Freelancing and Working With Others (Or “Do Not Be Forever Alone”)

Every now and then, I’ll get questions via email, Twitter, or blog comments that I want to answer. The thing is, answer in and of itself would be longer than the original blog post itself so I try to keep it concise for the sake of not detracting too much from the initial post.

When that happens, I usually respond as much as I can without going over board, but I actually do keep a copy of the questions so that I can answer them later.

And that normally goes well on days like today.

Working With Others

A few months ago, I was asked:

“How do you have the human interaction when you are a freelancer?”

IM isn’t enough for me, but skype may work ok… I just crave human interactions and I am worried about not having that if I go 100% freelance.

Perhaps the question is better stated as: “How can I not be forever alone?”

Forever Alone

“I don’t want to be this guy.”

Kidding, of course.

In all seriousness, I’ve sat on this question a while because the short answer to this, at least as far as what I think, is that this particular issue is largely personality driven.

For example, there are a group of people that I talk to throughout the day via Messages or on Twitter, but I don’t have much face-to-face interaction throughout my week, and I know that’s the core issue for a lot of people who are looking to jump to self-employment.

But I’ve done this long enough to have some suggestions (and hopefully some of you will offer up more in the comments) on things that work.

1. Coffee Shops

I know that this almost seems like a cliché, especially within our industry (especially with all the stock photography that includes a laptop, notebook, and coffee mug), but clichés are usually born out of things that actually happen and happen frequently.

As such, coffee shops are where a lot of people who are freelancers or even who are remote employees work throughout the day.

"You had a shot of Order 66?"

“You had a shot of Order 66?”

Sure, you’re likely to find some people hanging out at the local Starbucks working, but you’re also going to find a lot of other type of people (both young and old) because that’s what people think of when they think of coffee right now. Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong with that: I love the place and usually stop by at least once a week.

But I’ve found that a lot of the people who are freelancers will work at niché, locally-owned coffee shops. The atmosphere is usually a bit different, and the place usually isn’t quite as loud or bustling as other larger shops are because people are generally heads down in whatever they’re doing.

2. Coworking Spaces

This one probably goes without saying especially given the fact that they’ve become so popular in the last few years, but there are a lot of people who spend time at coworking spaces to get work done – even those who have offices.

Your motley crew of co-workers.

Your motley crew of co-workers.

Some of the nicer coworking spaces have a place to order lunch so you can still work out of the place throughout the entire day, and others have places where you can rent private rooms that are great just for you, or that are good for you and a small team – rooms have televisions, tables, etc., all the stuff anyone with a laptop would need to collaborate with other people.

The thing is, this can actually get a bit expensive so if you end up going this route, it’s gotta be a line item in the company’s budget, or you’ve gotta be able to swing some free time at the place through friends in high places (or whatever they say :).

3. Kitchen Tables, Living Rooms, and Basements

Finally, if there are other people you know who are freelancers but who may not be working on the same project as you, there’s no reason you can’t get together during the day to work from each others place.

"Oh man, this is perfect!"

“Oh man, this is perfect!”

I’ve worked at kitchen tables, in living rooms, in friend’s basements, and I setup a small table in my office so, say, that whenever a friend of mine who lives out-of-state comes to down can work out of my home office.

When it comes to this stuff, it’s more about the who than the where.

There Are Other Options!

Of course, there are other options and hopefully some of you will share your experiences in the comments.

The other two things that I do think are worth mentioning are:

  1. Some people don’t crave human interaction as much as the next – it can harsh their productivity, so make sure that the people you’re working with are not only fine being social from time-to-time, but that you’re also okay if they opt to throw on their headphones for a few hours of focus.
  2. Even though chat works for some, it doesn’t work for others, either. I’m really talking more about myself here: there are some really great people in the WordPress space I’ve met over the years via Twitter, and have the option to join in various chat rooms and hang outs, but I don’t always do it because it ends up distracting me. It’s not that I don’t want to chat, it’s that it gets in the way of work. For me, that is.

Perhaps the best summary I can offer is this:

Don’t take it personally if other friends would rather work alone or in isolation or with headphones on for a large portion of the day. It’s how they get their work done :).

On the flip side, if you’re someone who can work and hang out with others and be productive, then go for it. If it helps your business thrive, then don’t be afraid to spend some cash for co-working space, or setup a place at your home to invite others to come work.

But that’s all I’ve got. And though I’ve mentioned it three other times in this post, I’d love to hear what advice others have to say about this, as well.

17 Comments

There’s a long running mailing list in the UK that provides my inter-office chatter. Not face to face, but we have had the occasional meet-up in real life. Email based suits me – I can turn it off and no-one is offended, I can ask my question and someone or three usually shares an opinion and when work pressure get too much for a singleton freelancer we’ve even formed loose teams to complete projects. http://workalone.co.uk & http://lists.workalone.co.uk/mailman/listinfo/wauk for anyone in the UK (or happy to deal with time differences) that knows how to use a mailing list.

I don’t crave human interaction as much as some, however, ‘no man is an island’. I have a dog who never lets me work at my computer for more than 2 hours without coming and pestering me to take him out.

This is great as taking regular breaks away from the screen is definitely a good thing and, when I’m out walking with him I usually meet someone and have a chat for a few minutes.

Walking is good for thinking and problem-solving too. Best advice if you’re struggling with something and it’s driving you mad: go for a walk. When you come back, you may have the solution. If you don’t, it probably won’t seem as bad as it did before.

I’m rambling now and the dog just nudged me so I guess it’s that time again…

    I don’t crave human interaction as much as some, however, ‘no man is an island’. I have a dog who never lets me work at my computer for more than 2 hours without coming and pestering me to take him out.

    Haha, I have two that sit in the room with me most of the day. They’ll end up needing to go out at some point, but I also have a dog door downstairs (along with my wife and two daughters) so they get plenty of attention.

    If I need some interaction, I just go downstairs and see what’s going on.

    Walking is good for thinking and problem-solving too. Best advice if you’re struggling with something and it’s driving you mad: go for a walk. When you come back, you may have the solution. If you don’t, it probably won’t seem as bad as it did before.

    I can’t agree with this more.

    Paul – I could not agree more. My dog is my decompression zone :-) When I do go into the office (still have a day gig) or even when WFH walking her is my transition – time to think about nothing and/or anything and ease into off hours.

    When I was developing 100% of my time, stepping away was the best way to solve a problem. I’ve thought of coding solutions in the shower or dreams! When I’ve actually seen the code in my dream I felt silly at first for trying it but it actually worked :-)

Solid advice. All things I also do.

Something I would add is that Google Hangouts with team members when things need more active discussion is great too. I guess that mainly applies to remote workers, or freelancers on a project team.

Looking forward to any other tips shared here too :)

    Something I would add is that Google Hangouts with team members when things need more active discussion is great too. I guess that mainly applies to remote workers, or freelancers on a project team.

    Yep – done this and Skype as well. Can work well, but it has to be scheduled for me. I don’t do so well with off-the-cuff conversations because it interrupts me trying to stay in the zone.

Great suggestions. I have a co-working space with a dedicated desk and I love it. I’ve got a decent home office as well, that I share with my wife, but I’m absolutely more productive when I’m at my co-working spot.

For me, there’s just something about being home that makes it hard to get into the zone and out of home mode. I tend to be even more distracted when my wife and 4 year old son are out of the house, odd as that may sound.

I’d love to hear some thoughts, maybe in a future post, on setting boundaries and establishing routines. My ideal would be to have already been to the gym, at my co working space and starting work by 8:30, finished by 6pm, no exceptions. Despite my best laid plans, I haven’t been to the gym in 2 weeks, I find myself starting work any time between 7am and 11am, and occasionally working late into the night once my son is in bed. Some people dig this freedom, but I find that I crave some structure – I just reject having it imposed on my by an employer.

I’ve been on my own, freelancing, since August of last year and this structure is something that I am still struggling with.

    Great suggestions. I have a co-working space with a dedicated desk and I love it. I’ve got a decent home office as well, that I share with my wife, but I’m absolutely more productive when I’m at my co-working spot.

    That’s interesting! You and I are opposites that way :).

    For me, there’s just something about being home that makes it hard to get into the zone and out of home mode. I tend to be even more distracted when my wife and 4 year old son are out of the house, odd as that may sound.

    Again, even more opposites ;D.

    I’d love to hear some thoughts, maybe in a future post, on setting boundaries and establishing routines. My ideal would be to have already been to the gym, at my co working space and starting work by 8:30, finished by 6pm, no exceptions.

    I try to exercise almost every day so I’ll see what I can do about a future post on this. I also have a lot more structure than I used to have, but I think that’s come with the experience in being self-employed.

The one thing I missed in the past couple of months or so is team work. I’ve worked remotely for 7 years, but now am mostly on my own. More a freelancer, less a staffer.

I don’t mind working alone, remotely at home, and have been compensating the lack of social interaction by volunteering on weekends. Also, things like WhatsApp and Facebook allows me to stay in touch with friends on weekdays (yes, they can be a distraction!… but mostly good ones for me).

The one thing I haven’t tried is co-working spaces. None in my vicinity, one that’s about two hours bus ride. I plan on doing about one day per week just to see how beneficial it is for work (read: GTD) and business development (read: find potential colleagues and clients).

Best place so far?… Certain coffee shops with just the right ambience that can put me in the ‘flow’ easily and get a lot of stuff done. I reserve these for projects with tight deadlines and those I’ve been procrastinating with for a while… human all too human. :-)

One thing I’m really intrigued by is working as part of a fully distributed team like Automattic… and get that perk/money to build a decent home office… :-)

    p.s. forgot to tick “notify me…”. Done.

    I don’t mind working alone, remotely at home, and have been compensating the lack of social interaction by volunteering on weekends. Also, things like WhatsApp and Facebook allows me to stay in touch with friends on weekdays (yes, they can be a distraction!… but mostly good ones for me).

    Those kind of things are a distraction if you let ‘em be; other times, I think they’re fine for social interaction.

    I do the same with Twitter: I use it to chat in short bursts then close my client when I need to go heads down.

    Best place so far?… Certain coffee shops with just the right ambience that can put me in the ‘flow’ easily and get a lot of stuff done. I reserve these for projects with tight deadlines and those I’ve been procrastinating with for a while… human all too human. :-)

    I know that feel :).

    One thing I’m really intrigued by is working as part of a fully distributed team like Automattic… and get that perk/money to build a decent home office… :-)

    Can’t say I can speak to that as I’ve never really employed by a place like that :).

You forgot, “Have one really good friend who is willing to drop everything* and hug your face.”

Plans. Dignity. Trousers. Etc.

    You forgot, “Have one really good friend who is willing to drop everything* and hug your face.”

    Thought it went without saying?

    Plans. Dignity. Trousers. Etc.

    Trousers optional. At home, I mean.

Get a dog. Seriously, another solution which provides the bonus of marketing yourself as a freelancer and a great opportunity to network is to give occasional free lessons/classes/seminars to people.

Whatever your niche is, go out (yes, actually leave the basement) and round up some people that want to learn something you can teach in an hour. Setting up a WordPress site, basic web design, whatever. Find a need; what are people always asking you about or complaining to you about as a web dev/designer that they think is hard? Go to a business park or strip mall where a lot of potential customers may be and hand out flyers.

Schedule the session on lunch breaks and provide box lunches, if you have the $. See if you can borrow a conference room or back office somewhere to set up. (Make sure this represents you as a a professional, and don’t meet at Hooters or your mom’s house) If you’re on a tight budget, your local library or chamber of commerce may even let you use a space there to hold your classes. If you’re in tight with local devs that own their own shops, ask them and provide them an incentive to do so, and something to thank them afterwards.

You can do this as frequently as you’d like, but it’s a great way to get your name and face out there to drum up new business and lets you interact with humans, so you aren’t reduced to only talking to your Dwight Schrute bobblehead day after day.

    Seriously, another solution which provides the bonus of marketing yourself as a freelancer and a great opportunity to network is to give occasional free lessons/classes/seminars to people.

    I’ve found this to be effective as well and sites like Meetup.com make it so easy. I just haven’t been able to do too much of that year since we added to the family.

    I’ve deliberately tried to cut down on the amount of time I’m spending out of the house at this stage of life, but that’s just me.

    Go to a business park or strip mall where a lot of potential customers may be and hand out flyers.

    I know this sorta stuff works but, man, for an introvert this can be hardcore tough stuff.

    (Make sure this represents you as a a professional, and don’t meet at Hooters or your mom’s house)

    Aw man, those choices seemed to make the most sense. Kidding, of course!

    You can do this as frequently as you’d like, but it’s a great way to get your name and face out there to drum up new business and lets you interact with humans, so you aren’t reduced to only talking to your Dwight Schrute bobblehead day after day.

    Yes – it especially gets your name out locally which can be huge depending on where you live.

      Introversion as a freelancer can be a kiss of death, if you’re not willing to address at least some aspects of it. I don’t mean to try and change as a person–that’s futile and silly, but condition yourself a little. I consider myself an introvert, but I think the reality of life is that getting face to face with people and speaking in front of others is simply a requirement to reach goals, like it or not. I’ve taught myself to overcome the fear of public speaking, and as a result I’ve given hour+ talks to over 250 people and taught university courses to classes of 35+, and even if I don’t get business leads or whatever out of it, it helps me grow as a person, as corny as that sounds. It’s just vital in business to at least seem confident in front of a crowd, even if you’re about to throw up from the stress of it.

Leave a Reply

Name and email address are required. Your email address will not be published.

You may use these HTML tags and attributes:

<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>