Home-based shouldn’t mean housebound. Here, the best ways to fight isolation.

By Laura Koss-Feder

When Trish Cetrone, the president of a home-based public-relations-and-marketing firm in Orinda, California, first started her business, she avoided out-of-the-office meetings like the plague. “I was really focused on billable hours. I didn’t want to waste work time fighting the crazy Bay-area traffic,” she recalls. But after a few clients insisted on some face-to-face sessions, she realized that “efficiency isn’t everything,” and she began to welcome the break. “When you work from home, you have to force yourself to get out regularly,” says Cetrone, who now makes sure to plan meetings with colleagues and clients at least once a month.

According to the National Association for the Self-Employed, an organization based in Washington, D.C., the nation has 17 million home-based entrepreneurs like Cetrone, many of whom are constantly faced with the isolation that comes from being a one-person operation. The same goes for full-time telecommuters, especially long-distance ones. While most home-based workers relish their situations, spending the majority of your workday solo is inevitably draining; virtual contact via email or phone can only go so far. The adjustment is often especially difficult if you’ve just made the transition from the busy, bustling corporate world to the quiet of your home.

Finding creative ways to beat this loneliness is important if you’re going to succeed long-term. “You have to create the right kind of environment and schedule from the beginning,” says Rudy Lewis, the president of the National Association of Home Based Businesses. “If you’re alone too much, feelings of isolation can worsen as you grow your business.”

The only way to beat isolation is to get out and make human contact. But if you’re trying to build a business—or please a faraway boss—it may be a struggle for you to walk away from your desk, even for an hour. “It’s okay to give yourself permission to be out of your office,” assures Ellen Parlapiano, the coauthor of Mompreneurs: A Mother’s Practical Step-by-Step Guide to Work-at-Home Success (Perigee). You may also find it difficult to escape if one of your goals in working at home is to spend more time with your children. “Even though you may be paying for child care, you should still take a break and see others during the day—just as you would if you were working in a big company and went out to lunch with a coworker,” says Cetrone, who has two daughters, a six-month-old and a three-year-old.

Time-out Strategies

Replace your chained-to-the-desk habits with these new ones:

  • Get involved with local chapters of professional associations in your industry and/or your chamber of commerce.
    This has the added bonus of allowing you to network. “Going to business-related events is constructive for your career and can keep you from burning out,” says Deborah Arron, a Seattle career consultant. Most organizations have monthly meetings and various committees and boards that you can join. To give yourself extra incentive to participate, offer to chair a committee or organize a special event.
  • Pay in advance to attend events.
    That way, you’ll feel almost forced to go, advises Arron. Knowing up front that you have a function to attend will allow you to better budget your time while you work.
  • Start your own group.
    Joining professional organizations is a good way to meet other mothers in your field. Use this as a stepping stone to form a small circle of such moms who meet on a regular basis, recommends Parlapiano. She founded a group of her own eight years ago.
  • Consider combining time away from the office with an outing with your child.
    New York City career consultant Eva Wisnik has taken her six-year-old son, David, with her to clients’ offices to drop off holiday gifts. These brief meetings—five to ten minutes each—allowed her clients to get to know her on a more personal basis, plus they gave her son a taste of the business world. But, she cautions, “I wouldn’t do this with an infant. Take a child who is old enough to understand the concept of a ‘client,’ and keep meetings brief.”

Laura Koss-Feder is a business writer based in Oceanside, New York.

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