This year’s Mental Health Awareness Week, which runs from 9 to 15 May, is focused on loneliness, a major public health issue in the UK. With home working on the rise, more people than ever are in danger of becoming isolated and seeing their mental and physical health suffer as a result. Here we look at some of the ways that freelancers and home workers can combat loneliness when working from home.
Home working has long been an option for freelance workers, but since the pandemic it has become a reality for thousands of traditional employees too. According to the Office of National Statistics (ONS), in 2020 the proportion of working adults who did some work from home increased to 37%, from 27% in 2019, and a quarter of employers said they were planning for home or hybrid working to become the norm going forward.
For many people, the appeals of home working are obvious. It means saying goodbye to your daily commute, office politics and never-ending meetings. You have the flexibility to take breaks or grab a snack whenever you like. No wonder recent research by CareerBuilder found that remote and hybrid roles are attracting seven times more applicants than in-person positions.
But, as the pandemic taught us, spending too much time at home can also lead to isolation, with research by Totaljobs finding that 46% of UK workers have experienced loneliness while working from home, with two thirds (67%) saying that it has negatively affected the variety of their social interactions. Let’s face it, Zoom calls are rarely a match for the warmth of real in-person contact.
But home working doesn’t have to be ‘all or nothing’ and there are numerous ways that home workers – whether freelance or employed – can enjoy the benefits of working remotely, while also taking care of their mental health. Here are a few suggestions:
- Get out of the house: Rather than working from home all the time, try to find some more sociable locations to base yourself, whether that’s a co-working space or a coffee shop. Numerous studies have found that interacting with strangers can have a strong effect on wellbeing, so it’s worth making the effort to leave the house a couple of times a week and strike up conversations with those around you. There are loads of affordable co-working spaces, which offer a ready-made community, superfast Wi-Fi, as well as events and collaboration opportunities.
- Pay your clients and colleagues a visit: Staying chained to your computer and phone all day can do more harm than good, leading to potential brain meltdown and increased isolation. As well as getting out and about, try to break your day up with plans to meet colleagues and clients for meetings, lunches, and coffees. It will give you some precious human contact, and your clients and colleagues will appreciate the personal touch. Catch ups don’t need to be long, and you’re likely to return with a fresh head and inspired to start work again. So, start filling up that calendar!
- Join a regular networking group: With sites such as Meetup and Eventbrite, it’s easier than ever to find likeminded professionals in your sector or area of specialism. Just a quick search and you’ll find a host of groups and events all over the country. You could also consider joining an industry association, which run regular member events. You might even learn something at the same time.
- Make time for outside interests: We’re all guilty of letting work take over every now and again, and at the end of the day you can feel too exhausted to do anything else. But your hobbies and outside interests are precious, not only to unwind but also meet new people or keep in touch with old friends. So, dedicate at least one evening a week to pursue another passion, whether that’s practising a sport, learning a language, or attending an arts class. It might seem like an effort to begin with but after a couple of weeks you’ll find it much more energising than staying at home with the TV.
- A home worker’s best friend: They may not be so great at conversation, but pets are famously good for the health, with benefits including lowering the blood pressure, reducing anxiety, and staving off loneliness. In fact, one of the great benefits of working from home is you can be around to look after a dog or a cat during the day, and it means you always have somebody for company. Check out our blog here for more on the benefits of working with your pet.
- Freelancers - find a team: Freelancers often work on their own, which can exacerbate feelings of isolation, but it doesn’t have to be the case. If you find yourself yearning for support and inspiration, there are an increasing number of opportunities to work in virtual teams, using sites like The Work Crowd to link up with other professionals with complementary skills. This not only gives you ‘colleagues’ who you can turn to bounce ideas off, it also enables you to work on bigger projects than you could manage on your own.
We all feel lonely sometimes, but when loneliness becomes long-term and overwhelming, it can have a serious impact on mental health. What’s more, stigma and shame around loneliness means that it can be difficult to talk about and find help when you need it.
Mental Health Awareness Week is an opportunity to change that, by having a conversation about how home working and freelancing could be contributing to loneliness and what we can do about it. For more information and ideas, check out the Mental Health Foundation here.