It’s Valentine’s Day, so I figured I would tackle a topic that’s both romantic and practical: what to do when you and your partner both work from home. I wrote this originally back in 2018 when our lives were much more on the road—in fact, I intro’ed it by saying, “obviously, for us, ‘home’ is relative—we haven’t been in the same place for more than 3 weeks at a time since we met almost five years ago! ”
Enter a puppy, a pandemic, and the urge to be a bit less travel-heavy, and it’s been a pretty wild four years. We used to have plenty of time apart as we did different work things, but since March of 2020, we’ve only had two weeks where we weren’t together for essentially every minute of every day, minus most training sessions. But the primary point of this article remains: We’re both working at the same time pretty much all the time. Sometimes we collaborate on projects like camps and clinics, but more often, we’re both doing our own thing. And believe me, it can have its moments of sheer awesomeness, followed by sheer I-want-to-throw-you-out-a-window-iness. So, what have we found works?
Design Your Space
We share an office, yes, and on the road, we’re often stuck in hotel rooms or small host houses with one reasonable working surface. Luckily, I’m OK with sitting on the bed and working in hotel rooms while Peter takes the desk, but at home, it’s even better. We’ve shared one long desk in the office before, but now we each have our own sides of the office, and they’re set up in the best ways for us. The most important part is establishing your expectations—how are sides divided, how clean do you anticipate them being, what shelf space do you need, et cetera.
Respect The Work
One plus of both working from home and being in similar lines of work is that we can bounce ideas off of each other… That’s also a minus when one of us is in deep work mode while the other is doing some planning / has something they want to share. It’s taken us a while to find a balance, but the two key rules seem to boil down to 1) It’s OK to share when you do have a question/comment, but 2) It’s OK to respond that you’re in the middle of something and need to focus. So just being respectful of the other person’s work is huge—but it’s also OK to take advantage of the fact that you work together!
Know Your Biorhythms
I’m not as much of a morning person as Peter, so it took me a while to stop feeling bitter when he beat me to the office and was already working while I was still getting through my morning core routine and hitting the coffee. But I work a lot better mid-morning when he starts to lag. We each have our own workflows and processes that work for us, and just because you work in the same room doesn’t mean you need to fit one certain mold of “worker.” So figure out how YOU work, not how your partner works. Honestly, it’s actually ideal if you aren’t as in sync, since it allows you to have the office to yourself at different points in the day.
It’s Not a Competition
Similar to the above point, I start feeling guilty if Peter is working at any point when I’m not. If you’re a competitive, Type A person, this can be a huge challenge, but you do need to learn to ask yourself if there’s anything you need to be doing at those points… or are you just going to stare at your monitor feeling grumpy? If there is something you can work on and are excited to get going on, great. Having someone working when you’re starting to lag can be a good shot of motivation. But if you’re actually done for the day, that’s OK too. Chill.
Walk Together for “Meetings”
Most of our meetings—where we discuss collaborative ideas and projects—we do on foot rather than in the office. No matter where we are, going for a walk while talking through work stuff tends to be more productive… Plus it adds a bit more movement to the day!
We both do a lot of calls with our work, and one thing we’ve realized over the years is that taking turns in the space is key—sometimes, you can stay in the room for calls, other times, it makes more sense to cede the space. Being more aware of this has made the days a lot smoother and less tense! It’s also super important to—even if you’re in a work groove or on a call yourself—respect that the other person is on a call and act accordingly. (This is critical for podcast recording or important Zoom meetings, where background noise can be a huge problem).
Take Time Outs Before You Need Them
You’d think a couple like us, both active, would try to do our workouts together, or at least at the same time. But since we both work from home, we realized that a lot of the time, the better idea is to use our workouts to get time to ourselves… and to let the other person have free reign of the office space. Most couples would say goodbye for 9-10 hours of the workday, but we’re together for most of it. It’s actually really healthy and super important to make sure we are taking our own time. (
Coffivity Soothes A Lot
I can’t work in absolute silence, it makes me way too self-aware. So, now I play a white noise coffeeshop-buzz generator, Coffivity. It’s just a website you open and it mimics the noises you’d hear in a coffeeshop. Weirdly, it helps cut down on distraction. And it’s great if you have a sniffly partner with a cold, or someone who sighs a lot (me) or makes any kind of weird noises, drums fingers, etc.
Share household labor
I’m extremely lucky that Peter naturally does this, but I know it’s a big issue for a lot of couples, and we definitely struggled to get into a groove with it when we got DW and he required middle-of-the-day attention. But in general, cooking, cleaning, laundry, dog walking (and for parents, all the childcare stuff) traditionally tends to fall on women. Make sure that’s not the case for you, especially when you’re both working from home and have relatively equal work situations.
Build in stops
We’ll both keep working forever and forget about walking DW (sorry) and making dinner until waaaaaay too late if we’re not careful, and if one of us keeps working, the other is likely to. We’re trying to get better at this, but having a hard stop for work is a seriously useful thing, and it only works if you both commit to respecting it.
Collaborate When Possible
There are a lot of projects that either of us could do on our own… But it’s so much better to collaborate! Even if you’re not in the same lines of work, having one thing that you both can work on can be a huge help in making the workday a lot more pleasant, even if it’s something super small.
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