Making Working Alone Work for You
Computers make it possible, more so than at any time since the advent of the Industrial Revolution, for people to work at home by themselves. With a computer, you can handle tasks that previously required the specialized knowledge of many people. In addition to creating your product or providing your service, with a PC, the right software and an Internet connection, you can keep the books, file complex tax forms, produce and send out advertising and public relations materials, conduct market research, do strategic planning, and even draw up legal documents.
One in 10 of us is self-employed, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, and for good reason. When you work alone, you are your own boss, set your own hours, and have as much latitude as you would like in choosing tasks to work on.
“Picking my own assignments lets me live and work with far less stress than the rat race,” says Oliver Rist, a writer and consultant in New York City. Working alone, he says, also eliminates the “interpersonal teeth gnashing” of office politics.
There is a downside, however, to being a home-based worker, including an income that is typically lower than it would be if you worked for someone else, as well as the need to fund your own health insurance and other benefits. But the biggest negative to working alone, according to those I’ve talked with as well as my own experience, is the social isolation.
People who work alone can connect with others using the same technology that lets them be efficient in the home office. E-mail, online discussion groups, chat rooms and instant messaging all put you in touch with others. But virtual communities are just an approximation of the flesh-and-blood and have a way of magnifying the combative side of human relations.
“Homeworkers” have devised lots of solutions to the problem of being home alone. One idea is to develop a network of local home-based workers who share your interests and periodically meet them for lunch.
Rist makes sure he occasionally takes work assignments that force him out of the house. He also does more volunteer work. After the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center, he helped a school in Manhattan relocate and soon will be helping the school wire together its PCs.
“It’s not only a good cause, it’s a great way to keep up a social life, as I’ll be meeting a number of new folks as well as reconnecting with folks I met earlier,” he says.
Rist looks also to family, friends and hobbies to connect with people, though he points out that his family, like any family, can be trying at times. At least, he says, it gives him “the motivation to clean my place.”
Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols, chairman of the Internet Press Guild, finds that working alone increases his tendency to be a hermit. “I could, and quite happily on one level, spend weeks at home without seeing a soul,” though he says he recognizes full well that this isn’t healthy.
“My solution is to force myself to go out and be among people,” he says. He takes walks five days a week, goes out to a movie once a week, eats out once a week, and goes to local minor-league basketball games.
To ensure he follows through, he makes the above activities a habit, Vaughan-Nichols says. “If I said to myself, ‘Oh, I’ll do that tomorrow,’ it never happens. Sort of like deadlines.”
Like Vaughan-Nichols, Grant Gross, an online editor from Baltimore, finds that working alone reinforces his solitary nature. “Give me an Internet connection, a few PC games, a full bookcase and cable TV, and I’m set,” he says.
And like Rist, he finds volunteer work helps him as well as others. He is involved with a local volunteer clearinghouse, which provides him with opportunities to do everything from walking dogs at the Humane Society to assisting area groups with their technology needs.
It may be a cliche, but people need people. Longevity studies have shown that one factor that contributes to a long life is contact with others.
“There’s something about being in the presence of other people that the human soul needs to thrive,” says book author Dennis Fowler, who works by himself in Otego, N.Y.
“You can’t e-mail a hug,” he says.
Two good Web sites for tips about home offices are iVillage’s Home Business, at <www.ivillage.com/topics/work/homebus>, and HomeOfficeLife.com, at <www.homeofficelife.com>.
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