When You’re Suddenly Both Working at Home

8 Apr 2020

When You’re Suddenly Both Working at Home

Read time: 3 minutes

As a result of COVID-19, millions of workers worldwide now find themselves unexpectedly working from home. You may be comfortable working from a home-based office alone. But if your spouse or partner is now working from home too, you’ve had to make some adjustments.

Nothing about this situation is easy. The structure of our everyday lives—and all our familiar routines—have imploded. When two people finds themselves suddenly living and working in the same space 24/7, both their work and their relationship can suffer. Case in point: in at least two Chinese cities—among the first to be affected by the COVID-19 pandemic—divorces are escalating, just as lockdown restrictions are easing.

Too much togetherness can be too much of a good thing.

So how can dual-career couples protect their relationship and productivity while they’re both working from home? Hopefully, you’ve already worked out all the big issues. But if there’s still some room for improvement, consider these seven rules of engagement.

  1. Establish the ground rules. How will you divide household chores—and, if you have kids, childcare and home schooling? What is the best way to schedule your workdays? How can you support each other, instead of getting on each other’s nerves? Beyond all the logistics and tasks, it’s important to have a game plan for getting through the crisis intact.
  2. Designate a workspace for each of you, with everything you need to be productive. Ideally, you’ll each have your own space in separate rooms. However, if you need to share a room or even a desk, then the key is to schedule blocks of time where you each have access to the primary workspace.    
  3. Identify your “conference room” or create a system to assure that business calls and videoconferences can be conducted without interruption. Do each of you have a door you can close when you’re on a call? Can each of you hang up your own personal “do not disturb” sign when needed?
  4. Acknowledge and respect each other’s work styles. Perhaps you need uninterrupted time to work “in the zone,” while your partner feels a need to connect periodically throughout the day. How can you work that out equitably—perhaps by planning joint coffee breaks and a daily lunch date?  
  5. Share each other’s schedules, and adapt accordingly. You have some important conference calls coming up this week. Your partner will be on a big deadline next week. Having this kind of information in advance not only allows you to plan your work activities well, but gives each of you insight into what the other is dealing with, so you can provide extra support—or space—as needed.  
  6. Be extra organized. For example, if you’re sharing an office and generating printed documents, the likelihood of mixing up papers and files is fairly high. Create a clear system for keeping each other’s materials separate—it could be as simple as using color-coded labels or designating a particular area of the desk.   
  7. Keep reevaluating things as you go—and communicating with each other. If your partner loves to work with the music blasting, but you require absolute silence, work it out without critiquing each other’s preferences. It may be as simple as ordering new headphones.

There will be good days and bad days. Remember, while there are many things about this crisis that you can’t control, there are also things that you can, and most of them will happen inside your home. Be kind, be focused on your priorities, and let the little things go. Be one of the couples who emerges from this crisis with your work and your relationship intact.

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