Remember those halcyon days of 2019 when working from home was a novelty? When you’d get to sit in bed in your sweats gloating with the knowledge that every one of your coworkers was slaving away in the office?
And remember how that novelty quickly grew stale as the reality of home working during COVID dawned on you? Converting your ill-sized spare room into a feasible workspace; the creeping sense that you could now never really clock off; the rapid dissolution of any delineation between work and home.
These obstacles were tricky enough to navigate, but when they were compounded by living with a fellow work-from-homer, well—things could easily get messy. Both metaphorically and literally.
Working from home together was cute at first. The coffee breaks in the kitchen. Catching up after work at 5:30 on the dot—no more sweaty subway commutes for you guys! The morning goodbye kiss as you both went your separate ways to work—at either end of the house.
But then things took a turn for the irksome. The coffee mugs left unwashed in the sink. The chargers unceremoniously unplugged from the wall, or just placed inexplicably in some other part of the house. The noisy Zoom conferences in the next room—have they not heard of headphones?
Lots of companies made working from home their default in the wake of COVID, realizing it was way more efficient and cost-effective. Great news for them—but what about the poor work-from-homers now getting not a moment’s respite from their well-meaning but agitating spouses? Never fear: There are lots of things you can do to keep your love life separate from your professional life when you work from home together.
Invest in creating nice workspaces for both of you
One day you’ll wake up, look around your lovely home with a freshly brewed cup o’ joe, and have the epiphany: This is the real deal now. No more novelty: Both of you are full-time work-from-homers. And take it from me—that day will come!
It’s a big moment, but it can be a great feeling. Because now you fully understand you need to make your workspace as nice as possible. And you need to encourage your partner to do the same. If you are fortunate enough to have a sizable enough place that you have separate workspaces, you can tailor that environment to your exact needs: the lighting (natural or otherwise), the feng shui (if that’s your thing), even the music you have playing, the scented oils permeating the atmosphere to get you in the zone. If your partner does the same, think how much more happy and productive you’ll both be. You’ll look forward to “going to work,” and your relationship will benefit because of it.
And even if the two of you share a workspace, you can adapt accordingly, and be respectful of one another’s needs. You’ll invariably get on top of one another (and on each other’s nerves!) from time to time, but that’s normal, and something you can work through by maintaining clear and honest communication about what you each need during working hours.
Insist on routine—it could just help you keep your sanity
Home working has spelled disaster for many a natural procrastinator—so endeavoring to keep your downtime structured is key to not losing your mind! This is especially true if your partner is similarly wired.
- Try to time your breaks so you spend them together. This can make you work better, because whereas before you might have been slacking off with the whole day stretching out in front of you, now you have some nice things to split up the day! In these breaks you guys can debrief on how your days are going, share a coffee, cuddle, get some fresh air—whatever gives you both a boost! This will make you actively look forward to your breaks, and they will feel so much more deserved, too.
- When possible, compartmentalize domestic discussions so they fall outside working hours—or at least, the domestic discussions that aren’t fun! So plans for the weekend, what’s for dinner tonight, upcoming vacations—two thumbs up. But bills, cleaning duties, whose turn it is to take out the trash—if it can wait, save that stuff for 5:30. Remember, you’re “at work,” and your mind doesn’t need to be muddied by the minutiae of your home life if you want to be operating on top form when you sit back down at your laptop.
- Inject some fun into your “communal spaces”: Have a fancy coffee machine, an “office” cookie jar, a table tennis table for letting off steam together (if your place is big enough!). Don’t overdo the breaks, though: Just like if you were in the office itself, your breaks should have the purpose of clearing your head and recharging your mental faculties. One break in the morning, two in the afternoon (including a lovely long lunch). And speaking of lunch, try to eat healthily, and keep takeout for special occasions—save the piping-hot cartons of aromatic Chinese food for every other Friday, say, not just that dreary Monday afternoon when you’re both bored with work and can’t face cooking. And remember: Whoever initiates the break makes the coffee. No exceptions.
Ban all working from bed!
Get on the right track from the moment you wake up. Embrace whatever you need: a good strong coffee, some yoga, a healthy blast of brisk fresh air—then stay on the right track. Fun as it seems to work from bed together, your productivity will dip and you’ll end up procrastinating. Separating work from home starts at this fundamental point. We equate bed with relaxation and switching off for the day, so you’ll never be in tip-top form if you’re snuggled down amid the pillows. Exception: You guys are short of space and this work needs doing ASAP. But even then, work on top of the comforter—and try to create another workspace elsewhere when you can. You’re unlikely to get much hard graft done when you’re in the place you most associate with chilling out!
When all else fails, remember: You love the pants off each other
Listen: When you and your partner work from home together full-time, there ain’t no applying for a transfer. (Unless that transfer involves you storming out of the house to set up shop in a cobwebbed corner of the shed/garage/attic/basement/dog basket.) There’s no taking this disruptive new coworker to a tribunal for their loud team chats/noisy breathing/unrelenting repetition of ‘Think outside the box’ and ‘I’ll circle back on that’ and ‘Let’s do this!’ at least seven times an hour in the next room. You’re in this for the long haul—and you know what? It’ll bring you guys a heck of a lot closer. Because beneath their many foibles—lots of which will have become apparent only since you began “working together”—you’ll see a whole new side to your partner. One that emerges only when you’re forced to spend so much more time together. And that works both ways: Your spouse will see you in a brand-new light as well—and believe it or not, you have annoying habits, too! So respect one another’s needs, give each other space, and make the working atmosphere the best it can be for both of you. Get it right, and you’ll wonder how you ever worked any other way.
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