How to Work from Home Without Killing Your Spouse (Who is also Working from Home)

Sitting next to each other at the dining room table or sharing one office space might sound like a good plan, but it’s not. Being in the same room as your partner during the workday is guaranteed to cause unnecessary friction.

The global COVID-19 pandemic has changed a lot. We’ve all had to adapt in different ways. For many of us, our work lives have seen the biggest transformation. If you are lucky enough to still be employed, you might be dealing with an entirely new challenge:working from home with your spouse.

My husband and I have been sharing our home workspace for over a year. It was a huge adjustment at first, but we finally figured out how to do it. Here are some tips that can make working from home together much more comfortable, whether your arrangement is temporary or permanent.

  1. Separate your workspaces. Sitting next to each other at the dining room table or sharing one office space might sound like a good plan, but it’s not. Being in the same room as your partner during the workday is guaranteed to cause unnecessary friction. Setting up your workspaces in different rooms is best. For instance, one of you can work in the dining room while the other uses the bedroom. This reduces the opportunities to disturb and annoy each other. It also has the added benefit of allowing you to miss one another. If you aren’t in each other’s spaces (and faces) all day, you might find that you actually want to spend time together at the end of the workday.
  1. Shower and get dressed in the morning. Showering is a big mood booster, especially in the morning (i.e. don’t wait until 2:00 PM to shower). Showering wakes you up and signals that the day has begun. It also forces you out of your pyjamas. You don’t need to suit up like you’re going into your office, but you should put on real clothes. The bar for what constitutes “real clothes” is low, folks. You can wear anything as long as: (1) you did not sleep in it, (2) it’s clean, and (3) you would wear it to a friend’s house. You get bonus points for adding something that makes you feel good, like a watch, jewelry, a scarf, make-up, or a fragrance. These little add-ons are completely optional; include them only if they bring you joy. Showering and getting dressed will make you feel good, which, in turn, will make you nicer to be around all day.
  1. Use headphones. Whether you’re on calls all day, listening to music, or watching YouTube: use headphones. Your spouse might also have calls, might be listening to music, or might need absolute silence. Your workspaces might be well separated, you might think your spouse can’t hear you, but you might be wrong. Don’t be a rude co-worker. Don’t take calls on speakerphone. Don’t watch your cat videos with the volume blasting. Always use headphones! Don’t wait to be asked. If they’re asking, you’ve already annoyed them. 
  1. End your workday with a clean-up ritual. If laptops, documents, and coffee mugs litter the dining room table as you and your partner eat dinner on the sofa while watching reruns of The Office, you need an end-of-workday ritual. First, decide when it’s “quitting time”. Is it at 5:00PM? Is it after your last meeting? It can change from day to day, but decide when you will stop working, then actually stop when the time comes. Second, start your “clean up” ritual. If your workspace is the dining room table, neither you nor your partner want to see your work paraphernalia at the end of the day — that’s not relaxing. As part of your “clean up” ritual, close your laptop, bring all your dirty dishes to the kitchen, throw away papers you don’t need, put away notebooks, documents, and pens, wipe the table clean, and put all the chairs back. Restore your dining table to a clean surface. Since your home is doubling as your office, this 2-minute clean-up ritual will help you feel like you’ve left the office so that you can enjoy your evening.

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