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Ask the Editors: Help! What Do We Do When We Both Work at Home?

It’s time again to play Ask the Editors, where you give us your problems and we pool our  wide variety of experience to get you some answers.  It’s like we split Ann Landers into a bunch of women who are slightly snarkier, but somewhat more realistic, than the original.

Dear Editors,

My partner and I are about to both be working from home.  What’s the best way to handle this without killing each other?

We batted this around for the weekend, and here are the highlights of what we came up with:

Sally J Freedman:

One of you may want to consider renting office space.

OR

You could spend some time mapping out each week- knowing what’s coming can be helpful. I would also plan in some mutual “no work” time, since that’s hard to carve out when you never leave your office.

SaraB:

First of all, it may sound trivial but you should come to an agreement about background noise. Agree that the two of you will take turns with the stereo or TV or whatever, either one CD or one hour at a time.  That way if one of you needs to get motivated by listening to C&C Music Factory, then the other knows they only have to endure it for an hour.  Deciding that you want an hour of silence is a viable option.  This is the agreement we negotiated when I worked in a shop full of hugely varied musical tastes to end the Great Stereo War of ’01.  “The Looney Toons Sing Elvis” was the final straw for everyone.

Discuss beforehand what to do if one of you gets bored and wants to talk while the other is furiously trying to get something done, so you can say, “I can’t talk right now,” without offending.

Agree not to question each other’s schedules.  If you like taking lots of breaks during the day and your partner would rather plow through and be done before dinner, then so be it.  This way you avoid “YOU’RE NOT THE BOSS OF ME!” resentment.

If the weather permits and you can swing it, take your work outside when you want to be alone. Maybe take turns getting a free night to get out of the house and play.  I have a couple of married friends who take turns, he goes out every Friday night and she goes out every Saturday, so they don’t have to deal with babysitters.  I think it could work for a work at home couple too, providing each of you with time to get out and do something and quiet time alone in the house.

If all else fails, install a Cone of Silence over each desk so you can hide in your little bubble and pretend you’re all alone on a tropical beach.

Luci Furious:

You might be worried that your partner will be trying to talk to you while you’re trying to work. That’s totally me.  Especially right now because Mr. Furious has been working on a side project which involves him working all weekend from home, and many hours after work.

We have kind of an unspoken agreement that he needs to say, “I love you but I’m sorry I really need to concentrate right now,” and I give him his space without getting offended or annoyed that he can’t pay attention to me.  This definitely takes compromise from both of us, because I think he would rather that I just never bug him at all, but I can’t help it that I’m annoying.  And then it involves my willingness to not take it personally and listen to him.

Our desks are on the opposite side of the living room from each other.  But we live in a 800 sq ft apt, so that’s like, 20 feet from each other.  But whenever we are both trying to do work at home, we just go to our own spaces and just do our own thing.

And like SaraB said, agree to just do you in terms of your schedule.  I take about a thousand breaks a day, and Mr. Furious is fine plowing through for 12 hrs straight.

We generally are both fine with what the other has on for background noise – but sometimes we just play our own music on our own computers and that works out.

That’s my tips!

Ruby Bruisday:

Soundproof headphones; mandatory no talking hours with household chores as punishment for breaking the silence; budget out for “office snacks” and plan on shared “water cooler” breaks for mid-workday mind saving.

Xfafafabulous:

This has been something that the future Mr. Fabulous and I have been working on, since he’s unemployed and I prefer to work at home rather than my office at school.

One thing is definitely headphones, unless you both can agree on background noise. Also, you both should have schedules you share with each other as to when you have something big due for work, that way you each know when you should probably leave the other alone. It’s not very fair to bite someone’s head off for asking you if you want to get something to eat while you’re working like a maniac when they don’t know you have something due in the next 24 hours.

Speaking of eating, always try to eat together. Seriously. It’s very easy to start treating each other like, well, officemates rather than husband/wife, or, in my case, boyfriend/girlfriend. Taking time to enjoy a meal together and talk about your days — even if you’re both in the same house working, you’re still working for different companies doing different things — can allow for some more intimacy. At the very least, agree to eat dinner together. Give yourselves some time each day where you spend time together — ACTUALLY together, not just working in the same room.

On the other side of the coin, having days when the other leaves the house is good, too. Because we all need our alone time, even if it’s just to work. So Future Mr. Fabulous gets his when I go to class. I get mine when he goes to play tennis for a few hours. Being together is nice, but like all things, it’s possible to have too much of a good thing. So mandatory “Tuesdays, you HAVE to go to Starbucks” and “Thursdays, I am going to Panera” are good things.

Michelle Miller:

I mean, y’all should outline and respect boundaries for the situation, but apart from that, I have no clue. Me? I’d love if hubby were home all day, but that’s because he cleans stuff or listens to me mumble or plays cool music on his Pandora. He also keeps to himself a lot, so I guess I never have to worry about him getting underfoot and distracting me. But you SHOULD tell YOUR significant other to shower regularly. In my experience, if a man knows he won’t be leaving the house for several days, he occasionally considers that an excuse not to shower. And for your sake, he needs to shower, or bear the shame of wearing potpourri around his neck or in a gourd of some sort.

pileofmonkeys:

If my husband and I were to both work from home in close quarters, the only thing we’d need is a defense attorney.

So there’s the editorial advice.  If any of you have suggestions that we missed, or humorous anecdotes from your own work-at-home experiences, please tell us about them in the comments.

By [E]SaraB

Glass artisan by day, blogger by night (and sometimes vice versa). SaraB has three kids, three pets, one husband and a bizarre sense of humor. Her glass pendants can be found at www.etsy.com/shop/AngryOwlStudio if you're interested in checking it out.

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