For most of my career, I’ve worked at home, researching, writing, and editing articles and books, and managing the website Woman Around Town. Now I’m being joined by millions of workers who are being told to do their jobs from their apartments or homes. Many will make this transition easily. For others, accustomed to seeing their co-workers each day, coming together in teams, sitting in conference rooms hashing out problems, it will be a major adjustment. Partners will now be sheltering in place together, attempting to do their work without getting in each other’s way. Will it bring them closer? Or will we see an increase in divorces when this pandemic finally subsides?
After decades of working at home, navigating around others, including a spouse, children, caregivers, and pets, I offer some advice. Have your own tips? Send them to me – firstname.lastname@example.org – and I’ll pass them along to our readers.
Mark your territory.
Unless you have two workstations already set up in your home, you will need to set aside space for the two of you to work. Although many experts advise having a home office or at least a desk, that doesn’t always fit everyone’s style. With my laptop, I am comfortable moving around my apartment, alternating between the island in my kitchen, the dining room table, and, yes, my couch. If that works for you, too, then you might find it easier to accommodate your partner who wants to claim that second bedroom as their own, or decides to set up a temporary desk in the living room. Whatever works should work for both of you, but you need to have those discussions about who will work where early on.
Turn down the volume.
With two of you now working in the same space, you need to be considerate about the noise you produce. Use headphones whenever possible to spare your partner from loud music, chats with a friend, or a lengthy conference call. On the other hand, if listening to music would help both of you become more productive, go ahead. Just make sure you agree on what music you’d like to listen to.
Keep conversation to a minimum.
Just because the other person is sharing your space, doesn’t mean you need to share your thoughts throughout the work day. Treat your partner as you would a colleague. If you have a problem you’d like help with, ask if they can be interrupted for a short chat. But respect their right to say they have to concentrate on what they’re doing and would like to talk later.
Decide on breaks.
Do you normally take breaks for coffee, lunch, or just to relax? Ask your partner how they would like to manage downtime. Enjoying a midday meal or even a cup of coffee will help remind both of you that you have a bond beyond just occupying the same work space. Those moments also can be used to talk about what you might normally be covering on an afternoon phone call – what errands you need help with or what’s for dinner.
Managing children and pets.
With children out of school, working at home becomes even more challenging for parents. Bring the children into the discussions about respecting everyone’s time and space. If your children have their own rooms and should be doing schoolwork, make sure they are set up and have a plan before you attempt to begin your own workday. While you don’t want to discourage them when they need help, perhaps set up a designated time when they can interrupt you or your partner to ask a question or seek guidance. As for pets, if one of you has been caring for a dog or a cat, perhaps this is a time to share those responsibilities. Since pets can bring calm to even the most stressful situations, taking a walk with a dog or enjoying some cuddle time with a cat, may be a welcome interruption for both of you.
Close down shop.
Working at home brings with it the danger of always working. And why not? It’s staring you right in the face. It’s so easy to go back to your desk or pick up your computer after dinner. Make a decision early on that you both will stop working at a certain time – except for work emergencies. Then sit down and enjoy a nice dinner together as partners, not co-workers.
Top photo: Bigstock