Tobias T–

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Dealing with virtual offices and not getting lost

Once upon a time, when I just started to work as a freelancer, I was used to working from home. I didn’t really care that I didn’t get in touch with many people during the day because it was just work. When the time came to shutdown the computer I met with people and that seemed to be enough for the time. Then something changed.

I started to work in an office building of a client for some days of the week and I really enjoyed the human interactions: arriving in the office in the morning, talking to all kind of different people about stuff (especially non-technical stuff), sharing the lunch breaks and walking through the departments and getting a feeling of how others work. How others feel. It was such a nice experience and it reminded me of all the little benefits that I gave up after I left my last employed job. Working alone at home did start to feel wrong.

At some point my girlfriend and I left that place to continue our journey through the world. I decided that I needed a place to go to work. Luckily for me Amsterdam has possibly one of the best co-working spaces in the world. The moment I entered The Thinking Hut for the first time I knew it was the right choice for me (The first time my girlfriend came to pick me up from the hut she told me that the space looks like a kindergarten – which I still think is the best compliment you can make to a shared working environment).

Fast forwarding some amazing months we left the most beautiful city I’ve lived in (for now) and ended up somewhere else. Somewhere smaller. When people move to this place they usually start to work at some big companies. They get all the benefits I described above. Having multiple restaurants is only one of the many places for them where they can interact socially with each other. As I continue to be a freelancer and work with people remotely I don’t have all of that. Since there is also no co-working space here I end up standing at my own desk at home again – alone.

Making the best out of it

As I stopped complaining some weeks ago I needed to change things for the better. Finding solutions for me instead of drowning myself in self-pity.

Leaving the house

I realized that this „going to work“ was kind of a ritual for me. It’s hard to fulfill if the distance between your bed and your desk is less then five meters, so I changed the habit. Once I get up in the morning I try to go to a public space. Usually a coffeeshop, sometimes a public library. The fact that I have access to only a portion of my usual computer setup turned out to be a good thing. I can easily plan what is supposed to get finished that particular day, I can think about problems that need to be solved and as a bonus I get some human interactions. They are by far not as personal as the ones you might get in a usual office, but it’s a start. People keep telling you that you should dress up properly even if you are working from home, but if you are actually going out first thing in the morning it gets a whole lot more serious.

Talk to people you know

Over the years I have found some friends through the internet. To some of them I talk on a daily basis - via a chat. It’s again not the same as talking to real people, but as I met them daily we often know what the others are up to. It’s like the continued talks with the other people from your work-space, except that everyone is working on something else. I’ve been part of this chat for almost 20 years and there is no magic behind it. No startup that revolutionizes office communications, no bots that add a lot of uselessness, just some outdated chat protocol that was made to exchange words.

Take breaks

When you are alone at home nobody will ask you to drink a coffee with you. You have to ask yourself – otherwise you might not get one all day. For me it is really important to get a break from the screen once in a while. Looking at real stuff, not only recognizing each and every pixel on my screens. When it’s hard for me to focus on my job I keep coming back to use the Pomodoro technique. It helps me to give me some fixed time to work, but also reminds me to take a break. Making that coffee, standing on the balcony to think about the problem or just appreciate that the sun is shining at that moment.

Try something new

Some years ago, when some of my friends worked from home as well and we all felt the need to meet people we tried something new. When we started to work in the morning we opened a group video chat. When someone (me) arrived late the others might already be there. Sometimes one of us weren’t there at all and sometimes the chat was not opened at all. We just sat there, worked on the stuff we were supposed to, sometimes talking with each other, sometimes one of asked for help, sometimes we did watch stupid YouTube videos together. It was the same thing you might experience inside a usual work-place. There were no constraints, we did what we wanted to do, when we wanted. Sadly all our work environments changed and the so called vOffice didn’t survive. I’m trying to resurrect that right now, but that might be some stuff for some other article.

Create your own environment

These are just three examples that help me out when I’m struggling. Sometimes one helps more, sometimes they all fail. It’s not about fixed rules and behaviors. Usually it’s just about finding the best solution for a particular problem. Even if working every day seems like the same problem to solve, maybe sometimes the creative and human part in you might need a slightly different approach.

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