Working From Home and Loving It: The Isolation Myth

In the first post in this series Working From Home and Loving It we looked at and hopefully demolished the myth that a home based business was not a “real” business.

The isolation myth

Our next target in the myth department is that having a home based business means you will have to contend with isolation.

I have to say that in my twenty years of working from home I have never felt the slightest bit isolated and I can say, hand on heart, that in mixing over those years, online and offline, with others who work from home I have never heard anyone complain about isolation.

But I have to acknowledge that it would be an understandable perception by people who are used to working in physical proximity to a number of other people.

I have to acknowledge too that I have often read that isolation is a challenge for people in home based business and I have noticed specific examples of where people working from home mentioned that they felt isolated.

Here are some examples, from a Google search just now, with what I feel are fairly typical observations on the subject of “challenge of home based business isolation”:

AllBusiness – “Feeling isolated and alone can be one of the greatest challenges of working from home. There’s no companionship at the water cooler, and most of the time the radio and the TV will be your only company. It’s no secret that the quiet can get to you.”

Advisor Garage – “One of the most unexpected challenges for many home business owners is the feeling of isolation.”

SCORE – “A major challenge in operating a home-based business is isolation from distributors, merchants, clients and interested parties.”

New South Wales, Australia, State Government department site – “We know that home-based business operators may face special problems, such as isolation…”

You might want to check out the other 335,000 returns on the search, but I think the point is made: there is a view abroad that one of the biggest challenges in having a business you run from home is isolation. But all the statements above are generalizations, not supported – as far as I can see – by statistically based evidence.

I’m not saying there is no statistical evidence, just that I haven’t seen it.

Other issues more important

I did check one research-based source on home based business, Home Based Business: the Hidden Economy the study I mentioned in the previous post in this series, to see whether isolation featured there as a key challenge for home based business.Β  Other issues seemed to be more important.

There continue to be problems faced by small, home-based businesses. These problems include: access to credit for those owners wishing to expand; difficulties on how to establish a presence on the Internet; the burdens of local zoning and use restrictions in residential neighborhoods; and the challenge of how to expand their customer base without leaving the home for a commercial location.

I’ll accept that some people might have felt isolated, having a home based business in, say, 1978 or even 1988, especially if they lived in a small town or village.

Communication tools

But hey! Anybody noticed we have the Internet now? And have had, for quite a few years. In fact, even if a sense of isolation was a problem in the past, I would hazard a guess that these days, what with Facebook and FriendFeed and Twitter and Skype and the rest of the panoply of communication tools, one of the biggest challenges for a lot of people running home based businesses is that they are plugged into a 24/7/365 stream of connectivity with others around the world.

In 2008, as home based business owners, we might well feel at times that we could do with a bit of isolation so we can get on with our work!

So in the absence of compelling evidence to the contrary, I feel absolutely confident in declaring that for any home based business owner in 2008 and going forward, any continuing sense of being isolated is not warranted.

For those of a contrary view

But what of those who do not relate well to the online networking experience?

My first response is, as kindly as I can say it and with the intention of being truly helpful, that you need to get over that and learn how to communicate more effectively online. More and more business is being done online. To use the jargon, join in the conversation.

The Cluetrain Manifesto is still a great read in this respect, all these years on.

Then I would say, to complement the benefits of joining the online conversation, why not either find or create your own networks to enable you to meet people offline. There are groups such as BNI.

Or, as I say, you could set up your own network: you might be surprised to find how willing people are to get together to talk and learn about business.

I have done this myself. I live in a country town where there is not the same plethora of offline networking opportunities I had in the city, so with another local businessman I founded a group which meets from time to time over a breakfast coffee: we get other local business owners to speak and share their expertise. To be able to mingle with people more focused on social media issues, I have been instrumental in founding, with help from other social media enthusiasts there, a local chapter of Social Media Club in the city of Brisbane, about an hour and a half from where I live.

I’m sure others have good suggestions about how to deal with any sense of isolation or loneliness in our home based businesses.

If, even with these suggestions, you still experience a sense of isolation in your home based business, I do sympathize. Running a business from home is, in my view, not for everyone.

One more possibility, if you want your own business but want to work in proximity to others of compatible disposition and interest, you could check to see if in your city there is one of the coworking centers where you can have your own space or desk but without the full cost of setting up your own office.

Summing up and invitation

I do believe the isolation bogy is a myth and I hate the idea that it could discourage people from setting up a home based business. But If you disagree and feel of a mind to offer some push back, that would be very welcome too.

If you agree with me, then let’s label the Isolation Myth clearly for what it is, a myth, and a counter-productive one at that, so we can all get on with enjoying our home based businesses, building and enjoying the incredible, global networks of colleagues, suppliers, advisors, customers and potential customers the Web now makes available to us for the asking.

And if you have other suggestions as to how home based business owners can deal with any feelings of isolation, I hope you will share.

Next in the series

Given the current parlous state of the world’s economies, my choice of theme for the next in this series, the myth of financial insecurity, may seem at best Quixotic. But I shall press on! Watch this space.

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About Des Walsh

I show business owners and other professionals how to navigate the social media maze and use LinkedIn effectively. I'm an author, speaker, business coach, social media strategist and LinkedIn specialist. Connect with me on LinkedIn, Google Plus and Twitter. And to stay in the loop, get my weekly Social Business Bites.

Comments

  1. Thanks Proson – it would be interesting to know whether people you know in Hong Kong like the idea of having a business from home: when I was on the mainland last year some people I spoke to seemed very uninterested in the idea!

    Rich – I do think that how you perceive your working from home, whether primarily as your own business, something you are passionate about, or whether as a “second best” option, will affect whether you see it more as liberating or more as isolating. That’s my view, anyway, for what it’s worth.

  2. Thank You Des, you definitely gave me something to consider. I have a day job right now [mechanic] after having back surgery and not much better I have been trying working at home and didn’t think much about isolation side of it. I the bright side I found your blog really good.

    Thanks Rich

  3. Hi des, yes with today internet communication tool, we can get around with people
    pretty easily on our computer! thanks for sharing.

    Proson

  4. Hi Des! I definitely saw the mention of coworking in your post (it’s what brought me here)! One of the great things about coworking, if you are lucky to have one in your area, is that the location is usually selected to be convenient and as accessible as going to your corner cafe. Coworking is just getting off the ground so it might take some time before it is as abundant as Starbucks, but one day it will be; coworking is definitely the new way to work (and work smarter). Coworking has the flexibility to allow workers to get things done independently in a quiet space or work together in meeting rooms or the cafe. Nothing will ever be as convenient as stepping out of your bedroom to get to work, but a well designed coworking space will offer the best elements of office life and working from home all in a cafe atmosphere. The accelerated serendipity, unexpected ideas, and unforeseen resources that coworking offers is too much to pass up to stay in your slippers all the time. By the way, there is no rule that says you can’t wear your slippers when you come down to LaunchPad.

    Here are some links to a location near you (hopefully):
    http://coworking.pbwiki.com/
    http://www.wurkspaces.com/

    Michaels last blog post..Open source, non-networking networking

  5. Michael
    Thanks for the explanation of coworking, an interesting solution for some as I mentioned in the post. Your site is also very informative. Of course, there are many of us for whom that is not currently a practical option, for example because there is no such site in proximity to where we live. Also, when people are just getting started with a home based business they would have to do the math to ensure there was an appropriate tradeoff for them in terms of the extra expenditure they would not be incurring working from home, in relation to the benefits. It would be good though to see somewhere a directory of coworking sites, nationally and internationally (assuming there are some outside the USA). No doubt there is someone working on a directory site as I write. Maybe they will comment here and leave us a link. πŸ™‚

  6. Frances
    That is a great point, about being able to work around family commitments and have more scope to connect with your children. Of course, for some people with younger children there can be a challenge in educating the children that mommy or daddy is working and can’t come and play right now. One of the inspirations for me about working from home has been visiting vilages on the island of Bali in Indonesia and seeing how life, including so much of work and business, is structured around the cluster of buildings that make up home. One image that sticks in my mind is of an American woman sitting with a Balinese man on what in the West we might call a large front porch, going through a huge batch of handicrafts, presumably destined for US gift shops or such, doing a quality check. It was the Balinese man’s home, his place of work, his office, his trading room. Life was integrated, not fragmented. Nowadays he is probably sitting there with a notebook computer, on broadband, uploading pictures of his work for his American customers to look at on line, maybe using Skype to talk to them without having to pay international phone call rates. But still working from home, sitting cross-legged on his front deck, connected to the world at large.

  7. If you work at home alone, you will feel isolated; yes that is a myth. However, that premise is a tad drastic. If working from home was so smothering, no one would do it, and we would not be talking about it. Using the word isolation may be a hyperbolic way to talk about the lack of physical social interaction, an extended duration of which could lead to feelings of isolation. The technology that frees us from the office also mitigates our isolation. The ambient awareness of our cohorts through online social networks and tools is nearly as great as the awareness created by email and telephone with someone in another office down the hall. As you say, it is important to use these tools and meetings with like-minded individuals to alleviate what can become stale, mundane, or, yes, isolating. But this applies whether you work at home or in a cubicle. Enter coworking. A space that is conducive to work and social interaction has tremendous effects on productivity, collaboration, and ideation, as well as negating some of the disadvantages of working in an office or alone at home. While coworking can be effective for some as a primary way to work, in the least it offers home workers, telecommuters and cubicle statues an opportunity to add diversity to their work environment. As we say here at LaunchPad Coworking: Work here. Work smarter.

    Michaels last blog post..Open source, non-networking networking

  8. Frances Mclean says:

    Great set of articles. I work from home as a software developer but also sometimes work at clients premises. Works well for me and just happened to fall into it as other work fell away. I wouldn’t have it any other way. I don’t feel isolated especially with tools like Twitter – where I found you. I also have the advantage of being able work around family commitments and get to spend time with my teenagers, that I would not be able to do if I was working from an off site office. I will look forward to reading the rest of the articles in this set.

  9. As a whole, I believe many people are afraid to be alone which would be included in working alone. However, I think the isolation thing is truly a myth since working at home can give you the opportunity to get out to be with friends or even provide some civic service. There are unlimited chances for meaningful interaction when you work from home. I have worked from home as a counselor for 20 years. I have never felt the uncomfortable feelings associated with isolation.

    Thanks for this post, Des.

    Debby Taylor

  10. Chuckle. Let’s not get too excited. Working for the man isn’t something I plan to do again in a hurry! πŸ˜‰
    Yeah, I’ve considered a virtual assistant too. Just wonder about their efficacy. I have such a wide range of things that need doing – from IT to books to paperwork to filing to scanning… Ugh. Must stop thinking. That 9-to-5 isn’t sounding to bad right now!

  11. Glenn
    I’m assuming you prefer the alternative, working for the Man, 9 to whatever it is these days? πŸ™‚
    Good point about the multiple hats – one of my new year resolutions will be to engage a virtual assistant or two for things that have to be done but which I don’t want/need to do myself.

  12. Hi Des,
    I think it all comes back to what type of person you are, whether you work alone in your home-based business, what sort of business you run (service- or product-based), and whether you network in person or only electronically.
    I work alone, I’m naturally fairly gregarious, and I’m a service provider. So whenever I’m networking, I’m not directly earning. Thus, I don’t have enough time for in-person networking (not often, anyway). (I know the arguments about networking being an investment, but it’s certainly not good for cashflow!)
    So for people like me, isolation is likely to be a given. Electronic networking is great, but it’s no substitute for connecting with people in person. Not for me, anyway.
    Added to that is the fact that you end up wearing too many hats. One of the key contributors to my (occasional) feeling of isolation is that I’m solely responsible for the IT of my business. While I’m very capable IT-wise, I still spend about as much time on it as I do on copywriting. Aside from being very frustrating, this is also isolating because it seems impossible to get help. I can’t justify a staff resource, and can’t find a contractor who can handle the complexity of the task (affordably, anyway). It’s me against my computer, with no support!

  13. Thanks Glenn
    I have no doubt there are people who feel isolated in their home based business. There are also, surely, people who feel isolated in a Dilbert style cubicle, surrounded as they may be by many people. What I want to challenge is the suggestion that a feeling of isolation is some kind of necessary or inescapable feature of having a home based business. I’m using “myth” not it its older dictionary sense, but somewhat in the sense used as in MS Encarta’s “A myth may be broadly defined as a narrative that through many retellings has become an accepted tradition in a society”. I have this sense (but no evidence) that when someone sits down to write a blog post or a book or a manual on home based business and they look at “challenges” or “obstacles” they think “isolation” – intuitively, that makes sense. But is it supportable as a general statement? More importantly from my point of view as an advocate for home based business as a great way to work and live, is “isolation” being enshrined, without any statistically based evidence, as an inescapable, negative feature of home based business and therefore a disincentive or deterrent for people who might in fact be able to work from home and not have a feeling or sense of being isolated?

  14. Katie Harris says:

    Great post Des and totally agree (notwithstanding that I’m obviously webbed-up to be commenting here at all). Hard to see how one could be (or could keep being) isolated with the resources available. It’s just a matter of clicking here, linking there. You only have to blink and you’re networked.

    Katie Harriss last blog post..A feast of porcupines

  15. Hey Des. Nice post. I kinda agree and disagree. I disagree that it’s a myth. I felt significantly isolated for the first few years of y business. Still do, to some extent. Internet communications technologies (like email, chat and Twitter) help, but they’re no substitute for human contact and on-the-job interaction. Maybe this is more important to me ‘cos I’m a copywriter? Also, I’d qualify my response by saying I came from a very social workplace background. As an employee, I worked in places that encouraged employee socialising.

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  1. Isolation Solution: Get Back Into the Rat Race says:

    […] found a good post from November 2008 written by Des Walsh over at Thinking Home Business : Working From Home and Loving It: The Isolation Myth – obviously from the title of the post, Des takes a different view about isolation and home […]

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