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Working From Home With Roommates and Spouses: Tips

working from home with spouse or roommates


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If you have experience working from home on your own, you may have recently experienced a shift in your at-home work environment due to mandates related to the coronavirus pandemic. As a result, you may find yourself sacrificing some privacy as other family members—whether a spouse, roommate, or even kids home from school on extended breaks—infiltrate your once-quiet workplace digs.

If there had been 3.7 million workers who now work from home at least half the time, according to Census Bureau data, this number is now much higher with so many offices requiring work-from-home setups to help stop the spread of the virus. Furthermore, many workers have been furloughed or, unfortunately, laid off. What’s more, having school-age children now home all five days of the workweek alongside their work-from-home parents potentially brings a new level of challenges to everyone’s day, if you don’t plan to manage the situation in advance.

So, what’s the key to making this maelstrom of at-home workers (and other family members) blend together harmoniously? To succeed at working from home with your spouse or partner, roommates, and/or kids (or babies) in the mix, try these strategies.

Configure Separate Workspaces

If you work for separate companies and you don’t rely on each other’s work to get your own job done, prep individual home offices in different areas of your home. This will ensure that you each have designated areas to concentrate on work. If you’re stationed side by side or in the same physical space, it’s very easy to distract each other. While you may not have multiple floors in your home, do your best to select work areas that allow for some privacy and quiet for each individual worker.

Separate Workspaces from Living Areas

To the extent possible, try to avoid mixing business with your home life and childcare situation. If you have the space, carve out separate offices for the adults working from home that are used strictly for work. Try to avoid spilling your work life into the personal spaces of the home so you have a distinct threshold to cross when your workday is done.

Trade-off Childcare and Household Duties

If you’re a couple who has kids home from school, this strategy becomes much more challenging and complex. If you have shared responsibility for juggling work, children, and home chores that may need to be completed as part of your workday (such as cleaning up the kitchen after lunch), consider alternating your work hours so that each person gets some undivided attention to devote to completing their work projects while the kids have the other person attend to them.

If two adults need to get work done during the day but are also responsible for childcare duties and/or coaching a child through schoolwork, the best approach is to designate distinct blocks of time where each member of the couple will be “on duty” with childcare or lesson plans, while the other partner works. By dividing up this responsibility during the workday—for example, with one spouse taking on the morning hours of childcare from 9am to 1pm and the other spouse doing childcare from 1pm to 5pm, each worker gets a four-hour block of uninterrupted work time.

Alternatively, if your job doesn’t allow for you to be offline for that stretch of time, you could alternate who’s watching the kids each hour of the workday. Your schedule may vary, but scheduling blocks of time won’t only be easier for you, it’ll be easier for coworkers because they’ll know your availability. You’ll just need to be sure to proactively communicate, which will help set and manage expectations.

Avoid Distracting Each Other and Maintain Autonomy

Whether you’re the one on childcare duty, or if you don’t have kids but still tend to get distracted by your spouse’s interruptions during the workday, you may need to institute some rules together to help you both stay focused on the task at hand. Instead of just leaving communication opportunities with your partner to chance, which may result in constant distraction for you both, consider scheduling time with your partner on the calendar like any other meeting to discuss an issue if it’s during the workday.

By blocking out designated discussion time and waiting until this appointed time to discuss concerns that aren’t related to work and are considered non-essential, this habit will allow you and your partner to make the necessary time for offering undivided attention to your discussion—without biting too much time out of the workday.

Create Individual Office Hours and Respect Them.

Along the same lines, you can create boundaries around each adult’s work-from-home schedule by posting each of your designated office hours outside your home workspaces. Formalizing the process like this will help you and your partner get into the habit of respecting each other’s office hours. The fewer interruptions you both have, the more likely you are to finish your workday on time.

While it may feel a little funny to have to create office hours with your spouse, doing so helps curb the tendency that you both may have to interrupt each other’s workflow continuously during the day, every time you think of something about your shared home life that you need to talk about or ask. These office hours should apply not only to verbal interruptions, but digital ones—which means no pinging your partner with instant messages, texts, or other digital distractions when his or her office hours are not in session.

Meet for Lunch and Plan Breaks

To feel connected with your spouse, roommate, or any kids who are home with you during the workweek, schedule some lunches and breaks together. Even spending five or 10 minutes every few hours can go a long way toward family connection. Taking a walk or a proper lunch break can be good for your relationship as well as everybody’s mental and physical health.

When you’re taking a break with your family members, try to avoid talking or thinking about work for a few minutes to clear your head and make an undistracted connection. Schedule these lunches and breaks into your work calendar and treat them as importantly as you would a work meeting. This will allow you to embrace the advantages of working from home with your family members!

Working From Home Successfully

Learning how to work from home with your spouse, roommates, or kids might not be something you planned for, but by establishing guidelines you’ll be able to maintain your productivity, work-life balance, and focus.

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Photo Credit: bigstockphoto.com

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Robin Madell has spent over two decades as a corporate writer, journalist, and communications consultant on business, leadership, career, health, finance, technology, and public-interest issues. She is a contributor to the On Careers section of U.S. News & World Report…Read More >

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