As a full-time freelance writer, I'm used to working from home. In fact, I quite enjoy it. What I enjoy less, however, is sharing an office with my husband, who's now doing his job remotely because of the COVID-19 crisis.
Not only are my spouse and I stuck doing our jobs right next to each other, but we're grappling with the challenge of staying productive while also caring for and homeschooling our young children. But while the kid aspect makes this arrangement all the more difficult, the reality is that sharing an office has been just as tough as toggling between edits and meal-prep.
Still, my husband and I are doing our best to power through this situation, and we've come up with a few strategies to avoid spending the bulk of our days hating each other. Here are a few that have worked for us -- and that may work for you, too.
1. We get on a schedule
Navigating this shared office arrangement would be much easier if my husband's schedule were more predictable. But since it's not -- he has meetings at different times every day -- one of the first things we do in the morning is go through our schedules to see who needs the ability to talk out loud when. Thankfully, as a writer, my meetings are generally minimal, so it's mostly a matter of working around his schedule, but knowing when he'll be yapping away on the phone (and unavailable to help with the kids) helps me better manage my time and schedule tasks (for example, I'll do a trickier article requiring more concentration when my husband isn't shouting three feet away).
Of course, it's not just our own meetings we need to think about. Our children have school meetings, too, and often, they need assistance logging on to access them. That's a responsibility we've mostly pledged to split, but if my husband has a conference call from 10:00-11:00, and my kids need help at 10:30, that's on me. But at least I know at the start of the day so there are no surprises, which means I'm less likely to get annoyed at my husband when I have to stop what I'm doing.
2. We give each other physical space
Those meetings of my husband's I just mentioned? Sometimes, they last the entire day with no break. Not only does that leave me with the lion's share of the parenting that day, but it also means I don't get a second of quiet, which makes my job of writing and editing much more difficult.
As such, my husband and I have come to an understanding: If it's a day of nonstop meetings on his end, he has to leave the office for at least some of them. That may be inconvenient for him, but it's the only fair way to do things. And on the flipside, if I'm taking a call or meeting that doesn't necessarily require full-fledged quiet, I'll move to the kitchen or living room, even if that means subjecting myself to background noise courtesy of our kids. A lot of the people I work with are in the same boat, so often, it's not a problem, and that way, my husband gets a little space, too.
3. We have a no-conversation rule
Prior to the COVID-19 crisis, it was pretty rare for me to pick up the phone, call my husband, and shoot the breeze in the middle of my workday, and rarely did he call me unless there was something important to ask about or say. But now that my husband and I share an office, it's all too easy to turn to the other mid-day with a funny anecdote, rant, or news update.
Thankfully, we've both gotten on the same page with regard to the latter being unacceptable. My husband has learned the hard way that I don't take kindly to being interrupted when I'm deep in the middle of a thought, and so our rule is to pretend that the other isn't in the room unless something pressing comes up. (For example, "Quick, I got a grocery delivery slot -- anything last-minute you want to add?")
4. We try our best to respect each other during moments of stress
My husband works in IT, and sometimes, systems break even when he's done everything right. I know how stressful that can be for him, and so I try to step up and help out more with the kids while he's troubleshooting outages. I also do my best not to yell at him for straying from the schedule we mapped out earlier in the day -- he can't always predict when a last-minute meeting will pop up due to unforeseeable technical difficulties.
On the flipside, my husband knows that sometimes, last-minute projects come up that can be lucrative for me, but that also need to be turned around quickly. He's willing to be equally flexible and step up when I need a little added leeway, or extra hours in the office without interruptions.
Let's be clear: Sharing a home office with a spouse isn't always easy or fun. But right, it's a lot of people's reality. The good news is that after a week or two of wanting to punch each other every hour on the hour, we've managed to set ground rules that make this setup more manageable. And while we still have our moments ("honey, there's nothing to eat"), we're doing a better job of not losing our patience with each other at a time when courtesy, empathy, and solidarity are so important.