Is a freelance life a lonely life?

Today is my first full day back working after nine months maternity leave and one of the first items to catch my attention this morning was this article on the loneliness and social isolation faced by homeworkers.

More and more of us are switching the grind of the daily commute for home comforts.

No tiny cubicle in an open plan soulless office for me

No tiny cubicle in an open plan soulless office for me

But is it a case of the ‘grass is greener’ and the reality not measuring up to the fantasy?

Not as far as I’m concerned.

Maybe I’m unusual but I really don’t think I could go back to office politics, sad sandwiches and strip lighting.

Last night I got about three hours sleep thanks to nocturnal children and I’m not sure I could have faced making myself presentable, travelling in hot sweaty weather, and joining the office hamster wheel.

I am by no means slacking off, in fact after some breakfast and three cups of tea I feel almost human and was at my desk by 8.30am.

My list of tasks is getting ticked off pretty quickly and efficiently.

The window is open, sun streaming in alongside a gentle breeze and the radio playing quietly in the background.

I am sat in a pleasant, comfortable, calm environment. Admittedly I am still in pyjamas but this is by no means altering my ability to do my job.

I have spoken to colleagues by phone and email so do not feel I am lacking human interaction but it has been on my terms.

Flexibility

Perhaps if I was sat at this desk five days a week, eight hours a day I would start to get worn down by it.

But surely that’s the point of freelancing, that you are master of your own destiny.

I can arrange meetings and take on different types of work which enable me to have human contact.

When term starts again, the teaching sessions I run will provide some interesting variety.

The Guardian article points out that your personality type may determine how well you adjust to home working.

I am sure this is true to some extent but I would never describe myself as an introvert, quite the opposite in fact, I am a pretty social creature.

Yet I am also a harried mum who looks forward to the nursery days when I can work in peace and quiet with no distraction, organising my time to suit and finishing tasks one at a time.

This blog post has taken about 20 minutes to write and I do not have to explain my productivity to anyone or why I took time out from other tasks.

I get paid for the work I do and the more I choose to take on the more I earn.

Alternatively if I want to take a break or day off that is my choice.

That freedom, for me, outweighs any occasional feelings of loneliness.

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Five reasons to give freelancing a go

Pic ollesvensson http://www.flickr.com/photos/ollesvensson/

For a calm life, move out of the office.

Working as a freelancer was always part of my master plan, mainly because of geography.

When your specialty is health, medicine and sciencey stuff, job opportunities are largely restricted to London, yet I could not envisage living there long term.

The solution, I convinced myself, was simply to enjoy the London lifestyle for a few years (tube-office-pub-tube), get some experience under my belt then move back t’North and work for myself.

There were those that raised a sceptical eyebrow but this is exactly what I did and I can now tell you not only is it possible to earn a good living as a freelancer, it brings with it a whole host of benefits I did not expect. That is if you can cope with a little uncertainty in your life.

For any of you considering working for yourself, here’s my top five reasons to take the plunge.

1. You don’t have to get dressed

Most working days my commute is a walk up a flight of stairs. No one cares if you are in your PJs because they have no idea.

That’s not to say you shouldn’t get dressed. There is something to be said for looking presentable as a way of getting into the right mindset.

But working in slobby clothes is a treat everyone should have once in a while.

2. The more you do the more you earn

If you’re doing it right and don’t fall into the trap of working for free, your earnings will be linked to productivity.

If you take on more work, sit at your computer til the wee hours to meet deadlines then you should at least be rewarded handsomely.

Pretty much the opposite to the average staffer experience of working harder and harder doing five people’s jobs thanks to necessary cutbacks yet year on year yet earning the same measly wage.

The most common question I am asked is how do I motivate myself to actually work (subtext am I secretly watching trashy daytime TV?)

Well its fairly easy – if I don’t work I don’t get paid.

It is not at all hard to get stuff done when there is a specific financial incentive attached.

3. No office politics

Before going freelance, I wouldn’t have even considered this one but after rounds and rounds of job cuts and efficiency savings at all three of my pre-freelance gigs, I would say this is now the thing I love the most.

I don’t have to get involved in petty niggles brought on by the slow chipping away of staff morale.

I don’t have to play mind games and second guess what people are up to.

I don’t have to deal with management consultants coming in to tell me how to do my job or non-sensical restructurings that leave all the best members of staff running for the hills.

All I have to do is take the commission, do the work, meet the deadline and move on to the next job.

I mostly work from home, but when I do have to go into an office I turn into a bemused observer watching the natives act out their bizarre rituals.

4. Flexible working

When I started out, flexible working meant travelling to London two days a week to work part-time for the BBC (in a job I was offered just as I planned to move 150 miles north) and building up my freelance career from home on the other three days.

These days flexible working is all about fitting in childcare and it is a HUGE benefit to the entire family.

The youngsters among you who don’t have nippers won’t care about this yet but those who do will be looking on with envy.

I can’t stress enough how easy I have it compared with those who have to work set hours with unbending bosses watching their every move.

It also means we pay for two days childcare but I work on average three days a week, building up time in evenings and weekends.

You can’t work with children around (pre-school children anyway) but you can work unusual hours and have start and finish times that fit in with the nursery day.

Flexible working means you can have that long weekend away, that you don’t have to worry if your holidays clash, that you can take more than four weeks a year should you wish. Of course if you’re not working you’re not earning but it’s surprisingly easy to make up the time.

5. Being the boss 

Of course someone else is paying you so effectively they are in control but for all the bits that matter you are the boss.

You choose when and how you work and when you have a break.

If you’re sick or tired you can go have a nap and catch up later without anyone breathing down your neck (or even knowing).

And depending on who you are working for and the relationship you have with them, you are quite often left to your own devices in terms of the work.

There is definitely no micro-managing. Out of sight, out of mind. All anyone cares about, is that you deliver the goods on time.

And in my yearly appraisal, I always do excellently.

Next time… The downsides and how to manage them

Speed and quality from a home worker

A memo sent to Yahoo employees telling them they must be physically present in the office has caused quite a stir this week.

CEO Marissa Mayer has put the new rules in place, overturning policies allowing staff to work from home, with the view that to get the best out of employees they need to be “working side-by-side”.

When the news hit the media, it prompted a huge debate on the pros and cons of so-called tele-working.

So I thought I would do a bit of jumping on the bandwagon and argue my case as one of these skiving homeworkers.

Colleagues are potentially less annoying for the home worker. Image by SuziJane

Colleagues are potentially less annoying at home. Image by SuziJane

Now from the start I should make it clear that I don’t work for Yahoo or for any other one company, I am self-employed.

Which puts me at a distinct advantage when not having to deal with office politics including edicts sent down from on high which in one fell swoop disrupt routine working practices.

For this I am incredibly grateful. And working for myself I don’t really have to care about HR policies that have little impact on me.

But I do take issue with the assertion that we home workers are a lazy bunch.

This line in the memo particularly raised my ire: ‘Speed and quality are often sacrificed when we work from home’.

It is true, I have been known to work in my pyjamas, but this does not make me any less efficient or professional.

It just means I am comfortable and getting straight down to business rather than faffing about with make-up and getting my hair in a fit-to-be-seen state.

Most interviews I do are over the phone, and it makes no difference to anyone that this is done from my home study, rather than being sat in a open-plan office somewhere.

Train tedium

I spent years doing the commuting thing. First in London where you have to travel for at least an hour whatever distance you live from the office.

That just led to many post-work trips to the pub because I couldn’t be bothered with the journey home. Not good for the liver or the bank balance.

Then for about four years I travelled between Sheffield and London, dividing my week in two. And I can hand on heart say, that I did not slack off on my days at home.

Of course I could juggle my time more easily – a godsend when training for a marathon – but those hours were always made up elsewhere or I wouldn’t be able to meet deadlines and get paid.

Now I work fully at home – with the odd trip out to teach some students, the one bit I can’t get away with doing in my PJs.

And I am busier and work longer hours than ever before – but with the ability to set my own flexible timetable I only need to find part-time childcare for my toddler.

This does not mean I work with a toddler sitting on my knee. I do it when she’s gone to bed or is having an afternoon nap.

Of course not all jobs are suited to home working – I think we can all agree that pilots, GPs and builders need to turn up at the ‘office’.

Even within journalism, it is very much dependent on your work with daily editorial meetings and specific computer software providing a barrier for many.

But I take umbrage at the idea that just because you are working from home you are slacking off.

If anything, when you’re trying to get an article or report done, there can be fewer distractions.

Finding a sensible balance, judged on an individual basis and dependent on the needs of the job would be a more considered and grown-up approach than ‘you better all sit where I can see you so I can check you are busy enough’.