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Keep isolation at bay when you work from home

I love all the perks of working from home -- Setting my own start and stop times, taking breaks to pick my kids up from school, being around for the repair man. But after spending a few decades in newsrooms, I'm not crazy about having no where to dress up to go, and some days, I really miss the banter around the water cooler.

I'm not alone in my attempt to keep isolation at bay. At least once a month, I have lunch with my friend, Lisa, who also works from home. We talk business and personal and it makes both of us feel like we're back at the office on a lunch break.

This week in my Miami Herald column, I tackled the topic of working from home. I hope it's useful to those of you in my situation.

The Miami Herald

Working from home doesn’t mean you always have to be alone


   Lorna Owens, a motivational speaker/life coach, works from home and has developed all kinds of ways to stay motivated and keep from feeling isolated.
(Lorna Owens in her home office)
Lorna Owens, a motivational speaker/life coach, works from home and has developed all kinds of ways to stay motivated and keep from feeling isolated.
About a year ago, Mark Pierson, started a consulting firm from his kitchen table after being laid off from his job at an engineering firm. He had envisioned stress-free days with no commute and no interruptions. A few months at home changed his mind.

“I felt so disconnected from the real world,” he said.

Like Pierson, I discovered working from home can be an isolating. I love being able to start my work day when I feel like it or take a break to pick up my son from the bus stop. But after decades in loud newsrooms, I miss being able to run an idea past a colleague for instant feedback. Now, everything is just, well, quiet.

Clearly, more American workers are confronting the transition. National studies indicate that the ranks of the self-employed have increased during the economic downturn, with most one-man shops setting up from home. At the same time, U.S. Census data show an increasing number of companies are permitting workers to set up offices at home — 61 percent more employees considered home their primary place of work in 2009 than in 2005.

Beyond those making an initial transition, workers at home for years find themselves struggling to stay motivated during the economic slump.

Here are a few ways to stay at the top of your game when you work from home:

Establish a structure

Lorna Owens, a Miami life coach, author and motivational speaker, will tell you that nothing reinforces feelings of isolation as much as time that stretches endlessly in front of you. Owens works from home and suggests structuring your time by starting the day productively with a to-do list. She also recommends going into your home office with purpose, dressing nicely and having set work hours. “Without structure your brain wonders aimlessly,” she says.

Find a mentor

To keep motivated, Owens turns to a mentor to bounce ideas or come up with new strategies. Having a mentor gives you a virtual office feel, like a co-worker who is only a phone call away, she says. Even more, when you feel isolated or in a slump, there’s someone who can help you overcome it. A mentor doesn’t have to come from your same discipline, she says. “Look for someone who works from home and is successful.” Periodically, she says, consider adding a new mentor.


Laurel Touby grew up in Miami and dreamed of becoming a writer. She imagined spending her days in a big New York loft, hobnobbing with the elite. But she soon discovered freelancing was a difficult and lonely job. In 1994, Touby and a friend started throwing parties to meet other media members and combat the feeling of isolation. It turned out to be a brilliant move. She wound up building her parties into mediabistro.com, a job-posting and community website for media types. She sold the site in 2007 for $23 million. Today, Touby still believes that anyone who works from home should participate in meet ups or join a professional association. “It is the best way to feel more connected,” she says.

Use the Internet

With Facebook, FriendFeed, Twitter, Skype and the rest of the volumes of communication tools, people running home-based businesses can be plugged into a 24/7 stream of connectivity with others around the world. These social media sites can act as virtual water coolers during the day.

Robin Ramkissoon, works from home doing IT support and computer consulting. The arrangement gives him more time with his wife who works an erratic schedule as a veterinarian. On a given work day, Ramkissoon might talk to 60 people by phone who need computer help, which he says helps him feel connected. However, he still turns to online social media sites, where he keeps up with friends and can even see them face-to-face through videoconferencing. “Occasionally, I’ll talk to old friends and get a pang for the office ... I’ll miss the people walking by to talk or asking if I want Cuban coffee, but I can still stay in touch in other ways.”

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