I work from home and early in one relationship, I always felt guilty for working after my boyfriend came home from his 9-6 job. When he started freelancing on the side, some of our evenings and weekends became co-working sessions—a big win for me because typically my cat is my only coworker.
But working from home with your partner isn’t always the sexy, exciting experience that Fifth Harmony makes it sound like it is, unless maybe your job is to make music videos about hot construction workers in which case, are you hiring? Because like any office arrangement, working from home with your partner has both its perks and its fair share of challenges.
Here’s how I’ve learned—sometimes the hard way—to stay focused on my job and not hate my partner when we’re both bent over computers in our studio apartment:
1. Set boundaries
Don’t do what I did and pretend it doesn’t bother you when your partner broadcasts Skype meetings (or watches Friends) while you try to answer emails. Also, don’t do another thing I did and passive-aggressively work in the bathroom to hint that you’re not happy with the noise in the living room. Turns out a simple “could you put on headphones?” is an effective way to get someone to, you know, put on headphones.
2. Designate private areas
I know I said not to retreat to the bathroom, but there’s one possible exception. The bathroom’s my office when we both need to speak in simultaneous meetings. Seems like I got the short end of the stick with him in the living room, but alas, he uses a desktop computer that can’t be transported. It only became a problem once, when I had a meeting during dinner, but he made up for it by pulling up a little table with a bowl of pasta next to my toilet seat/office chair. It’s all about compromise! Anyway, I hope you’ve got enough rooms to not have to do that. But in the event that you’re short on space, get creative. It’s possible to set up physical walls in your makeshift office.
3. Come up with a schedule together
“I’ll meet you at 10:30 on the bed” is a common phrase thrown around in my household. Sure, we don’t really need a meeting place when there’s ten feet between us. But designating a time when we’ll both stop motivates us to forge ahead until then instead of taking periodic breaks that become indefinite ones. So does knowing there’s a cuddle awaiting us.
4. Figure out when you can and cannot multitask
Once in a while, my partner will ask to put on Broad City when there’s still stuff I want to get done, and I can’t deal with the FOMO of turning down the offer. My compromise? I usually try to “multitask”—which often really means doing one task while another just sits there in front of me. I will never again attempt to write an article while Abbi and Ilana yell in the background. However, I’ve been pleasantly surprised to find I can accomplish more repetitive jobs, like social media management, with Hulu on. Now I try to save those kinds of tasks for TV nights.
5. Carve out alone time
When I’m working on a project that demands lots of thought and creativity, I’ll escape to a cafe or save it for when my partner’s not home. I can concentrate when he’s around for the most part, but just hearing him type and wondering what he’s doing takes up at least a tiny bit of my attention. When a task requires my complete attention, I know myself well enough to understand I need to be alone.
6. Make a date of it
My favorite thing about mutual work-from-home days is that I get to date and work simultaneously. Sweet little gestures throughout the day give our “office” morale a big boost. I’ll take my boyfriend to my favorite cafes and order him surprise snacks, and he’ll buy me a second (or third) cold brew with two brown sugars when he notices mine running low. Even if we stay in the apartment, getting each other coffee and pastries makes otherwise dull work days special. And that’s good for our relationship and our jobs.