HOW TO DEAL WITH THE WHOLE LONELINESS THING
Because that shit is real.
Truth be told, even the most dark hearted introverts of us remote workers do get lonely from time to time.
When I tell people I work from home, I usually get one of two responses:
Wow. I wish I could work from home!
Oh…I could never do that…I need people too much.
Now, I would never call myself someone who needs people, but not having the benefits of colocated bonding events like happy hours or lunch dates means I’m on my own for social engagements, and making friends as an adult can be damn hard. The days of finding someone wearing a Death Cab shirt and deciding to be friends are long gone.
Sociologists since the 50s have agreed on three conditions crucial to making close friends:proximity; repeated, unplanned interactions; and a setting that encourages people to let their guard down and confide in eachother. Those conditions can be hard to come by as a remote worker, but not impossible. Here are a few ways to foster situations you can recreate these conditions, or just tips to coping with one of the less attractive byproducts of remote work: loneliness.
TRAVEL IN NUMBERS
When strangers enter strange territory, social inhibitions start to break apart, and we let our guard down. It’s why some of our best friends we hold onto for the rest of our lives are made in college. Throw in some sort of shared hardship, like navigating through a foreign city with no translator or working data plan, and the bond gets even stronger. We’re biologically engineered to band together with new buddies when we’re stressed out in new places and unfamiliar circumstances.
A number of traveling coworking groups have started capitalizing on our universal need for meaningful human connection, making that “shared hardship” easier to come by.
- Startup Retreats is a great resource for a whole bunch of remote coworking retreats from a variety of hosts offering room, board, and good working conditions. The site organizes retreats by location, and you can get email notifications of new retreats added regularly.
- Unsettled and Hacker Paradise offer 2 week to 3 month excursions in enticing destinations worldwide where they take care of accommodations, workspace, and community to keep you connected (and productive) as soon as you step off the plane.
- If a pirate’s life is for you, maybe Coboat will float your boat. Enjoy coworking with high speed internet as you sail in a catamaran across the seven seas. Or, if you really want to dive off the deep end, Remote Year is a year long traveling coworking group that hits 12 cities in 12 months.
BECOME A REGULAR
Due to a psychological phenomenon called the mere-exposure effect, people tend to develop a liking for things merely based on whether or not they are familiar with them. In other words, just show up somewhere you enjoy regularly enough and it’s only a matter of time until you make that place your own, personal Cheers.
Even more than just showing up, strike up a conversation with some of the workers. If you love boardgames and regularly peruse a local game shop, you probably share a few interests with the folks behind the counter. People don’t usually choose to work in specialty retail like a record store or craft shop without having some sort of passion for it. If you share that passion, striking up a conversation could lead to a meaningful merging of interests.
PLAY POKÉMON GO
DO THAT SH*T YOU LOVE DOING IN PUBLIC
Pokémon Go aside, just because you have more solitary hobbies like writing or knitting doesn’t mean you have to actually do them alone. Old ladies have been congregating in sewing circles since the dawn of needlepoint, and you can easily join (or start) your own circle of sorts.
If Meetup is not popular in your area, make a few fliers and put them up at your favorite coffee shops and bars. You could even put one one up at the new place you’ve become a regular at, eh? If wine and scrapbooking sounds like your ideal way to chill, it just might be perfect for your next bestie too.
START A COWORKING GROUP
If you’re uncomfortable going out and finding your people, try bringing your people to you. Heather Rae Hatton did, right out of her Bushwick apartment. Frustrated with the noisiness and isolation amidst others from coffee shop coworking, Heather opened her 4 bedroom apartment up to other working wanderers by creating a meetup group. The benefit of starting a group is that you’ll be in your comfort zone, but the others joining will be in new, unfamiliar circumstances providing for prime friend making territory. Make snacks, arm yourself with a couple of ice breakers, and see what happens.
If you don’t have the space or resources to invite others into your space, believe it or not there is an app for that. Two actually. Workfrom is a database of work-from-friendly spaces like coffee shops, public, or private spaces with good Wifi and good vibes. They also sponsor a bunch of meetups in a boatload of different cities where you can cowork with others. Or, use findanomad.com to directly connect with other individual remote workers in your area. There aren’t a ton of folks on Find a Nomad right now, but it has the potential to become a great way to find other folks to work with.
Whether you create your own coworking group or tag-a-long an existing one, if you stick to your area you’ll up your chances of repeated, unplanned interactions in close proximity, the recipe for friendship.
KEEP OLD FRIENDSHIPS ALIVE (BUT BLEED THEM FOR SOCIAL CONNECTIONS)
One of the best benefits to working remotely is the ability to work from anywhere, that means having the opportunity to rekindle friendships of yore that may have been placed on the backburner due to geographical differences. Book a trip to visit a faraway friend for a few weeks. As long as you’re not putting them out by staying at their place (unless they are totally cool with that), working remotely makes you less of a burden as a visitor since your friend won’t feel the need to entertain you during the working day. It provides for nice, casual vibes for reconnecting with an old friend.
As far as bleeding friends for social connections, some of my best friendships have been friends of friends, and some of the best friendships I’ve seen flourish have been friends of mine from different social circles I’ve introduced. If you like your friends and they like you, chances are you probably like a few other people they like too. Don’t be ashamed to ask your current friends to connect you with some new ones, even if you’re not in the same city anymore. You’d be surprised where people know other people, and your friends will get joy from forging a connection between two people they adore.
GET A WORK BUDDY
Just because you don’t work in an office doesn’t mean you can’t still have a work buddy! It’s important to find that special someone to eyeroll emoji with anytime something dumb happens in Slack. Open yourself up and shoot a private ping to a coworker just to shoot the sh*t.
While it may not be good as face to face, connecting with someone over chat or Appear.in can still help you feel connected. At Upworthy, a few team members and myself scheduled bi weekly 1:1s or group chats over Google hangout called “let’s grab a beer.” We gabbed as we’d gab at a regular happy hour, but had our beer and wine in our respective living rooms instead.
Help Scout has a less boozy, more structured team version of this called Friday Fika. Fika is a Swedish tradition to have a chat with coffee and a pastry. Each week the Help Scout team is randomly assigned a Fika partner where we have a chat (sometimes with coffee and a pastry) about a random topic like our favorite movies or childhood fears. The partnerships are random and cross team, so it’s a nice way to connect with coworkers you otherwise wouldn’t have a chance to.
GET YOURSELF OUT THERE
Perhaps the most challenging part of making friends outside of the office is that you do actually have to put some effort into it. Magical connections won’t just happen at a “Whiskey Wednesday” (or whatever cute bonding scheme colocated companies orchestrate for their employees). You have to create your own bonding mechanisms. As a remote worker, you can build that bond with whoever, however, and wherever you want, and the luxury of being able to find your own tribe is a beautiful thing.