Freelancing and the Distance Paradox

Tim Harford had a fascinating article in Slate yesterday about the "distance paradox." Why is it that in this age of telecommuting and email we seem to be seeking face-to-face time even more than before? Travel for work has gone up, for example, and people are flocking to cities. Economists have concluded that technology often serves as a complement to and a catalyst for, not a substitute for, in-person interaction.

The distance paradox has a corollary that can affect freelancers. Many of us could not do what we do without the virtual office. But a lack of face time with supervisors and coworkers in an actual office is yet another factor that can lead to us being treated differently from in-office employees who do the same type of work. We may miss out on networking or advancement opportunities, not to mention valuable, but informal, grapevine information.

One way to deal with the distance paradox is to close the distance--pick up the phone and ask your clients or editors out to lunch, meet fellow freelancers for a drink. Another solution is to telecommute not from home, but from a "third place." USA Today ran a great look last October at freelancers who work from cafes for the perfect mix of social interaction and productivity.

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