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Working from home certainly has its perks. Among the best include saving on gas and travel time, wearing sweatpants all day, and having the flexibility to start your workday whenever you work best.
Even if you’re not a freelancer, increasingly more companies are offering the option to telecommute — from once a week, up to every day. According to Census Bureau data, 40% more US employers now offer the option to work from home compared to five years ago. On that note, the telecommuter population grew 11.7% last year, the largest year-to-year growth for this statistic since 2008.
Additionally, there are at least 4.3 million people who work from home at least half the time. The Bureau of Labor Statistics states that at least 1.4 million businesses are run by a husband and wife team. Knowing both of these things, it seems fair to assume that there are many couples who work from home, together.
Most couples who have enjoyed long marriages agree that the key to a happy marriage is to give each other space. It’s important to maintain an independent sense of self and have your own thing going on, so that you have something to talk about with your spouse when you’re together.
So, if you live together and work from home in the same space, how do you maintain your independence and keep from getting sick of each other? How do you make sure that your workday activities don’t get in the way of your partner’s ability to do their own work from home?
Here are some tips that have helped me and my fiancee strike a winning balance in terms of learning how to successfully work from home together:
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#1: Don’t Assume, Communicate
Just because you and your partner both work in the same space doesn’t necessarily mean that you have the same work style.
So if you work best with music blasting, this might mean putting on some headphones if your partner seems agitated whenever you launch Spotify. At any rate, instead of just assuming that what you’re doing is 100% ok with the person you share space with, it never hurts to directly ask. Furthermore, by keeping the other person in mind with anything you during the workday, you’ll reduce the potential for arguments.
While you’re in the mindset to improve workday communication between you and your partner, you’ll want to get specific with regards to what the ideal work/life balance looks like for both of you.
Resentment can occur if one person has workaholic tendencies that cut into the time you spend together outside of work. The same can be said about one person having more flexibility than the other to work during whatever times they work best (instead of a strict 9-5 schedule).
According to Rachel Dresdale of The Confused Millennial, who works from home with her partner, “Getting on the same page about your working habits is crucial for growing together.”
#2: Have your Own Dedicated Work Tools
This is important! Nothing is more frustrating than needing to do something urgent but having to share a cluttered desktop with your partner, who has a more pressing deadline. For both your sanities, have your own computers/laptops, chargers, phones, and any other tools you need to do your job on a regular basis.
Ideally, you’ll also each have your own desks. If you can, try to get standing desks, as these are perfect for constantly keeping you on your feet. Sitting for long periods of time without standing up for breaks is said to be the new smoking.
Thanks to this partnership with National Business Furniture, I recently redid my workspace centered around a better desk and I’ve never been more productive!
#3: Work from Different Rooms
In addition to having your own tools, it’s also essential to have your own dedicated workspace when working from home with your partner.
The execution of this will very much depend on your living space.
Do whatever you can to configure separate workspaces, preferably from different levels of your home. If you don’t have a multiple-story home, working from different rooms is similarly helpful. In the worst case scenario, if you only have one large area to work from, you can also put in room dividers.
It’s best to set spatial boundaries as early as now to avoid passive-aggressiveness, which could lead to arguments.
If you’re lucky enough to each have your own dedicated room for doing work, use it as a communication tool to signal to your partner if you need time for deep focus or a client call. Though you might go as far as posting “Do Not Disturb” work hours, a fun alternative might be to affix an “On Air” radio-style light to easily make things clear.
In the actual worst case scenario where you’re both working from home in a studio apartment, you might consider investing in a coworking space membership. Deskpass is a great option, depending on what city you call home.
If funds are low, don’t forget free and cheap workspace resources — your local coffee shop and the library. In general, getting out of the house can be a great way to gain a fresh perspective when working from home.
#4: Separate Workstations from Living Areas
Avoid mixing in your work life with your home life. If you have the space, try to make it so that your workstation exists separately from common living areas, so that there is a physical distinction for when your workday is done. Make it a rule that when you get up from that area, your workday is over.
That being said, you can schedule some lunches or break times together in the kitchen, or if you want to take a longer break, eat out for lunch. During these times, avoid talking about work. This time should be used to refresh each other’s mind from work.
Though it might sound extreme, try to make your living areas no-technology zones (or limited technology zones). Time spent here should be focused on unwinding from work and enjoying each other’s company.
Cal Newport’s book Digital Minimalism can help you understand the benefits of cutting down on technology use and how to implement a digital detox. I’ve also shared my thoughts about periodically getting space from technology on my newsletter.
#5: Take Breaks at Different Times
One of the best things about working from home is the flexibility it provides. You can take a walk, go to the gym, or do errands at any time of the day that’s most convenient for you.
While it can be fun to occasionally take advantage of this flexibility by planning an outing with your partner, don’t be tempted to do it all the time. Instead, use it as an opportunity to give them space and give them time to focus on work, uninterrupted.
A little mystery is good in any relationship but when it comes to defining “do not disturb” times, clarity is the best move.
To avoid constantly having to check in with each other throughout the day about when you’re going to be on a call or when you need time for deep focus, you can cut out the middleman by simply sharing your work calendar with your partner.
This is most effective when you’re consistent with using a tool like Google Calendar to set appointments with coworkers, clients, and other people who you work with on a professional level. It’s even better if you’re the type of person who uses your calendar to set tentative times for when you’re planning to work on projects during the day.
Once you commit to some type of calendar-based system for communicating busyness, you’ll now also have to commit to checking it before bursting in on your partner’s workspace.
#7: Be Each Other’s Accountability Buddies
There’s probably enough nagging in your relationship with your partner (or so Dan would say about me with regards to keeping our space clean), so you don’t want to step on any toes when it comes to getting work done. That said, if your partner has expressed to you their difficulties with getting things done on time or staying accountable in general, they might benefit from having you act as their work accountability buddy throughout the day.
If you see your partner slacking off, don’t be too quick to judge or call them on it — but don’t be afraid to ask them what they hope to accomplish that day and how they’re going to get there. A good partner inspires the other to be their best self. At the same time, if you notice that they’ve been working hard for hours on end, encourage them to take a break.
At the end of the day, when you both work from home, you are the most knowledgeable about each other’s work habits. If you notice that your partner is having issues with creating a work/life balance, you should definitely call attention to it for the benefit of their wellbeing.
#8: Prioritize Your Relationship
Though most of the advice I’ve shared about learning how to successfully work from home with your partner involves creating separation during the workday, you certainly don’t want to create too much separation from your partner in general.
With both of you working from home, there will certainly be times where the lines of work and life outside of work get blurred, especially if you’re at a stage where you’re just starting to get your businesses off the ground or if your partner is in the middle of a big project with a looming deadline.
Because you work from home, it can be too easy to keep working until 11pm, or to take calls from halfway around the world at 2am.
To protect yourself and your relationship, you need to set strict work office hours. Without someone telling you it’s time to go home, it gives you the excuse to procrastinate and work until the wee hours of the morning if you have to, leaving no time for your relationship.
The truth is, people glorify being busy. When it comes at the expense of having a great life outside of work, it’s nothing to be proud of. The secret isn’t to work hard, but to work smart. What use is working long hours if they’re the result of procrastinating with menial tasks?
Remember, one of the greatest perks of working from home is the ability to spend more time with the ones you love. Make sure that the work environment you’ve created for yourself supports this.
Final Thoughts: How to Successfully Work from Home with Your Partner
Learning how to successfully work from home with your partner can be challenging or stifling when you first think about it, but with proper communication and planning, it can be a very rewarding experience.
What other tips can you share from the experience of working from home with your partner? Or questions you still have if you’re about to take the leap? Let me know in the comments!