While I am in no means an expert on how to work in close quarters with your significant other, I have run a business and worked alongside my husband for over almost 8 years. During that time we have learned a few things along that way that I thought would be helpful for those who now find themselves working in close proximity to a significant other, roommate or other family member due to COVID-19 work from home policies now in effect.
- At the start of each work day, briefly discuss what your day looks like with your partner/roommate to set expectations. Do you have a big project that requires a lot of concentration or a scheduled conference call at 10:00am where you can’t be interrupted? Let them know these things to help them understand the scheduled and/or important parts of your day. Sharing your work calendars or creating a schedule on a whiteboard also allows them to see what you have planned at specific times. This also helps to keep you accountable and productive. For example, I will tell my husband I am going to finish photo editing a shoot so I have a goal to keep me going throughout the day.
- Discuss your noise preferences. Some people can work with music or a TV on and some people can’t. I am one of those people that find it hard to have background noise on while I’m reading/sending emails, writing or on phone calls, but I like to have music or a podcast to listen to while I’m doing creative work like photo editing or building a wedding album. If you can’t agree on background noise or when background noise can be on, use headphones.
- Phone calls. Another “noise” factor. We have determined that calls should be done in another room whenever possible to minimize distractions for the other person, and definitely go to separate rooms when you are both on calls at the same time. It’s polite not just for your S.O., but for the person on the other end of the line as well.
- Be mindful of interrupting each other’s work. Just like you wouldn’t barge into a coworkers office or cubicle without announcing yourself, ask your partner “do you have a second” or “may I ask you something” before talking to them or asking a question. This seems like a small thing but over time it is a practice I really appreciate. You never know what they are working on at that moment, so give them the option to say “just a minute” so you aren’t constantly interrupted by each other which can hamper workflow and productivity. They may be deep into or mid thought and need to concentrate before being able to give you their attention.
- Take breaks from one another if needed. It is normal to want a little break or alone time while working in close quarters and that’s ok. Go for a walk. Get some fresh air outdoors. Read a book or call a friend in a different room. Don’t be hard on yourself. You are not used to spending all-day everyday with them and you may need some separation. Keep in mind that this is temporary and you are both in this together.
- Establish a schedule and stick to it. Try and start and finish your work at the same time each day, and as close to your normal working hours as possible so your partner knows your routine. This will give you a sense of normalcy and will prevent you from working all hours of the day. If possible, have a “turn off” time when your workday is finished and transition to a “normal” evening together (what is normal now, right?). I like to signal it by turning the lights off in our studio and then pour some wine or lighting a candle in our living space.
- Decide on whether or not you will be doing housework during the workday and whether or not both of you will be participating in the chores. It can be distracting and unproductive to finish laundry or empty the dishwasher while you should be working, but the temptation is there and so chances are you will doing it while working from home. Sometimes they can be a good 5-10 min break. If you share housework with your partner, set expectations on whether you will do them during the workday or after and resist the temptation to “keep score” on who does tasks. If you have some extra time to take out the trash, just do it and hopefully your partner will take note and be the one to do it next time.
- I know it has been said before, but I can’t stress the importance of recreating your workday while working from home. Shower and change out of your pajamas. Take an actual lunch break. Work at a table and not from the sofa if at all possible. All of these things get repeated over and over in lists like this because they all truly do help you be more productive.
- Lastly, this is new territory for a lot of couples and friends. Give each other time to adjust and go easy on each other. Sev and I have a rule that we treat each other as if they were a colleague and not our spouse. When speaking, try to use words and, sometimes more importantly, a tone that you would use for your coworkers or clients which can go a long way in keeping things civil around the house.
Best of luck to you all on a happy, HEALTHY, and productive social distancing period. Stay well my friends.