There are a lot of things people don't tell you about leaving the nine-to-five grind to go into business for yourself. While being your own boss certainly has its advantages, you may find that you miss personal interactions with your coworkers. Whether you're freelancing or just worry about getting to close to your small staff, self-employment can be lonely work.
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'Freelancing' Also Means 'Freedom From Personal Interactions'
Freelancing has a lot of great benefits. You get to work at home. You get to be your own boss. You set your own hours. You can get work done while spending quality time with your dog or cat.
But after a while, having nobody to talk to can really get you down.
"While entering the gig economy offers a plethora of benefits to its members, it naturally comes with some downsides, the main one being that it may contribute to increased feelings of loneliness," says Vip Sandhir, CEO and founder of employee engagement technology firm HighGround. "[F]reelancers usually work remotely, sometimes states away from their [clients]. Because of this, they typically have little interaction with colleagues throughout their workday, so they're more likely to feel isolated than employees who work in a typical office environment where there are team lunches, water cooler time, happy hours, and team-building activities."
You Can't Be Friends with Your Employees – or Can You?
Anyone in management has been told at some point that friendships with employees are a bad idea. You'll end up playing favorites, or the employee/friend may expect special treatment.
While Sandhir says this stereotype is starting to change, he acknowledges that many small business owners still feel lonely at work – as many as 30 percent of them, according to a survey from Manta.
"I think small business owners avoid forming friendships with their staff in fear of it hurting the health of their business," Sandhir says. "Some business owners might have concerns around being perceived as playing favorites, while others keep their distance in order to save face as the company's 'fearless leader.' Similarly, being friends with employees can get tricky when it's time to deliver bad news, like a delayed promotion or, worse, a layoff."
Combatting Workplace Loneliness
For remote workers and freelancers, making connections with other remote workers, freelancers, or in-office employees can help alleviate disconnectedness.
"If you or one of your employees is experiencing loneliness in the workplace, the best way to combat these feelings is to open up an honest line of communication," Sandhir says. "Managers should make it clear that their employees can ... come to them with anything that is inhibiting their performance or on-the-job engagement."
Sandhir recommends managers set up weekly check-ins with employees to promote continuous communication and address feelings of isolation as they arise.
Sandhir also recommends the use of social recognition tools, as "providing recognition for positive contributions in a public forum is one way managers can ensure workers feel more connected to the office and to their jobs in general."
A number of other small, easy-to-implement solutions can also help address workplace loneliness.
"Simple practices like building a few extra minutes into conference calls [to catch up] or using collaboration tools that imitate in-person experiences can make a huge difference," Sandhir says.
Video communication tools can also promote more rewarding relationships between remote team members.
For freelancers or sole proprietors, the solution may require a little more effort. Socializing with clients or customers may not be appropriate in many cases.
"If you're a sole proprietor or freelancer that doesn't have a direct manager, employees, or coworkers, consider setting up shop at a coworking space or coffee shop," Sandhir says. "This change of pace will allow you to work alongside others that are in your same unique situation, which could help decrease feelings of loneliness and increase productivity. You could also consider arranging in-person meetings with clients more regularly or planning trips to the company's office to interact with coworkers."
The most important thing to remember about loneliness in the workplace is that you are not alone. Thousands of other remote workers, small business owners, and freelancers experience the same feelings. Making small changes to your methods, workday, or location can make all the difference.