How to combat loneliness as a freelancer

I am an introvert. I like my own company and while I do like being with other people I find large groups and big personalities draining. So the idea of freelancing was very appealing. I’d have autonomy and flexibility over my work schedule and more control over who I worked with and when. Besides, working in the creative industries (I’m a theatre-maker and writer) meant that collaboration and interaction is par for the course, I wasn’t worried about having people to work with.

 

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At first it was fun. In stereotypical freelancer fashion I worked from coffee shops. I enjoyed being out in the world instead of cooped up at home. (According to current research on Remote Working, a whopping 97% of remote working is done from home). But the coffees began to add up; and while the hustle and bustle of spoons clanking and customers chatting made a nice backing track compared to the quiet of home, I was craving more meaningful social interaction. Even at a sharing table I was sandwiched between people with headphones in, eyes glued to screens, focused on work.

 

I briefly considered becoming a member of a coworking space but again I had to factor in costs, and the spaces I had tried I found it difficult to engage with people who weren’t already in a team.

 

I found that loneliness also affected my productivity. Although I had friends I could offload to and platforms where I could ask work-related queries, I had underestimated how isolating freelancing could be without colleagues to hand. Onsite freelance positions reminded me of how much small talk helped break up the day, how useful it was to have someone to use as a soundboard when faced with a challenge, how motivating it was to be surrounded by peers when deadlines mounted.

 

As a freelancer, the success of your business (whatever that means) falls entirely on you and so the lack of interaction combined with a dry spell of work can bring with it a greater feeling of isolation. When this happens, things like networking events - ideal opportunities to make new connections and gain business - seem even more nerve-wracking. We’re expected to present ourselves as confident professionals. Nobody admits over drinks and nibbles that we are lonely, unsure and are a tad jealous when our 9-5 friends talk about ‘a funny thing that happened at work the other day.’ Even small talk becomes a big deal, it’s easy to feel like you’ve forgotten how to talk to people when you are working by yourself all the time.

 

However, at least with networking events you know that there will be many different people to talk to. I found that my biggest struggle was the daily grind. Freelance life is not exactly glam (hello spreadsheets) and I didn’t want to face the mundane aspects alone. I began sheepishly tweeting callouts to see if anyone wanted to ‘office’ with me. These small encounters led to a more serious conversation with a colleague about setting up a regular meetup.

 

It’s called Admin Mornings for Creatives and it’s a weekly meetup for freelancers working in the creative industries. It’s not a networking event (connections happen organically), it’s a chance to do your work in the company of like-minded folk. There are many different types of coworking groups to suit your needs and industry but the overall benefits are that they are  sociable, productive and motivating.

 

Of course in-person meetups are just one way of alleviating loneliness. There are lots of different approaches that are useful and can provide you with a more sociable way of freelancing, such as:

 

  • Joining online communities. I have found Freelance Heroes to be a great resource, where members are friendly and generous with sharing knowledge, experiences and advice on challenges that freelancers face.

 

  • Follow the hashtags. There are numerous Twitter chats that are great for finding freelance folk related to your industry. These chats are also regular so they are great to pop in the diary and have something to look forward to.

 

  • Move onsite: if the opportunity comes to break up your working week by working onsite with a client then take it. It will make you feel included and get you out of the house.

 

  • Speak to your clients: Try not to communicate solely over email. Skype, telephone calls or the occasional coffee can help break up your working week and make you feel less isolated.

 

  • Be honest: Once I started sharing how I was feeling, I found other people who felt the same way too. Ironically this has led to friendships and potential collaborators. You’re not alone in feeling lonely as a freelancer, it just takes one person to admit it.

 

  • Coworking spaces: Factor in costs and don’t be afraid to trial a few out to gain if the space has a sense of community and isn’t just glorified deskspace. IPSE members get exclusive deals on dedicated desks and hotdesking with WeWork.

 

  • Sustain a social life outside of work: Having a support network, someone impartial you can offload to can help you face the challenges of freelance life more easily. Plus, you'd be surprised how much inspiration you glean and contacts you make just from living your life and interacting with different people.

For future discussions around the health and wellbeing of freelancers including combatting loneliness, join us at our upcoming events:

Upcoming Events: Health and wellbeing

 

Meet the author

Naomi Joseph

Naomi is a theatre-maker and writer. She writes honestly about the realities of freelance life and working in the arts. She is always open to collaborations and commissions. Connect with Naomi via Twitter or LinkedIn.