We’ve Worked from Home Together for 3 Years—These Are Our Ground Rules
There's definitely a learning curve.
Courtesy Kristie Covey
When my fiancé, Nick, and I were first faced with sharing a small office space in our apartment, we quickly learned that our relationship was not as bulletproof as we had previously thought. We had both left our jobs in the pursuit of entrepreneurial dreams, and the long workdays involved meant that we were often together 24/7. Nearly four years and three shared office spaces later, we fortunately feel quite a bit differently!
Our journey took us from Miami to Denver and finally to the Chicago area. While in Denver, I founded Bucha Brewers, my kombucha home-brewing store and website. Nick found a passion working with small businesses on finance and strategy, and in 2019, he took a job as a finance and strategy manager in an office.
During the three years we shared a small workspace, we really learned how to manage our physical space, as well as each other, to optimize the situation. These are the big lessons we learned along the way, which we’re relearning now that we’re together again because of the coronavirus situation. Hopefully our story and our ground rules can help other couples avoid some of the challenges we experienced at first.
Keep interruptions to a minimum
Early on, we would constantly interrupt each other to talk about our days or some work issue we had. Neither of us wanted to hurt the other’s feelings, but it was distracting being in the same space and constantly doing that. We needed to focus. At some point, there was a little bit of tension because of that, and we had to discuss it. I think Nick was the one who brought it up, but we had both been getting frustrated. We needed to set some boundaries and rules for ourselves to handle working from home better. Find out exactly what you need to be successful working from home.
What we decided was this: If one of us was deep in our work, the other wouldn’t interrupt. We’d let each other stay in the zone. To work to the best of our abilities, we set a rule that work would come first. During the day, unless there was something really urgent going on, we would try to keep the focus on our own jobs and basically act like we were coworkers in a shared working space. Our relationship was actually better because of it. When we did get to talk about our work, whether it was on a midday walk to get a break from things or at the end of the day over dinner, we would have more things to share.
Set up a good co-working space
Having defined, separate desks and workspaces in our office was essential. We never shared desks or organizers—keeping the workspaces physically separate was necessary. Before our current place, we lived in two-bedroom apartments and shared an office in the second bedroom in each of them. We are both particular about our workspaces (we both like having standing desks and don’t like to work sitting), so we never really worked in our living space either. The only occasion either of us did was when the other had a video call.
In our first apartment’s office, we had a futon that was between our two desks, so it gave us a common space where we could sit and chat for a while. Or if one of us wanted to take a break or meditate, we had a little Zen corner. In another apartment, I had a small desk in addition to my standing desk. It was a space used by me only. I had a file organizer on it, and it also had a “rolling” shelf with work-related items that I would move in and out as needed. When it wasn’t in use, I would store it in another part of the apartment in order to clear up more common space in the office. We had a bookcase, too, and then more personal touches that made the office more functional and comfortable.
A good co-working space is also largely about setting your expectations with each other. Things can get complicated when you add work to your romantic relationship, and that can be difficult for both work and romance if you are not on the same page as your partner. In short, communication is key!
Also, Nick and I tend to get very focused on our work and that sometimes led to us not paying much attention if the other came in to chat throughout the day. We learned not to take this personally and to try to wait until the end of the day to catch up on things.
Be open about what’s on your schedule
Since we were sharing the same space, we also learned to run calls and meetings by each other ASAP. When possible, one of us would clear the office and work elsewhere if the other had an important call. Getting kicked out at the last minute or sharing a noisy space during a call was always frustrating for both of us.
We have offices in separate rooms now, so calls aren’t an issue at the moment. But for other couples who don’t have that luxury, I would recommend communicating calls and meetings in advance so the other person can plan accordingly. Figure out a backup workspace just in case you need it. And if you’re having trouble focusing in that space, use the time to get some movement by going for a walk or rejuvenating yourself with a quick meditation.
Utilize each other’s strengths
I tend to jump into ideas. When I have a project, I like to dive into it—I live and breathe it until it’s done, for the most part. Nick, on the other hand, likes to look at things more in depth; he’s more analytical. But we would bounce ideas off each other, and it was helpful. We wouldn’t always agree, but I think we were able to take a lot from each other’s perspectives because we tend to approach things differently. He would help me to take a step back and look at things more closely. And sometimes I helped him jump into something that he’d been taking a little more time on.
Nick and I have different work personalities, and we never saw them up close and personal until we shared a workspace. At first, our differences led to frustrations with each other. Eventually, though, we learned to utilize each other’s strengths and to help each other on weaknesses. We would even hold each other accountable for work items we had talked about. Working past the initial friction we experienced allowed us to learn from each other.
Schedule fun dates
Courtesy Kristie Covey
At first, we needed to examine our boundaries and behave like coworkers throughout our workday. But after more than a year of doing that, it carried over into our personal lives and our free time, and for a while, we forgot how to act as a couple. We really needed to discipline ourselves and plan dates and fun stuff and time away from the workspace. That took some work. It was hard to separate that since the physical space was the same, so we had to be really careful to maintain a balance.
While that’s a little harder to do right now, you still have options: Here are 20 things happy couples do after work.
Set up shared daily routines
It would vary by day, but a lot of times, we would start out the day together. We would go on a quick run with our dog and then break apart, get ready for the day, and jump into our work phase. We’d plan to cook together for lunchtime. In the afternoon, we’d take a walk with our dog again. At night, our routine would vary. Sometimes, we’d both be done by dinner and we’d enjoy our time together after that. Or sometimes one of us would really be in a stride with work, and so maybe we’d move into our living space after 8 o’clock. One of us would be working late while at least being in the same space so we could enjoy each other’s company.
Emerging stronger as a couple
We went through some trying times as a result of sharing a workspace for so long, but we came out a lot stronger in the end. We really learned to value our time apart and also learned that it was OK to want time apart. We learned to focus on ourselves and our individual goals all day and found that this meant we would bring the best versions of ourselves together at the end of the day. And we also learned to plan for and treasure our romantic relationship, even when we were already spending 12 hours a day in the same room working.
When Nick returned to a traditional job, I really missed my work-from-home partner at first. He was working long hours and had a rough commute, which meant I had also lost my co-chef at the end of the day. Despite that, I found my productivity was up a bit. We also got a lot better at leaving work “at work”—once Nick was home for the night, we dedicated our time to enjoying each other’s company. We had more to catch up on, and we were able to remember what it was like to miss each other.
Remember that there’s a learning curve
With Nick returning to work from home over the last few weeks, there have been a few occasions where we interrupt each other and get frustrated. But we have quickly remembered our ground rule of “work comes first” and not to take the “neglect” from each other throughout the workday personally. That really makes all of the difference. By focusing on ourselves and our individual goals throughout the day, we bring the best version of ourselves to each other at the end of the day. For more tips, check out these 13 golden rules for working at home.