My latest article is going incredibly meta and discussing my work situation – on the website I work for. I should start with the disclaimer that I have a wonderful job (and I’m not just saying that because I’m writing this on the site I help run – although that I can write this on the website shows one of the fun aspects of the job) and don’t mean to sound like a negative Nelly.
Despite working for a Luxembourgish publication I actually live in Edinburgh and don’t have an office I go to. I work remotely and my experience working from home is that it can be both a blessing and incredibly challenging, especially if you’re an extrovert like me.
Remote work has its benefits and is indeed something more businesses should work towards if possible. Remote working can allow employees to save on commuting, especially in cities as expensive as London, and crucially, allows parents more flexibility in looking after children. If childcare isn’t exactly affordable, then remote work can be a lifeline for parents of young infants or toddlers.
I definitely appreciate the values of working remotely, but I can safely say it’s not something that fits my profile. I sometimes get a sense of imposter syndrome as if I’m taking the option of working remotely away from someone who deserves it, even if that’s not how it works. I’m 24 years old, not a year out of university, and really extroverted. I thrive on spending time with others, even if I can be a bit socially awkward. This makes me sometimes wonder if I made the right decision working in the way I do. The thing is, this is a decision that only I made in the ‘you make your bed, now you lay in it’ sense. I could have moved back to Luxembourg, but decided against it because despite the unwelcoming nature of Brexit and its ensuing turmoil in Great Britain, I like living in Edinburgh. I can walk most places, I’m in a beautiful city, and I love how the days are much longer in Scotland (in the summer, at least…Winter is a different story).
I thrive on spending time with people, although I, like everyone else, still need my downtime. But the problem with working remotely is I have too much downtime. It can be incredibly lonely even if it does have many benefits - and I’m not exactly making the most of those benefits. This falls in line with another issue, which is that of staying in the town you studied in as your friends move away. Usually people my age join new friend circles related to their workplace, but that gets a bit tricky when your workplace is your kitchen.
The main things I struggle with when working remotely are the lack of social interaction, the lack of inspiration which comes with staying in the same environment (your home), and a sense of restlessness. I’ve found myself in a rut only to then go sit in a café the next day and have so many ideas just from going somewhere different.
Young professionals and working from home - not the most compatible?
Loneliness can affect your mental health and it’s arguably one of the things that has the biggest impact on my own mental health. I think it is safe to say that working remotely is not that compatible with people my age, as we don’t benefit from it as much as others do. In theory, this means I could have the freedom to travel and work from different countries whilst enjoying exploring the world. In practice, I only make the most of this when it comes to visiting family in the south of England and in Luxembourg. On top of that, my generation is quite reluctant to fritter money away faced with an increasingly difficult housing market. As we know, many publications love saying how millennials are ringing the death knell of another industry due to our frugal habits (and alleged love of avocado on toast – remember, this is why you can’t afford a house!).
But I also think people my age, wherever they’re placed on the introvert/extrovert scale, don’t do well in isolation. If you’re at the same stage as me, then you’re starting a new phase of life which can be quite daunting as it is. It helps to go into an office, interact with others, and then go home. Whether you then meet up with friends or spend time alone, you’ve still had that base amount of social interaction. Writing this does make me feel like perhaps I’m being ungrateful and not seizing the day, but working from home seems to be something most people might take for granted as easy and less high maintenance than going to an office. It is, but that’s not to say there isn’t an unhealthy side to it.
This doesn’t mean I think it’s easier for new parents to work remotely. Being at home and only talking to a toddler can be equally isolating for want of good conversation. But there are benefits that people in my situation, that is to say unmarried and childless, don’t have to think of, which likely outweigh the negatives.
I try not to be someone who focuses too much on problems and doesn’t put their thoughts to finding solutions to those problems. I’ve talked with friends and family, done some Googling, and tried some things to counter the less desirable aspects of my work situation. So if, for whatever reasons, you do work from home, there are some things that could be helpful in assuaging loneliness and not feeling like you’re in a rut.
Ways to counter the difficulties inherent in working from home
As I said above, the main issues I struggle with are that I feel lonely, restless, and sometimes completely uninspired. There are different ways to try and find solutions, especially if you're also looking for a better work-life balance.
The most obvious suggestion is coworking, which is designed for the self-employed and freelancers who don't need or have an office space. Paying for coworking facilities gives you a dedicated space where you can work. Renting a coworking space made me feel like I had a purpose, having somewhere to go to every day. It gave me a small amount of social interaction, although the people in my office are perhaps not the chattiest.
However, I do think this solution is limited based on how much you want to spend and the facility you’re renting from in question. Coworking in Luxembourg is also much more expensive than in other countries. The company which offers the coworking space I rent also offers facilities in Luxembourg and I pay a fraction of that in Edinburgh, having compared the prices out of curiosity. Even so, just having somewhere you can go and work is refreshing, especially when it isn't a cafe where you may regularly outstay your welcome.
Another option which is more of a solution to the loneliness is the age-old adage of finding a hobby. I think I realised I was spending too much time at home when I ran into someone who'd been on my course and I told him I work from home and he laughed 'Well, at least you're not a crazy cat lady!'. I laughed with him, but then thought about how the being I had spent the most time with the days before this run-in was my flatmate's cat. Oh.
Finding a hobby does make sense, especially if the social interaction you get from your work life is lacking - turning to other parts of your life to satisfy your inner (or outer) extrovert should do the trick. I personally haven't found a hobby I want to throw myself into yet, but I have found another solution.
Volunteering is also a good way of making up for working from home, as you can fill up free time that you have. I've started volunteering for this cataloguing project for the Scottish National Portrait Gallery, fulfilling my inner history nerd's needs, and also meeting other people. It's also healthy in giving me something to pour my energy into, which in turn reduces the times I feel like I might be in a rut.
There isn't a 'one size fits all' solution to issues resulting from working remotely, but I think it's important to acknowledge that, despite the many benefits, working from home can be isolating.
Nathalie Lodhi is an editor and translator for RTL Today and usually likes to chat about music, history, and popular culture.