Building relationships with people outside the office and IM

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When I left my day job 2 years ago one of the biggest shocks for me was realizing just how much I relied upon my co-workers for social interaction, inspiration, and motivation. It’s one of the drawbacks of working from home – lack of contact with people outside of social networking sites, IM, email, and mobile phone. Interacting in this fashion isn’t really interacting at all. It’s very impersonal.
While many people face this challenge, my circumstances are fairly unique. I am an expat. living in Asia in a house far from any city center. The area in which I live has little in the way of professional interaction and in general outside of a few pubs there is little opportunity social interaction. There are few professional associations here, at least in the industry I am in. There are meet-ups organized for groups of people loosely related (various expat. get-togethers) but they tend to be hours away and require not just a significant investment of my time but time away from my family.
I don’t have the answers and it’s something that I am working on but luckily there are many people with great advice. Here’s what a few sources have to say on how to develop and find ‘real’ relationships outside your home office.
Go to where the people are! Volunteer for a big event, attend a conference or join a club. While it’s possible to meet people hanging around the local coffee shop, it can be harder — your prospective contact may not be interested in interacting with anyone except the barista. However, at events and club activities, people show up ready to talk. Lifehack.
Make your solitary activity social. If you have an interest that you normally partake in on your own, you may be able to introduce a social element into it. For example, if you like running, then put out a call for a running buddy. If you normally mountain bike by yourself then you could find a group that rides together on the weekends. If you like reading you could start a book club. If you like playing an instrument then start a band or join one. If you’re a writer you could organize a group where people meet to share what they’ve been working on and help each other improve. If you’re into comics or card games maybe you can hang around the store with the other hobbyists instead of staying at home.
Go to church or other spiritual event. This may seem too self-serving but I have found that people are far more outgoing and willing to accept a stranger when the context is a church activity. Perhaps you are interested in exploring another belief system or your own with more depth. Where I live it’s one of the few places you can make friends without the influence of alcohol.
Use a web-based service to find people to do things with. Use online services like Upcoming.org, Meetup, Socializer, or a local discussion forum. Forumosa, a Taiwan online community, hosts regular happy hours for it’s members. If you like photography look for Flickr group meets.
Maintain current relationships. Re-contact people periodically. Let people know what you’re up to, and show a genuine interest in what they’re up to. Don’t drop a connection because they don’t show any immediate need for whatever you do — you never know when they will, and you never know who they know who will. More importantly, these personal connections add more value than just a file full of prospective clients, customers, or voters. Lifehack.
Further reading:
Building Healthy Relationships
How to Make Friends And Get a Social Life
Places And Ways To Meet New People
Photo by cypherone @ Taiwan.