To people who don’t work remotely, it sounds like a dream job. Stay in your pajamas all day; no commute, no distracting open floor plan static. People don’t think about the downsides: The isolation, the loneliness. Left unchecked, extended periods of working from home are a mental health hazard. Isolation leads to depression and anxiety, which can lead to decreased performance, which adds to stress and can become a vicious cycle.
I’ve been there. Trust me, you don’t want to go.
Co-working is one solution, but it isn’t always viable. Sometimes co-working spaces don’t provide a productive environment, or there may not be one in your area. One solution that’s helped me is creating a Coffee Co-work meetup.
(This article originally appeared here: Coffee Cowork, with a little extra added content just for Dev.to 🙂 Cover photo by Nicolas J Leclercq on Unsplash.)
I’m not talking about working from a coffee shop. That gets you out of isolation physically, but not mentally. Going to a coffee shop often lacks social interaction outside of ordering your drink. Instead, what I propose is turning your coffee shop trips into productive social outings, and meeting with your fellow remote workers.
When starting a new group, it’s crucial that you show up 100% of the time. The worst case scenario is you visit the coffee shop by yourself, which is something you may have done anyway. Over time, your event will develop a consistency all its own, but you have to bootstrap it first. Showing up every week gives your friends the guarantee that they will never be alone when they arrive.
Don’t expect people to remember your event. Reach out to people individually the day before. You can use tools like Meetup.com or Google Calendar to automate reminders, but those are just gravy on top. The personal outreach it more effective and shows that you care. My group now has a small private slack channel we use. Also, if you can’t make for some reason, still reach out and let them know. Managing their expectations builds trust.
If you invite too many people, it could become challenging for your venue to support you, or become disruptive to work. I find around six people to be ideal. Your mileage may vary. Pick a number that works for you. Aim for more regulars than desired attendance, since most people will not show up every week. Be flexible but don’t let your group grow to a size where it collapses in on itself, or shrink to a size it ceases to exist.
Find a good time and day of the week that works for everyone. We typically meet from 9:30 – 12:00 pm on Fridays. We find people rarely have meetings booked in that time (It’s nigh impossible to take video calls in this environment.) I also like ending at noon because that leaves an opportunity for following up with lunch if people would like to continue to socialize.
Co-working is still working. You are here for social interaction, not wasting time. Remember, you are doing this to fight against the productivity decrease caused by isolation anxiety. Chat with people, sure, but stay focused enough on your work and be mindful of letting other people focus. Read the room. I’ve found that good conversations are ones where you can talk about the work. For example, helping a friend debug a piece of code or get feedback on an email, proposal, or blog article. These tactics help get you out of your head and maintain a productive workflow.
Don’t put the burden of figuring out logistics on your friends. Start by picking an initial time & place, but remain open. You don’t have to be dogmatic, but it’ll give you a place to start. If you and your friends have a coffee shop or other location, you frequent that can be a great place to start. Get creative! I was once a part of a group that met at a breakfast diner, for example.
Float the idea and see if there’s interest. I’d recommend booking the first one two weeks in advance, that way people have time to plan. Contact people via phone, email or text and ask if they can come. If someone says they can’t make it, believe them and invite them later. But if they don’t seem interested, don’t annoy them.
Remember to follow up with people the day before. Just because people agree doesn’t mean they’ll remember when the time comes. Following up will increase attendance.
Ask people you invite if they know anyone else who would be a good fit for the coffee co-work. It can help you expand your network, and people will feel more a part of a tribe if they get to have a hand in creating it.
If you stick with this, you will have created a new social outlet and networking resource from scratch! This will give you a way to get outside of your house and outside of your head. And you can do it all for the cost of a cup of a coffee & a generous tip for hogging table space for a long time.
If you work remotely, what tactics and techniques do you use to not feel so isolated?