My husband and I have worked from home together for the last five years. He works in sales, so much of his day is spent glued to his phone and computer in his basement office. I work from home, too — balancing running my business and reenacting scenes from Frozen with my 4 year old.
We’ve gotten better at coexisting in this space as we’ve learned boundary setting and frankly, avoidance. If you’re now navigating running a home office or two, plus home schooling, read on for sanity saving, productivity-promoting ideas.
Establish a (Separate) Work Space
My husband works in the basement, and I work at the kitchen table. We don’t share the office for a reason. I will also say – get off the couch. I found if I did work from the couch, I’d notice the carpet and take a break to vacuum. Then I’d hear the dryer stop and feel the urge to fold laundry. I prefer a chair that forces me to sit upright with good posture, just uncomfortable enough to keep me awake.
Take a Shower and Get Dressed
Look, I don’t wear makeup and my daily attire mostly centers around leggings and t-shirts. But I do try to get dressed, brush my hair and take shower if it’s been three days. Any effort to get ready and prepare for the day helps me turn on my work mode.
When we first started the working-at-home thing, I’d often ask my husband to “watch” the baby who was still napping while I ran out to a meeting. Inevitably, said baby would wake up early while he was on a call with his boss and the resentment ensued. Now that we’re experienced, we communicate like we would if he was in an office outside the home. I text him if I have questions, I send in Marco Polos for longer convos (which he never checks), and we chat about our days on a lunch break or after 5 p.m.
The trap of working from home, especially if you’re paid hourly, is you’re tempted to work ALL THE TIME. But if you were in a regular office, you’d stop to go to the bathroom, fill your coffee cup or chat with a coworker about your weekend. I’m giving you permission to still do that. You can take 10 minutes to check Facebook and reconnect with the outside world. You can take your breaks with your spouse and do a quick check-in. You can plan a lunchtime run around the neighborhood. And it’s OK to multitask occasionally and switch the laundry or throw dinner in the crockpot.
We share a Google calendar for home and kid stuff, but we also put big meetings on each other’s calendars. This is secret code for “If the school calls because of a sick kid that needs picked up, it’s on you.” Or, gives him the clue that this is NOT the time to come upstairs with your AirPods in while loudly talking on a conference call while you pace around in a circle. Now, in the age of quarantine, perhaps there is a compromise. Important call with your boss? Your spouse takes the kids for a homeschool recess in the backyard.
Add a Change of Scenery
Schedule one afternoon or morning a week to get outside your home office. The change in scenery sometimes motivates me to get even more done with a fresher viewpoint, even if it’s just your back porch. Plus, if your spouse is driving you crazy, you create some productive social distance!
End the Work Day
Just like you’d leave the office at 5, you need to close your laptop at 5. Both of you. The thing that we struggled with initially was the immediate switch from employee to parent/spouse. When you leave an office, you usually get a 10-20 minute drive to quiet your mind, slow your adrenaline, and prepare to switch roles. But when you have to make that transformation in the 20 seconds it takes to arrive in your kitchen, especially after a hard day, emotions run high. We do our best to keep the conversation light and don’t dive into to-do lists or major decisions until after dinner.
These are interesting times and even though we’re experienced at this, I’m still nervous. The stress on our family is going to be high. The pressure at work in a tough economy, is heavy. The fear of income loss is real. We feel the weight of wanting to be our very best selves at our jobs but it turns out, we also have three kids at home needing things like snacks, but oh, also … an education.
At the end of the day (and 50 times throughout the day), we just have to remember we’re on the same team. As I told my kids during a family meeting this morning, we’re going to have lots of together time the next 3-5 months, so you best find your great attitude and put it on every morning.