I like people, but I’ve always been kind of shy and I cherish my alone time. When I started working from home, I looked forward to that time: No more meetings, small talk or awkward happy hours. It was fine for a while, but then I got lonely. Worse, I developed mild social anxiety. Even a trip to the grocery store seemed like an obstacle. I had to do something about it.
Illustration by Angelica Alzona
Despite being an introvert, interacting with coworkers is one thing I miss most about having a traditional job. I didn’t realise how much I actually enjoyed getting to know new people or having lunch with people I normally wouldn’t know outside of work. Plus, those doses of interaction made life a little easier.
Research, like this study from the University of Amsterdam, says that social interaction might be a risk factor for depression, and it’s hard to be productive when you’re depressed. When you’re free to be alone, you tend to withdraw when you’re depressed, but when you have to go into an office every day, you don’t really have a choice: You have to talk to people and get out of your head. Even if you don’t get depressed, though, too much time alone can just be a bummer. I wanted both the freedom to work wherever I want and the benefit of human interaction, so I embraced a few rules to avoid becoming a hermit.
Find a Work Buddy
If you have other friends or coworkers who work remotely, team up with them and work together. For example, fellow Lifehacker writer Stephanie Lee is one of my favourite work buddies. We meet up frequently, chat about our work and even collaborate on articles. It’s the same kind of interaction I would have with a coworker in an office.
Your work buddy doesn’t necessarily have to be a remote worker, either. Once a week, I work with another friend of mine. She works a standard nine to five office job, but after work, we meet in a coffee shop to work on our own projects together. We’re in entirely different fields, but the important thing is that I leave the house and interact with an actual human being.
You could always work from a coffee shop or library, but I’ve found that once I get too isolated, I avoid those places, too, and just work from home. It might be better to find and join a coworking space. Yes, you have to pay to use the space, but that might motivate you to actually use it.
Choose Phone Contact Whenever Possible
As tempting as it is to communicate strictly over Slack or email, the occasional face-to-face (or at least voice-to-voice) meeting is important. Whenever you can, choose phone or Skype to communicate with people. And The Guardian suggests making this contact early in the morning:
Make business calls first thing in the morning so you’re immediately hooked into life outside the house. It can also help you plan priorities for the day. Sometimes you might want a chat with friends or family, but take care that you’re not encouraging them to ring you during the working day when it could be a distraction.
Even better, if your client, potential client or other colleague wants to chat and they live nearby, suggest lunch together. This way, you actually leave the house in the process.
Leave for Lunch
You can leave for lunch even if you don’t have anyone to meet, too. I have a bad habit of eating lunch at my desk every day. Not only is this antisocial, it’s also a bad idea because I overwork and don’t take breaks, and breaks help you stay productive. Lunch is a good time to get out of the house, interact with people and let your mind recharge.
To force myself into the habit of leaving for lunch, I actually limit the lunch food I keep at home to encourage myself to eat out a couple of days a week. Sure, it’s cheaper to eat at home, but it’s worth the $25 extra a week to force myself out of the house. Plus, sometimes I just go to the grocery store and pick up food I would have had at home anyway. I still get out of the house, but I spend less money.
Don’t Be Afraid to Network
Most people hate networking, and that’s because most people misunderstand what it’s all about. Like a lot of hermits, one of the things I enjoy least about dealing with people is schmoozing and small talk. And for a while, that’s what I thought networking was all about.
It doesn’t have to be, though. If you approach it as connecting with like-minded people and helping people whenever you can, it’s not so bad. And that’s actually a better way to approach it if you fear social interactions in the first place. For example, I recently “networked” with a fellow money writer. We didn’t ask each other for any favours, we didn’t schmooze. We talked about writing, our families and social issues. It was fun, interesting and I legitimately enjoyed the connection.
It’s easy enough to reach out to other people in your industry, but if sending a cold email seems too weird, you can always sign up for events. Join a Facebook career group. Find and join a conference in your industry. Or just form your own networking group.
Travel More, Even If You Have to Work
When I’m really stuck in my ways, I plan a trip. It’s not a privilege everyone has, but even if you plan a cheap road trip to a nearby town, there’s nothing like travel to reset your habits. You step out of your comfort zone see new places, eat new things, sleep in a totally different bed, wake up to a totally different view. That novelty is good for you: It improves your memory, makes you happy and motivates you.
When you’re in your own head, depressed and demotivated from being isolated, travel can reset your brain, so to speak. Of course, this also means you have to figure out how to squeeze work in while you travel, but that’s an entirely different challenge. Ideally, you can take the novelty of travel and make your everyday life feel more like a holiday, too. The easiest way to do this? Say yes to new things more often.
The point is, novelty is a big part of making sure you don’t fall into the hermit trap. It isn’t just about leaving your house, but also your comfort zone. For those of us who appreciate our own company, it can be extra difficult to ditch our comfortable habits. However, it’s crucial for the sake of your own productivity and, more importantly, your mental health.