Freelance, telecommuting… but who can you get mad at when you work alone?

This article is from Management magazine

“When I work alone, and I have the balls? I type. Strong. I type everything in my fridge!” Johann, 36, is a web editor and copywriter. He takes revenge for the injustices of which he is the victim on the serrano ham, the sheep yoghurts, the tzatziki, sometimes a fruit, or on the packet of granola in the cupboard. “I write content marketing for big brands. They are demanding (capricious) and change their minds (weather vanes). But I can’t say anything, they are my livelihood. Before, Johann could curse: he was coworking. “It was practical, I found a charitable ear in Romain, Emi or Marcus, people who were neither my colleagues nor my rivals. We supported each other…” After the loss of a big collab, bye-bye the third place. Johann has returned to his 60 square meters at Porte des Lilas and is now stamping his feet alone, on the Berber carpet in his living room…

He is not the only one. The home becomes the pro HQ for a lot of people. France had 3.6 million self-employed people at the end of 2019 (1). A phenomenon boosted by the figures of the status (simple and catchy) of autoentrepreneur (growth of 18.5% in ten years), themselves linked to the roaring uberization of our sweet digital world. The pandemic crisis, its confinements, its curfews, have accelerated the process. And the weakening also of all these solopreneurs, alas. They thought they were emancipating themselves, no longer being subordinated to a fixed framework (times, place), here they are paid by the piece, crushed by a tough competition.

For these and all the independents, President Macron has just released an aid plan (protection of personal assets, access once every five years to unemployment insurance) and an electoral speech like a magic kiss: “You represent the common thread of my commitment in recent years, merit, hard work, risk-taking and willpower!” Johann can therefore breathe, Jupiter watches.

No more affect in working relationships

But beyond the freelancers, the solo work, everyone could taste it or almost: thank you the crisis. Even the employee. Compulsory “all telework” has just ended, but it remains popular among 18-34 year olds: 61% of them are in favor (2). And enjoyed more cosmetically – one or two days a week – by others. In any case, 74% of people no longer want to return to “the life before” (3). Which inspires, in passing, two areas of reflection for the psychologist Agnès Bonnet-Suard (4): “It questions our relationship to organizations, our adherence to these classic patterns. It even repudiates them, because they induce too many constraints. There is a desire to escape confinement and dissolution within a whole. And then, this desire for “home” illustrates a form of desacralization of work. The latter is no longer sufficient for our balance and no longer allows us to realize ourselves.”

Certainly, the advantages of solo work are multiple. The consultant Johann Ouaki (5) recalls them: “Flexibility, in particular on the balance between professional life and personal life, greater autonomy, a comfortable environment – calmer and more cozy -, and above all a context favorable to concentration and efficiency.” We are no longer untimely disturbed by the colleague: “By the way, I wanted to ask you, uh… no, that’s good.”

But the constraints are also legion. And therefore the opportunities to bite the brakes. A large CGT / Dares survey in September demonstrated “the sharp increase in the load and intensity of the tasks of employees working from home”. Not to mention social isolation. “The link is dehumanized, “disaffected”, observes Agnès Bonnet-Suard, people have found themselves reduced to pure and hard work. They have become functional resources.”

Distance helping, dematerialization obliges, it becomes more difficult to communicate with the other. A Zoom video will never be worth a brief in the flesh. Not even an informal one-to-one. We lose the weak signals of our interlocutor, we no longer see his legs fidgeting, we no longer feel his sweaty hands. All non-verbal communication fades away. If we’re pissed, how can we tell from afar? By an angry emoticon? “The speeches are blurred, analyzes Agnès Bonnet-Suard, there is a loss of finesse.”

If you have the feeling of being wronged and need a frank explanation, the means available do not facilitate communication: “The telephone meeting freezes, because it gives seriousness, solemnity to the problem. The video, it exposes us to our own image and makes us lose spontaneity, ”continues the psychologist. Of course, distance dampens conflicts. But their resolution is complicated.

Invent an imaginary interlocutor

Before biting, we calm down. Be careful, “it is not a question of repressing your emotions, warns Agnès Bonnet-Suard. Otherwise, it risks creating somatic disorders, even emotional exhaustion. We would also, perhaps, be tempted to pour out on those around us, the innocent recipient of our resentments. At stake: discomfort among loved ones, and guilt for oneself. So what to do?

The psychologist continues: “We must adopt emotional regulation techniques. First, by taking some distance from the problem: we pose it, we think about it, we verbalize it alone at home, we write it down. So we have already started a work of emotional release and hindsight. Another method, proposed by the therapist: “Use an imaginary double. We self-interview, imagining what another might say or raise. It allows you to decenter, to relativize, or to play down.

The consultant Johann Ouaki also suggests taking advantage of his isolation: “Away from work, it is easy to vent anger. Just put your PC on standby and go have a coffee downstairs. Better to go for a walk, run, swim. In short, to afford a geographic and mental break.” But sometimes you have to face it. Untie. Our two experts are formal: we do not “ghost”. In other words, there is no question of ostriching or disappearing. If the discord is cotton, it is better to discuss it quickly, either by telephone or by video (no cold and quasi-legal email). “You have to be factual, prescribes Johann Ouaki. We refocus the debate around facts and observables, before getting into feelings.

“It is important to listen to yourself, but also to the other, adds Agnès Bonnet-Suard. Now that the population is largely vaccinated, it is all the same easier to unravel the threads in person, in front of a coffee. In all cases, we use the principles of non-violent communication by psychologist Marshall Rosenberg: speak with kindness, listen a lot. With this key word: indulgence. Because if working alone sometimes tenses you up, know that others also have the right to have their nerves on edge.

(1) Source: Central Agency of Social Security Organizations (Acoss).

(2) YouGov study for the recruitment firm Nicholson Search & Selection.

(3) According to an OpinionWay barometer published in May 2021.

(4) Co-founder of the consulting firm Therasens, and author of Recognize burn-out (Eyrolles, 2020).

(5) Founder of the communication consulting agency Soto, and author of You will love being freelance (Dunod, 2018).

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