Coping with the Need for Social Interaction

by David Zacharias

The concept of staying at home to work has an immediate appeal to prospective teleworkers, as visions of hassle-free, dressed-down, low-interruption workdays come to mind. But many find the realities of telecommuting a bit less satisfying. 

One challenge, surprising to even the most flaming of introverts, is the innate human need for social interaction. Yes, to the non-socializers, being able to be alone with one's thoughts and computer has immense appeal. Extended periods of uninterrupted concentration is necessary for those involved in high creativity/precision activities such as software design and programming, graphics design, writing, and accounting. The ability to "be in the flow" is essential for productivity and quality.
 
But when it comes time to come up for air, it's important to have other human beings with whom to interact. There is an undeniable camaraderie that develops when working within a team. Think for a moment about some of the most satisfying and rewarding work experiences you ever had. What made them memorable? Was it the technology? Was it how much you got paid? Chances are, your fond memories arise not so much from what you did as with whom you did it - the team chemistry, the charisma of your leader, the social events that accompanied your achievement.

Loneliness and depression can creep up on you as a home based worker. What are some of the symptoms? You tend to initiate and sustain more conversations than ever before. You tend to to drop by friends and colleagues in person, instead of calling them on the phone. You experience periodic wistfulness about not being included in "water cooler discussions." Increasing resentment when your phone calls and email messages are not promptly responded to. Increased stress and irritability. Decreased motivation. Spending less and less time "in the flow". Difficulties sleeping. Feelings of being overwhelmed. Loss of appetite for food or sex. Depression. Burnout.

Unchecked, this progression of increasingly severe symptoms can lead to the end of your work at home arrangements. In the case of the home-based entrepreneur without a main office to return to, this can be devastating.

How does one avoid going down this path? "An important first step in coping with isolation", says author Alice Bredin, "is to be willing to admit that you feel isolated." Solutions don't tend to attach themselves to situations that aren't characterized as problems. The degree of your need for socialization will determine when and to what degree you employ these techniques for coping with the need for social interaction:

Keep the radio on in the background to simulate the background "white noise" of the office.

Take periodic breaks to initiate phone calls or drop-by conversations.

Get out of the house to network with other professionals – go  to workshops, professional association meetings, training  classes, health clubs, conferences and seminars, etc.

Sensitize your co-workers and supervisor to the importance of  their responsiveness to your email message and phone calls.

Arrange periodic visits to the main office; deliberately take  the time for face-to-face meetings with your colleagues.

Take time out to do physical things you enjoy, from intense  workouts to brisk walks to cultivating the garden.

By recognizing and satisfying your innate need for social interaction, your work at home experience can be every bit as rewarding as you dreamed.

Copyright (c) 2000 Telework Connection 
David Zacharias is Editor of Telework Connection, an e-zine and web site (http://telework-connection.com) focused on examining alternative work arrangements in the Information Age, including telecommuting, freelancing, and other remote work arrangements. Mr. Zacharias always welcomes comments on this article, or telework issues in general. He can be reached at tc-editor@telework-connection.com