In an article titled "The End Of The Job," this January Maclean's reported that we are undergoing a dramatic shift to "a freelance economy where work is farmed out on a piecemeal, as-needed basis." With companies too skittish or just plain stingy to hire full-time employees (who come with expensive "unnecessaries," like benefits and paid leave), they say the ranks of freelancers have swollen to an all-time high.
As one of the first to make "freelance" a fairly common prefix to its job titles, the creative industry may be one of the hardest hit. With many creatives picking up what they can in this wild-west-style economy, it's quite possible that there are more lone rangers than ever before. This is not necessarily a terrible thing. Many creatives work well at a distance and alone; it can open up a kind of mental space not so easily accessible among the distractions of a busy office. However, if the popularity of the recently-viral "Freelance Fred" is anything to go by (a photo-based meme which shows a dour-looking man sitting on a sofa with his laptop, accompanied by digs at his personal habits), then there are others who have experienced the strange transformation that can happen when one works alone.
In the midst of working furiously on their projects, the lone freelancer may not notice the insidious social kinks that can creep up with only their house-plants to judge them. Before long, you're clipping your toenails on conference calls, guffawing into a trough of coleslaw at lolcatz.com while your personal grooming resembles that of Tom Hanks in Castaway (but with more food in your beard).
Whether you're new to working alone, or a veteran hardened by years of the freelance battle, here are some of our favorite techniques for halting the social atrophy that can happen when you're indulged in as much alone time as anybody could possibly wish for.
Pack A Lunch
With nobody to give you cut-eye for eating stinky Chinese leftovers at your desk, the lines between eating and work spaces are usually the first to blur for the lone freelancer. This is the beginning of a very slippery slope, which usually ends up leading straight to the fridge whenever a job gets particularly boring or tough.
In her blog "Adventures in Teleworking", author Telework Chick advises you to pack a lunch for the day to take away the temptation for unstructured snacking from the fridge. As she likes to put it, "If it works at the office, it can work at home, too."
Further separate your workspace from your daily caloric intake by eating at preset times, and in a space designed for dining, like the kitchen, or by going to the park down the street—just like you would do on a normal office day.
There's a reason they say to "dress for success," and not just because it rhymes. When you shower and dress as you would for a normal day at the office, you're sending a message to your subconscious that you're serious about what you do, even if "work" today will take place on the back patio and you can sing along to Bon Iver without the risk of anybody strangling you.
Without all of the social and professional cues that come from working in a shared space, getting dressed like a functioning human being is one of the most important battlegrounds to hold if you want to remain acting like one.
Get Out Much?
We can only reminisce about the days when "remember when" was the lowest form of conversation. Nowadays things seen on the Internet are the new social low, and when you work alone, before you know it every conversation opens with, "Hey, have you seen that new cat video...? "
When you're not surrounded by a wide variety of people, you need to get out there and have some real, human experiences — at least once a week — if possible. Meetup.com is a goldmine both for events that allow you to network within your industry, as well as pushing you right out of it. Sure you may not be into Warhammer per se, but attending one of their conventions has got to stock your conversation bank with something more pithy than the latest from the "going viral" thread on Buzzfeed.
Get A Dog
Getting a dog is a big responsibility, financially and emotionally, but it makes for better company than the mould growing in your old coffee cups, as well as naturally inviting casual socialization and small talk with other dog owners in your neighborhood—the closest perhaps to what you might get from working in a busy office space. If you get a high energy breed, you'll also be required to get up and leave your desk every couple of hours, which is something your OH&S Department could only applaud (that's you, by the way).
Speaking of mouldy coffee cups, slobs are rarely tolerated in shared office spaces, and we don't recommend it for working alone either. Sure, it's ultimately a personal preference, but just like getting dressed properly, keeping your desk in a respectable state is all part of telling your subconscious that you still care about what you do. Just like that saying, "A clear desk is a sign of a clear mind," taking the time to clean up after yourself every day is a regular part of being a functioning human being—and it just smells a lot better.
Working alone can be extremely gratifying, but obviously comes with its own set of difficulties. What kind of things keep you sane when you have mostly yourself for company?