I've been an entrepreneur for years now, working on my own schedule from home for the past six years. No more bosses, no morning commute, no more clocking in and out, just me and my dreams. If I don't get up and work, I'm not going to get paid. I am the guy that can work from anywhere in the world and whenever I want.
For all the flexibility this gives me, it also removes a lot of the conventional comforts of a 9 - 5 workday spent at the office: no Bagel Tuesdays, no office gossip, no water cooler around which to congregate, no casual after work drinks, nor the sense of solidarity with fellow colleagues.
This can be very isolating and sometimes depressing. Here are a few tips that have helped me over the past couple years to feel more a sense of community and get me over those isolated days when it's hard to press onward.
1. Occasionally find a co-working space or a cafe.
Sometimes, when you’re working for yourself, you can hardly tell if you’re working at all, or simply just fulfilling stress-motivated tasks on your own (especially if you know you’re a while off from being remotely solvent).
One way to reclaim some semblance of an office environment is by literally going to the office: co-working spaces have become massively popular in larger cities, and they’re filled with like-minded entrepreneurs and freelancers. These rentable desks for freelancers offer a familiar work environment while forming natural bonds between creatives who can share ideas, collaborate on projects or find moral support. Cafes work well enough (and don’t require membership fees, unless one considers the cost of an endless stream of coffee). These are a popular workplace option, but they can experience hectic rush hours, and the noise that accompanies the rush hour. Moreover, it’s easier to overstay your welcome, and, unlike co-working spaces, they don't provide business-focused amenities like printers, scanners, or photocopier machines.
2. Join mentoring groups and Facebook communities for local entrepreneurs - and attend events and meetups!
It’s important to remember that, as an entrepreneur or otherwise self-employed professional, you’re not alone even though it often feels like you are. Your workdays don’t include the trappings of the typical office life that most of your friends experience. For you, there is no “typical office life,” and nobody is going to understand this more than people who have your job.
So, to help combat this lack of a typical office, it’s important to find people who have your same type of job! There may be more individuals like you than you think. There are often Facebook groups for area entrepreneurs, or mentoring rings set up by local incubators. By getting active in these communities and attending entrepreneurial events and meetups, you will feel less on your own, and more supported, while networking with potential collaborators.
3. Plan team parties, and maintain a non-work-related “fun chat.”
If you’re an entrepreneur or a freelancer who works with a larger team, but still each of you works separately at home, often you’ll forget that the others exist while you’re own your own, doing your tasks, and this isolation lowers morale.
Make sure you’re connected with the rest of your team - often: weekly calls with all of you on the same group call, and an active Slack board (importantly, make good use of the #random channel! It’s there for a reason), and regular team parties to celebrate birthdays, company milestones, and anything else, can really strengthen your company while reminding each team member and yourself that the goal is greater than the tasks involved.
4. Maintain regular work hours that include lunch breaks.
When you have a lot on your plate, it’s very easy to wake up, pour yourself a cup of coffee, and get straight to work without looking back up for the next 10 hours - especially if you work alone at home, without other employees there to form groups by the door at lunch hour. And, just as easily, it’s tempting to throw your regular schedule out the window, start in the early afternoon and work until past midnight. While this is a productive schedule for a few people, it can be totally draining and disastrous for others, and even more isolating for people who work alone.
To keep some semblance of a routine workday, wake up early and set a regular time to sit down at your desk (and definitely have a desk, regardless of how comfy your couch looks). Take a proper lunch break when time allows. Walk to a take-out place nearby, or use the accessibility of your kitchen to make something fresh, hot and nutritious. If you can, try to stop working at 5 or 6 pm. You never want to feel like you’ve wasted a day on work alone. I personally start work at 6 am and work till around 5-6 pm each day. I like to blog and get this out of the way early in the day. Then maybe sneak an hour in before bed. Find what works for you.
5. Breakfast or lunch meetings.
I love to go out to breakfast or lunch with other entrepreneurs and business owners. Even if it's to just get out of the office. I meet them at a networking event and ask them if they'd like to do lunch. I find this a more suitable environment to meet people and get to know them. I try to do this two or three times a week. It helps me get out of the house.
6. Schedule video conferences, business calls and meetings early in the morning.
One way to get you out of bed and presentable early in the morning is by scheduling all your meetings, video conferences and business calls as early as you can. By giving yourself a social start to the day, then you’re setting a motivational tone for the rest of the day. After all, social interaction is an energizing activity.
Let your exchange of ideas, general housekeeping updates and new potential business prospects help kick start a productive day at work! Plus, you will be more likely to get up and get dressed well, because others will see you rather than sitting around in those comfy sweat pants.
7. Get daily exercise.
This should apply to anybody in the workforce, whether they work from home or not, but it’s usually the remote professionals who need this advice the most. With no commute to speak of, or often no reason to leave the house, it’s tempting to stay in your pajamas with a laptop in bed. However, daily exercise helps send endorphins through your system that helps you feel better, keeps your health in check and helps you physically feel accomplished.
When people work out regularly, they are more likely to maintain a healthier diet. Find an exercise that takes you outdoors, like going for a run/walk, a yoga class, or a few laps at a community pool. At the bare minimum, take the two 15-minute breaks a day required by law to take a walk around the block. You will come back entirely refreshed and able to accomplish more that you would accomplish otherwise.