Working together, apart

I’ve worked from home for almost eight years. For the first seven and a half of those years I had a quiet existence most days between about 7.30am and 5pm, doing my editorial and project management work, interrupted once a week when the cleaning lady appeared. Then one day my husband came home and told me his company was closing his office and he’d be working from home in future. Much as I love him, I’m pretty sure my face fell. (And he’s read and approved this before I’ve posted it!)

We’ve been working under the same roof now for long enough to have got into a bit of a groove. There has definitely been a period of adjustment, and I still miss the peace and quiet of my solitary working days, but I think we’re getting there. I thought I’d have a look at some of the differences between us and see if I could share some tips for anyone else who might find themselves in a similar situation.

Noise 
This has been the biggest issue for me. I like to work in total silence. No radio, no classical music, no ambient noise. Certainly not someone else’s phone calls, particularly when they come in several times and hour and are heralded by this ringtone. (Him: “It’s a classic.”) And not every ping of a text message, inbox update or calendar reminder.

To address this issue, and to enable him to keep his job in sales and, if I’m totally honest, to save him from hours of my Skype discussions, we try to do the following as far as possible:

  • Keep both our doors shut
  • Put phones on mute, leaving just the vibrate on
  • Keep voices down
doors
Too close for comfort?

When I was planning this post, I asked others on the White Ink Facebook page and Twitter for their workspace-sharing tips. Other noise-related suggestions that came in (names have been left out to protect the relationships involved, but thank you if you contributed!) were to “coordinate so you try to avoid working on a tricky job that needs your full attention when your other half has a conference call”, “make sure he knows not to do the hoovering outside my office when I’m on Skype”, “wear headsets” and “put other half in a soundproof bubble”. Not always easy to do, but in our house we do usually have a quick chat at the start of the day that might include mentioning times of planned calls, just as a bit of a warning to each other in case quiet/noisy jobs can be timed to fit in.

Space 
When we were house-hunting, just as I was setting up as a freelancer, we had strict criteria for our property search: three bedrooms – one for us, and one for each of my grown-up stepsons in case they were both at home at the same time – plus an office for me. Now we have two bedrooms and two offices. His is supposed to be ‘quick release’ in case of several guests – a desk that is made of trestle legs and a worktop balanced on them so it can be put down and moved without much effort, and easy-carry storage boxes for keeping stuff in, so they can be shoved into my office to make way for the futon. In six months we’ve had to do this once, and it worked fine. Far more important is the need to have our own day-to-day workspaces.

His
His

It is going to work out for the best if you can have your own rooms, or at least work in different parts of the house even if you can’t set up permanent workstations. A closed door says ‘do not disturb’. The preferred setup seems to be for one person to be upstairs and the other one downstairs. If one of you is a “keyboard-thumper” it might be best for them to be on the ground floor.

I can’t imagine how difficult it must be to have to work in the same room, let alone at the same desk. I did speak to one freelancer recently who told me she likes to take her laptop into the room where her partner is working because she likes to be close to him. Let’s just say that wouldn’t work for me.

Tips from others who do share a room include having separate desks if possible, particularly if your other half is a “violent writer” who shakes the desk; not using a round table because two laptops don’t fit that shape very well; going into another room for phone calls, and “pretending the other one isn’t there – no eye contact, no friendly chat, no cat videos”. No cat videos?!!

Lunchtime
When we started working from home together, he was ready for lunch at midday. I like to hang on until 12.30, if not 1pm. So we started doing our own thing when we were ready, and have generally carried on like that, not meeting up much for lunch. I like to use the time away from my desk to sit in the kitchen, listen to the radio and catch up on Twitter; he’s more likely to put the TV on in the living room. We’ll occasionally make a date and go to our local cafe for lunch on a Friday but invariably one of us has to get back for a meeting.

Others seem to enjoy meeting up for lunch to catch up, and deciding early in the morning who’s on lunch duty is one freelancer’s tip.

Hers
Hers

What happens about tea and coffee in the morning and afternoon? If I want a cuppa, I’ll offer him one, and vice versa, but we don’t automatically make the other a drink. If you’re the person closest to the kitchen, do you do the tea-making, or do you use it as a chance to get some steps in if you’re the one further away? (The same question to the person closest to the printer – do you deliver printouts to your partner, or let them come and pick them up? We have two printers!)

Hours 
Much as it’s important to respect each other’s space, it’s a good idea to agree on the working hours you’ll keep and define when the end of the workday will be. I’m a flexible freelancer so often start working at 7.30am, take a break to go to a gym class, then come back and work through until about 5 or 6pm. He is bound to central European office hours, so can’t just nip out. The key thing is that we have both generally finished work for the day by about 6pm and then do our best to shut work out. If you don’t disturb each other during working hours, whatever those are, you will have a productive day.

Being able to switch off from work is easier to do if you keep your work stuff out of living areas. Having two offices, we don’t have much of an issue with this (unless you look in our garage, which is more like his company storeroom. The less said about that, the better.), but if one of you works at the kitchen table during the day, it’s a good idea to clear work away in the evening so you’re not tempted back to it, and so you can keep a clear work/home separation.

Other tips that were offered during the planning stage of this post, and from my own experience, include the following …

  • If your partner is having a bad day, show some empathy. It’ll be your turn next.
  • If you’re the one having a bad day, consider going out to give the other one some peace and quiet.
  • Communicate via email if you want to ask the other person something so they can answer when they’re ready, rather than shouting up the stairs and disturbing them.
  • If one of you is a hot body, but the other someone who feels the cold, get a heater for the cold one’s room. It will save you both battling over the thermostat.
  • Have a night out separately each week so you don’t get totally sick of each other.
  • If it’s not working out, or for a change of scene/company, consider booking into a co-working space for a while.

Can you offer any other tips? Add them in the Comments.

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