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’d 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, NY. Working alone, he says, also eliminates the “interpersonal teeth gnashing” of office politics.
There’s a downside, however, to being a home-based worker including an income that’s typically lower than it would be if you worked for someone else as well 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.
This isn’t much of a problem for specialty retailers like those in the window coverings business. Even strictly shop-at-home dealers who don’t have showrooms make frequent stops at potential customers’ home—at least if they want to stay in business they do. But it can be a bit of a problem for home-based fabricators and workrooms. Visit D&WC On-line
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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 kind and have a way of magnifying the combative side of human relations.
GET OUT OF THE HOUSE
“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 with whom you periodically meet for lunch. In the window treatments industry DraperyPro (www.draperypro.com) and WindowPros (www.window-pro.com) are two of the most well-known online groups.
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 will soon 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 also looks 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 his local minor-league basketball team’s games.
To ensure he follows through, he makes the above activities a habit, he 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, MD, 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.
Like Rist, he finds that volunteer work helps him as well as others. He’s 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 cliché, 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, NY.
“You can’t e-mail a hug,” he says.
Two good Web sites for tips about home offices are iVillage’s Home Business (www.ivillage.com/topics/work/homebus) and HomeOffice Life.com (www.homeofficelife.com).
Reid Goldsborough is a syndicated columnist and author of the book Straight Talk About the Information Superhighway. He can be reached at email@example.com or http://members.home.net/reidgold.