Home workers: Get out and meet people

Working at home can be very isolating, and that's not good. Making an effort to get out and meet people could have a major impact on both your life and work.
Written by James Kendrick, Contributor
Post Rice lobby
Work venue: 100 year-old hotel lobby -- Image: James Kendrick/ZDNet

I've been working at home for almost a decade and find it rewarding both personally and professionally. Contrary to what many think, it's not easy to do right and be successful. There are lots of issues that home workers face, not the least of which is isolation.

I've written about working at home and the occasional outside session at the local coffee shop. I've covered how to create a "virtual cubicle" most anywhere, unique venues for working, and how to be a good citizen while working in public. Heck, I've even mentioned the "outlet addict", those who work remotely but can't seem to untether from the power outlet with mobile gear.

See related: How to build a virtual cubicle for working anywhere | Outlet addicts: Laptop owners who don't get the concept | Exciting work venues for the mobile professional | Coffee shop work etiquette

There's no need to rehash all of those subjects so I'm going to share a change in my work routine that has made my good home working routine even better.

About a year ago I realized I was slipping into a routine that was keeping me isolated from the real world. I was happy working in my home office but I was missing vital interaction with others. That was not only less than ideal for me personally, but it wasn't helping in my work covering mobile tech. Besides work colleagues, I wasn't talking to folks enough to keep current with the tech people are using and why.

Meet at least one person every work day

Once I confronted this, I made a commitment to myself that I would meet at least one new person every day. I would have to spend much more time outside my office, but if I was serious about meeting people that's the way it had to be.

This decision was one of the best I've made in years. I head out at least a part of every day to work remotely and use these excursions to meet new people. I approach folks at sidewalk cafes, coffee shops, and just about everywhere.

When I first started approaching people it was with trepidation. I was concerned I would be interrupting people and they wouldn't appreciate it.

I have discovered my concerns were overstated. If I approach someone too busy to give me five minutes, they tell me and I move on. That's not common as I've discovered that when I approach folks in a friendly manner and courteously, many are happy to speak with me.

People love to talk about themselves and their work. Those passionate about their work are especially happy to spend some time talking about it. These conversations are always interesting and often cross my area of mobile tech coverage. They are a good way for me to get my finger on the pulse of how people use technology in their work and personal lives.

The big city, art, and the circus

Not every approach will help you in your work, but it's a great way to meet interesting people from all walks of life. My experience has been quite good and I've met some outstanding individuals.

I've met an individual who knows the inner city where I live probably better than anyone. I've become good friends with the sibling of one of my favorite novelists. I've befriended a nice, unassuming guy who ran off and joined the circus. I met an artist who uses a tablet to sketch her creations before committing them to canvas. A tattoo artist uses his tablet to show his portfolio to clients to help choose the right art. Once the design is selected he uses the tablet camera to show the client how the finished tattoo will look on the client's own body, all before picking up the ink gun.

I'm following the circus guy's adventures around the country as he's working to make the biggest show on earth work like clockwork. He's reinforced an important lesson to me about mobile tech explaining his use of a first generation Android tablet. He uses it because it does everything he needs and most importantly, because he likes it.  

I've been following the inner city guy as he uses the cloud, technology, and his old phone with a shattered glass face to completely run his business. He's been positively excited as he's shifted business functions to his mobile phone and other technologies and it's been a joy to listen to his enthusiasm as he shares how well it works.

These are just a few of the interesting people I've met and befriended. There are many more who have expanded my circle of friends and acquaintances in various ways. Others have helped me understand how and why they use mobile technology, which has directly impacted my work.

Most importantly, some of the folks I've met have become very good friends. A professional voice-over talent and his wife I am privileged to call good friends. Another friend works on secret trading apps for a major bank, and yet another runs a refinery that produces chemicals we use every day. Friends are a wonderful asset and good friends are priceless.

Meet the staff

A successful strategy I've employed to meet new people is to introduce myself to the owners, managers, and staffs of the restaurants and coffee shops I frequent for remote work sessions. This is an obvious move but not for the reason you might think.

Once I come to know the employees I explain how I try to meet new people and that I encourage them to bring patrons to meet me. This is a fantastic way to get introduced to new folks and I don't have to do anything else to make it happen. This results in a steady stream of people being sent my way, and they're usually receptive to sit and talk a while.

While working in a favorite lunch spot one day, the manager brought a guy to meet me who is developing an accessory for a popular mobile device. Another time I met an app developer for mobile devices who is worth keeping my eye on.

All about opportunity

Setting out to meet at least one person a day has been one of my most rewarding undertakings. On a professional level I've learned so much from a wide variety of individuals I would not have met otherwise.

I've been able to get firsthand information that directly affects my work, something that would never have happened sitting back in my cozy home office. I've met people in industries I cover, and others involved peripherally.

The work benefits I've obtained have been good enough, but the personal growth is even better. I've made new friends who have improved my life, from many different walks of life. I am richer for this beyond description.

Setting out to meet a new person every day won't be easy for everyone but it's worth a shot. It may not have such a dramatic impact on everyone's work as it has mine, but making new acquaintances is in itself its own reward.

Editorial standards