Last year was an adjustment for our personal and professional lives. Many employees found themselves balancing a new remote work structure with e-learning/childcare, caring for family members with compromised immune systems, mentally adjusting to new social distancing and sanitation routines, etc. If we were lucky, we had a partner who was also working from home to help us navigate this new normal.
But this good fortune came at a cost: As the months passed, what felt like a dream situation quickly turned into a claustrophobic nightmare that in any other situation would have made for some pretty great reality TV.
So what do you do when tensions are high and living space is limited? How do you stay productive and keep the reality tv nightmare at bay? You can always take a page out of the sitcom playbook and draw a line down the middle of the house, but these three tips may be a healthier way to regain some breathing room.
Set boundaries together and take them seriously
With your partner, discuss the spaces (or hours) that are for work and the spaces that are off-limits. Respect them. At all times. No exceptions. Not only do mutually established boundaries help mitigate distractions while working, but they are also necessary for maintaining a healthy work-life balance, long-term.
If your home comes with an office, you may think two adults can work out of one room, but even another person working beside you can be distracting. It may be better to set up a second office in a separate room to combat this. Ideally, this second office will be in a separate space from where you like to unwind/relax, but that’s not realistic for every home.
In most situations, a second office means giving up a piece of real-estate in a bedroom or common area, and there should be a discussion about what this will look like. In these instances, the compromise might be placing this second office in an inconspicuous corner, so that you’re not visually reminded of work when you’re trying to decompress on weekends or when you need a quick breather.
Organization and discipline
Having a little pre-work huddle can go a long way to help your days flow more smoothly. If any big things are going on at work, tell your partner at the beginning of the day or week so they can work around that, if needed. If you both know the big items on each other’s to-do lists, not only will you know when quick water-cooler chats are off-limits, you’ll be able to be champions for each other’s careers in real-time.
Think about how to set up each other for success. Personally, I find it crucial to act like I still work in an office: I still get up early, get myself ready and get my distractions out of the way before the workday starts. This way, I do not feel distracted during my workday and can solely focus on my actual work.
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Even though the goal of being disciplined in the boundaries you and your partner have set is to stay productive (and keep you from killing one another), it is okay to have fun while working from home. However, in any relationship –whether it’s platonic, corporate, or romantic – respect needs to come first.
Being respectful of the physical space your partner is working in is key to making this close-quarter working arrangement work. In this way, there is no difference between working in an office with your colleagues.
Do you have a video call? Put headphones in. Does your partner have a high-stress meeting? Ask what you can do to support them (before, during, and after). There are so many things we can do to support others during this time, and one of the biggest things is having compassion and supporting each other as we figure out this changing world, together.