Bill, at Writelife, recently wrote a thoughtful post on the social aspect of work. It is well worth reading. His viewpoint on micro-businesses was interesting and I feel it is worth an extended discussion.
Bill wrote: "Much depends on the kind of micro-business you choose, but I think to a large extent you work in isolation."
I think that connectedness or isolation is determined more by one’s personality than one’s choice of business. It may also have to do with the social patterns of the time and of the area in which you live.
During my first twenty years of employment, my work was my social life. My coworkers and I ate lunch together almost every day and our families socialized on weekends. This was true in at least seven different companies during the Fifties and Sixties.
As I moved up the management ladder in the Seventies and Eighties, I found that the socialization was more on the order of business lunches and occasional company parties. There wasn’t a lot of off-the job socializing.
In the Nineties and in the new Millennium, work socialization seemed to change again. The industries I worked in had little camaraderie outside of project meetings. Many of the employees I knew ate at their desks alone or went out to lunch with friends from other companies. This seemed to be true for employees of all ages.
In my last high-tech company, most on-the job socializing took place at lunch in the company cafeterias. A great deal of bonding took place in this environment and lunch time was often an opportunity to see old friends from other divisions.
Because of work pressure, there was little other time for socializing, except in project meetings. I formed strong friendships as a result of projects I worked on, but these friends were located all over the country. Because we were so scattered, most of our relationships were maintained by email or phone.
Now that I have businesses of my own, I enjoy a close relationship with customers and suppliers and most of them have become fast friends. Because there is so much networking involved in running a micro-business, there is far more opportunity for socializing at every level than I experienced during my corporate career.
I may work out of my home, but there are few days when I don’t have visitors. In addition, I receive daily emails from bloggers in distant, and often exotic locations. When I go out to buy supplies, that is a social event in itself. In this part of Virginia, the pace of business is such that suppliers are interested in what I create with the materials I buy from them. Some have even put up pictures of my latest designs in their stores and showrooms. This kind of direct feedback helps me get a better perspective of what people like about my designs.
I felt that I worked in isolation for my last few years in high-tech. Now, I am in the heart of an expanding group of friends. It’s not unusual to be greeted while working out at the local fitness center and asked to propose a design for something new. I even have people who are walking their dogs stop to see what I am doing in my workshop. Some of these have become repeat customers.
I love running a micro-business! There are all kinds of challenges and risks to confront, but isolation and lack of social contact are not part of the picture.
How do other micro-business owners feel about this?