While working from home is the norm for me – I’m lucky enough to have a job that is generally suited to home-working and the space in which to do it – the current Corona Virus Crisis will be throwing up new challenges if you’re not used to it. While working at home alone throws up a lot of challenges – and I’ll be writing about that later in the week – it can also be really tricky to manage if you and your partner or flatmates are all suddenly thrown together for more time than usual. (Trust me – my own experience of working at home with a partner pretty much broke our relationship!) So here are some suggestions to hopefully help make the current situation less stressful.
Have separate spaces
Although obviously not everyone has a cosy home office or handy garden shed to escape to, it’s worth carving out some separate spaces for one another if you possibly can. In a shared flat this could be everyone working in their rooms and keeping the communal spaces social, for a couple, this could be one of you working in the bedroom, another in the kitchen. Hopefully this limits claustrophobia, especially if you can’t go out in the evenings, as you’re not tripping over one another all day.
Remember it’s still a home
Since you’ll be spending more time there than usual, it’s more important than ever to remember it’s still somewhere you live, not just work. Don’t leave your papers scattered over the kitchen table or set up working in the living room then get mad when someone else wants to watch the TV. If you’re used to peace and quiet at work and suddenly have to share your space with noisy kids or flatmates on a different schedule, it can be frustrating – but it’s only for a while, so you just have to be as flexible as possible.
Respect each other’s working styles
You may be the kind of person who thrives on clutter and distraction, happy to have frequent breaks and able to work with the radio blaring in the background – your partner / housemates may not. Treat them with the same kind of respect you would an office co-worker. If they need to focus single-mindedly on one task, leave them to it. Don’t sulk if they won’t stop to chat, and don’t inflict your distractions on them. Remember that some people have very different work personas to home personas, and it may not be easy for them to switch from one to the other – give them the space to do so.
Also remember people will be approaching this situation from multiple perspectives and with very different expectations – many employers will be demanding pretty much the same level of work and accessibility that they would get from their workers in an office, some will be allowing more flexibility, while some workers may even have to take a break from their jobs completely. All of these things will have an impact on how people work, feel and interact – be as allowing, kind and flexible as you can.
If you’re the kind of person who likes to get up early and work straight for eight hours, it’s easy to think your partner / housemates is skiving if they aren’t. Providing they are getting their job done and paying their share of the household expenses (if appropriate), its none of your business that they seem to spend an awful lot of their time on Netflix. Learn to bite your tongue!
Don’t be territorial
While it’s tricky enough to negotiate co-working if you’ve all been chucked into it anew, in some ways it’s even harder if this arrangement changes the balance between who uses a space more often. If you’re the main breadwinner, it can be easy to feel your work gets the priority over a stay-at-home partner who looks after the kids; likewise, if you’re used to having the house to yourself for most of the working day, having someone else in what you think of as your space can be jarring and annoying. Nothing will cause fights faster than pulling rank (“my job pays more so is more important / more demanding!”). Respect one another’s usual roles and be as flexible and accommodating as you can.
Taking a formal lunch break at a set time can reduce the temptation to waste time chatting throughout the rest of the day and it also allows you to get the great benefit of both / all of you working at home – actually getting to see more of each other. Nonetheless, this should be a flexible arrangement – no pouting if one of you has to cancel because of workload, or just needs some space to themselves.
When both of you / a bunch of you work from home the temptation to skive is enormous – that extra hour in bed, the extended lunch with a couple of glasses of wine. It can seem even more tempting given the fact that we seem to be living in the end of days. But while I’m no fan of the cult of productivity – if you can’t ease up during a pandemic, when the hell can you – you need to realise your partner or housemate isn’t just being uptight if they feel they need to focus on work. For some, this will be because they are worried what will happen to their jobs if they don’t, for others, they might find the routine and stability calming in an uncertain world. Let them be how they need to be, and they’ll thank you for it when things get back to normal.
Most of all – be kind
There’s a lot happening at the minute, and nearly everyone is scared and worried, even if they don’t admit it. Take a breath before you lose your temper; take a moment to think whether something harsh really needs to be said – in person, or online. Be respectful of the fact that your partner / housemates might be struggling with things unexpressed, or that you don’t understand, and that everyone might be on a shorter fuse than normal. We’re sailing in uncharted waters – let kindness and empathy be your guides.
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