A moment with a mum entrepreneur
Diana Holwerda works from home in Collaroy
Days had gone by when I realised that I hadn't left my house. I had got up every morning and showered, hit my desk to write a couple of thousand words, had leftovers for lunch, welcomed the children back from school, made dinner for everyone, then went to bed leaving my husband working downstairs. I hadn't spoken to anyone but my family in days.
I used to chat with friends throughout the day, but now we all seem to prefer to text than phone. We leave messages underneath Facebook posts, and should one of us try to make plans, we never quite manage to synchronise diaries.
One of my dearest friends lives around the corner, and works for International Animal Rescue. She works at home, too. We text each other regularly saying, "let's meet for lunch", but then I am on deadline, or she is running to New York for a meeting and then I realise just how lonely I have become.
When I left my job in my late twenties to write a novel, I thought I'd hit the jackpot. No more forcing myself awake at the crack of dawn and worrying about what to wear; no more living as just another wage slave, braving the Tube during rush hour, nose tucked under a stranger's armpit. Now I could own my own time. I could spend days in pyjamas until late afternoon if I wanted to. I could wake up when I felt like it, take a breakfast of coffee and countless cigarettes as I let the world inside my head flow out through my fingertips.
At first, it was bliss. I got my work done in a fraction of the time it would have taken in an office, and loved being my own boss. I even rescued a dog and drove up to Primrose Hill every day to walk her, chatting with other dog people and stopping for a cappuccino before I drove home. Finally, it felt like I had real balance, a far cry from my office job on a national newspaper surrounded by noise, hard work, and chatter.
But 20 novels later, I am no longer surrounded by people – it is just me, my book and the internet. I spend hours online scrolling through social media, procrastinating instead of writing. I think I am connected to the world, but, in reality, I am more isolated than ever. Consequently, I have become more introverted; more fearful of being out in the world. I have gone so long without the easy chatter of an office that it feels like I have forgotten how to connect with people – a crucial part of feeling like you belong.
And as more of us work remotely, I realise I am not the only one feeling like this and it's not good for any of us. According to John Cacioppo, author of Loneliness: Human Nature and the Need for Social Connection: "As social animals we survived because we form bonds, which provide mutual aid. Humans don't do well alone. If they got ostracised from the group, they were likely to perish."
A 2010 YouGov poll found that homeworkers suffer the most with loneliness and isolation, as they don't have the support or camaraderie of colleagues. This isn't a surprise to Charlie Green, co-founder of London's leading shared working and co-working provider, The Office Group, (and, coincidentally, my younger brother). He says: "Despite technology being a great enabler, there seems to be a greater necessity to connect on a human level, to be around other like-minded people.
"As technology allows a greater proliferation of smaller businesses, and as those companies get smaller, it's only natural that those people seek out the social environment that was part of a larger workplace – which may come in the form of after-work drinks, running clubs, film nights and romance."
I was not seeking running clubs or romance, but drinks after work started to sound excellent, as did a shared lunch or two. I wanted to discuss the finale of Big Little Lies at the water cooler; I wanted to have a routine; to step out of the lonely work/life bubble I had created for myself and be in the world again.
I briefly considered renting an office, but I realised I would still be lonely, sitting by myself behind a closed door. What I had in mind was something along the lines of what I'd had all those years ago – big shared tables filled with people I really liked. Tentatively, I phoned up my animal rescue friend to see if she was interested in getting an office together. She jumped at the opportunity so quickly that I realised she had been feeling as lonely as I had. Neither of us had confessed – it felt like some sort of failure – because to the outside world we both looked so fulfilled.
I asked another writer to join us. I found a gorgeous space in my favourite part of town, surrounded by restaurants and cafes. Others heard about our impromptu co-working creative office space, and asked if they could join. I spoke to the landlord and asked if he had more space. He said he had a double office across the hall, and acres of unused space upstairs. May I renovate and decorate it, I asked, as his eyes lit up. I am now renovating the entire building, including space for 25 more people upstairs, and a drop-in writer's room.
There are nine of us here. Each of us has found that we now love the routine of "going to work" again and we are more motivated than before, because now we are accountable to other people, too.
In my twenties, I felt that I was going to work every day with my best friends and, for the first time in years, I feel that way again. Already, incredible collaborations have taken place; friendships have been struck up, and business ideas exchanged. The loneliness has gone, I finally feel like I belong again.