me was that the majority of my social connection was work-related, the nature of the beast, I suppose. Even the fun chats online were work-related, as I worked part-time in the evenings for another online community and had a large team to manage. I am on Twitter and a couple of other social networking sites where some colleagues and I can stay in touch. But, I'm really bad about updating my stuff, lol!

I've always felt a bit disconnected from the rest of the world around here, largely because I live so far from town. Nonetheless, I do miss working from home and haven't really totally made the mental, let alone physical, adjustment to commuting to the client site at the crack of dawn. I also find that I get less done on site, as I tend to work much more efficiently and quickly at home. Go figure. :))

December 30, 2008 - 5:23pm

I think staying connected when working from home is a matter of quality vs. quantity! In a physical office, you do have the opportunity to talk with a lot more people, but it depends on the environment. I've worked in offices where the workers do not want to get together during lunch or after work...they are purposefully trying to get away with work (and all things, and people, associated with it!). Just being in the office, however, does lend itself to talking with more people in a "quantity" statement.

However, working from home, provides the opportunity for more quality relationships. You can choose to keep in touch with those people who bring you joy and laughter in your life, and keep out the people who are "always" in bad mood or are just altogether toxic. (I've talked about my experience dealing with a bully that I worked with!). I find it enjoyable to work when I want to work, and put my attention into my projects....then, when I want to talk with someone on the phone, send a thoughtful email or meet them for coffee/lunch/drink, then I can focus 100% of my attention on our conversation (and not pretend to be working!).

I have also tried the social networking thing, but it still seems more impersonal to me. I'm old!

December 30, 2008 - 2:14pm

A friend of mine owns her own business and works from home. As a rule, she meets someone for lunch at least once a week, whether it's a friend or a client. And instead of a phone call, she sometimes opts to meet at a coffee shop to help her feel connected. She really enjoys the face-to-face conversation, although she swears she couldn't go back to an office.

Another friend who works from home uses social networking (think Facebook) to stay in touch. It not only keeps him up on what his colleagues are up to but he's even connected with old friends. Have you tried a social networking site?

December 30, 2008 - 11:22am
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