When Kyle moved in with me in 2016, we had a rocky start. Moving in together is always an adjustment, but when both partners work from home, it becomes a trial by fire.
We didn’t do well sharing the same space all of the time, and it took us a while to figure out how to live and work in the same house without killing each other. Sometimes it feels like we’re still figuring it out, but we’ve hammered out a lot of the kinks.
And now that the pandemic has forced so many of you into the same situation, we thought we might offer some advice. Here are five tips for working and living with your partner full-time.
**Please note that these tips are designed for people working from home with their partner sans kids. They are not one-size-fits all, and will likely be woefully inadequate for those of you currently home schooling, working, and living in the same space. You have my deepest sympathies, and should we ever meet in person once this is over, the drinks are on me.
No. 1) Carve Out Separate Work Spaces. To whatever extent possible, try to create an area where each of you can work away from the other. Separate work areas will improve focus and help productivity. Separate spaces will also minimize the small annoyances that crop up when you’re working in the same area.
No room in your living area for two work spaces? Create a ‘don’t bother me’ spot or a signal that you need space/quiet. I once used a wet floor sign to let Kyle know that I was on a conference call and he couldn’t come downstairs. Many people often swear by noise cancelling headphones.
Need to maintain client confidentiality or privacy? Get a white noise machine to prevent others in the home from accidentally overhearing your calls.
Also, if there’s a ‘good’ work space and a sub-optimal work space, learn to share the good one. Maybe odds and even days or mornings and afternoons, even just when the other person has something big. When we lived in a home with one office and one dining room table, a lot of resentment developed because one of us had the luxury of space and privacy and the other one didn’t.
No. 2) Establish Boundaries. If you take nothing else from this post, learn this: spending all day, every day with your partner will strain your relationship. Don’t confuse the hours that you work in proximity to one another with quality couple-time.
When you share a workspace, you need to maintain some emotional distance from one another during the workday. So from 9-to-5 Kyle is no longer my husband, he is my loud-talking colleague in the office next door. I don’t stroll into his office to ask him to take out the trash; he doesn’t breeze into mine for a chat. If we need something, we do what we would do if we didn’t work 4-feet from one another, we text.
Creating that mental and emotional space was hard at first, but we’re both more productive and focused because of it. And when we emerge from our separate areas and headspaces at closing time, we don’t feel like we spent all day together, which has been good for our relationship.
No. 3) Communication is Key. Your partner cannot read your mind. If you need something, sharing the same space makes expectation setting and communication critical.
Plan out your day and make your partner aware of any big meetings or projects that require focus or demand quiet. If something is really big, send a calendar invite to remind your partner that you need extra consideration during this time. Some couples meet weekly to set up a schedule so that everyone is clear about which meetings/work can’t be interrupted.
Also, don’t let problems fester. The longer a behavior persists, the harder it is to stop. If something isn’t working, say so quickly.
No. 4) Work, Not Housework. Just because your partner is home, doesn’t mean they can take a break from their 9-to-5 to do housework. If there’s laundry or dishes to be done or trash that needs to be taken out, ask them to do it after work. Just like you would if you were both going to an office.
As crazy as it makes me, sometimes I have to ignore Kyle’s lunch mess or the pile of laundry on the floor because it’s the middle of the work day. If you wouldn’t ask your partner to come home from the office to do it, you can’t ask them to do it during work hours. Simply let them know (via text) that you would like it done and let them decide when they can make time to do it.
No. 5) Become Deaf. When a reporter asked Ruth Bader-Ginsburg the secret to a happy marriage, she said it was ‘good to be a little deaf.’ This is the best advice I can offer to people sharing workspace with their partner for the first time.
For many of the issues you will encounter when working from home together, there is no hack, no easy solution that you can buy your way into. The only solution will be to change your own thinking and develop the discipline to not let sharing work space adversely impact your relationship.
You’re going to get annoyed by small habits and behaviors you wouldn’t normally see. You’re going to overhear things that you wish you hadn’t. You’re going to get so sick of them that even the sound of their voice upsets you. Sometimes the only solution for these issues will be changing how you react to them. So every now and again, just choose to be deaf.
If you have experience sharing work space with your partner, or you’ve developed some coping mechanisms you’d like to share, leave them in the comments.