How to find or build a community when you’re working remotely
September 25, 2018
Those first few days or weeks of a remote gig can be so refreshing. Working remotely may be rather peaceful when compared to occupying a spot in cubicle-ville. Productivity soars, stress abates, and you experience a greater sense of well-being. Life is good!
You’ll realize something, though, during one of the many trips you make from your home office to your kitchen. As you pour another cup of coffee, grab a healthy snack (you do that, right?), and stare out the window at the relatively calm neighborhood traffic, you’ll have a thought that many remote workers have had.
“Huh. I think I miss people.”
Community can be so important when you’re working remotely. But it can be hard to find one, especially when the place you’re working doesn’t provide built-in companionship. Friends at coworking spaces or pets can help blunt the effects of working alone, but not everyone can be so lucky! How do you find a community that resonates with you?
Start the Conversation
I didn’t know many remote professionals when I moved to my current town. I struck up a conversation with a fellow churchgoer on a Sunday morning. I discovered that Eric also worked remotely for a large company. He managed a remote team and also had two school-age kids. Of the relationship Venn diagrams I’ve seen, our circles certainly overlapped a lot! We planned to get together for breakfast Thursday mornings. It didn’t take long for our ranks to grow: at its peak, our Thursday “telecommuter’s breakfast” included music teachers, consultants and small business owners. It was a refreshing start to each Thursday, knowing I’d have a chance to catch up with friends outside the structure of work. The breakfast recurred weekly for several years, even after Eric and his family moved away (ironically, for an office job).
It all begins with a conversation. A smile in a coffee shop. Saying hello in the grocery store. A break to talk to someone working near you at a coworking space. Simply talking to someone can highlight common interests or help them give you an idea of where to find community. I’m continually amazed at how many people I meet who work remotely. You really don’t know unless you ask.
Find Your Tribe
Start with your professional circle. Within the technology sector, for example, there are plenty of meetups where companies or groups host gatherings. I found a half-dozen local technology-oriented groups that sound interesting.
Keep your eyes open for local conferences or seminars, too. These events will be well-attended by other local professionals who might be great connections for you.
You can also explore special interest groups. Try one centered around religion, hobbies or sports. Joining a group outside of work can help you feel socially and emotionally fulfilled. I joined a church-affiliated softball team when I first started working remotely. I met a bunch of great people and enjoyed a game I’d never played before, at least not outside the confines of a high school physical education class.
Here’s a list of opportunities that offer socialization beyond the structure of professional groups:
Join a faith-based organization for fellowship and social activities — larger organizations tend to have smaller specialty groups you can join
Volunteer — consider helping out your local school, library, food pantry, Habitat for Humanity chapter or fire department
Get involved with youth organizations
Join a running group through a local running store
Join a civic group that helps spruce up your community
Help organize or run local festivals or concerts
Join a community chorus
Attend concerts or classes at a local college or university
As an added bonus, social networking can feed back into your professional life. People you meet in non-professional circles might need the freelance or consulting services you can offer, or they may know someone who can use your skills. However, it doesn’t have to be like Glengarry Glen Ross — you don’t need to “Always Be Closing.” Your primary goal in attending these events is to fulfill a social need, so resist the urge to sell yourself too hard. Enjoy the socialization and relax!
Found Your Tribe
What if you can’t find a pre-established group that resonates with you? I’ve been there before. This is where you put on your DIY hat — just like Eric and I did with the “telecommuter’s breakfast” — and create your own group!
I sometimes participate in running-related chats on Twitter. I’m a runner and thought it was cool to chat with others who share the same passion—I even met several local athletes through what is essentially a worldwide chat! I wondered if the same type of chat would lend itself to the remote work community. I started #remotechat several years ago, and it’s been a wonderful way to connect with remote workers from next door or halfway around the world.
You can use almost any activity as an avenue to creating community. All you need is “the thing” and at least one person to show up. Believe me, I had weekly chats in the beginning that were just me talking to myself. It was tough not to get discouraged. But, as the quote from Field of Dreams goes, “If you build it, he will come.” The first step is often the most difficult one.
What are some things you can do once you’ve committed to creating a community? If you’ve already identified a group of people, propose a recurring time to do an activity you love. It doesn’t have to be centered around food, either, though that can help. Here are some ideas to get you started.
Coffee, breakfast or lunch groups
Biking, running or hiking groups (different routes each week)
Stereotypically touristy things in your area (going to museums, points of interest, boat rides, wine tastings, etc.)
Game nights with spouses and significant others
Group fitness, yoga or pick-up basketball
Even if you haven’t identified a group of people, advertise the group and start meeting. Share it on social media, at a meetup or on a community bulletin board. See if local coworking spaces or coffee shops might help advertise your group. It may take some time to get traction, but don’t give up!