I work from home.

Working out of your house sounds like a great gig, and in many ways it is. I can get chores done while waiting for a file to print out, and wander in the garden while conducting business on the phone. I don’t have to start dinner at 8 unless I want to, and I almost never have to sit in traffic, or wait in the cold for the train.

But then, last Monday I went for 5 hours without speaking.

Hunting around on line I see estimates of actual productive office hours at anything from 3 to 6 1/2, taking out of the equation actual time wasting, unavoidable personal tasks, extended lunches, mandated coffee breaks, and fights with the jammed printer. Then there’s the commute.

Working from home all of your work is productive, in a sense. When you aren’t being productive, chances are you’re not sitting at your desk trying to look busy in case the boss or the office snitch walks by.  Further, my productive work is more productive–I can ignore the phone, chat boxes, the co-workers and other office concentration impediments and just get shit done (GSD™, lol).

But there’s a serious downside. As I said, last week I went 5 solid hours without any human interaction. I went 4 days in a row without seeing a single human being I wasn’t related to.

Mind you, this was somewhat unusual, as I am currently in a deadline nightmare with 8 proposals for 4 clients all due at once, and all of them with various excuses for not getting information to me, including the completely unassailable, but still unhelpful, baby born 3 weeks early.

Working from home is isolating. There are weeks like this one where I feel like I’m in solitary confinement. It restores the original meaning of “stir crazy.” I keep chat windows open, and participate in twitter chats (just the professional ones, I swear). I take walks.

Here are some things to do to keep the lonely at bay:

Work with a friend
If you know someone else who’s a telecommuter, arrange to work at a wifi spot with them a couple of times a week.

Treat it like the office
Start and stop on a set schedule. Take a lunch break, and coffee breaks. Get dressed.

Work when you’re at your best
The beauty of it is that it doesn’t have to be 9 to 5. If you do your best work from 6 to 10 in the morning, or 3 to 8 in the afternoon, go for it. You’ll have to overlap with civilization for part of the day, but mostly you get to choose.

It’s a virtual office, so interact virtually
I am an enormous believer in Twitter chats and Facebook groups. They keep you connected in real time to people in the same boat.  I’ve recently discovered group project management systems. Jury’s out on how productive I think it will make my client, but it’s great being able to see that other people are working on things.

For pity’s sake, get out of the house
If you don’t know someone, just go to your favorite wifi at the same time at least a couple of times a week; you’ll start to know the regulars. They’re all hungry for human interaction too.

I would hate to go back to working in an office. But all the same, it’s nice to hear the sound of a human voice every now and then.

Do you work from home? How do you keep from going stir crazy?

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