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Hey everyone! I know this blog is usually about TTRPGs, but this week my wife, Bonnie MacDonald, had an awesome idea. We’ve been coworking together for more than four years. With the coronavirus outbreak keeping many people working from home for the good of humanity, Bonnie thought we could share some tips about coworking with your romantic partner. So without further ado, here’s Bonnie!
James and I have both been working at home since 2016 and until recently that shared home and office space was also a two-bedroom apartment. We decided not to set up office-space in the bedroom, leaving only the second bedroom and the living room as potential office space.
The second bedroom was a shared office space that only one person would use at a time. The living room had a small writing table and the sofa.
It wasn’t ideal, and it took some time to get into the right groove with our work and with each other. We’re sharing some tips that we learned from years of practice, so you can benefit right away as you are thrown into unfamiliar territory.
It will seem silly at first, but we immediately learned the value of a door. Just a simple, unlocked door. The door immediately gives your lizard brain the signal that “the occupant needs privacy.” The door incites the question, “Do I need to request the attention of the person behind the closed door right now?” That’s why offices with doors are such hot commodities in the dreaded cubicle and open-office space worlds we live in now. The door gives control over the space.
This is also why James and I would trade off the office space when we only had one door to share. That space would be awarded to the person with the most video meetings or phone calls or the person who really needed to put their head down and crank out some deliverables that day. Sometimes if we had overlapping meetings, the other person would take calls or meetings in the bedroom, so we wouldn’t disturb each other.
We also know you might not have a door to share. We encourage you during this (hopefully temporary) time to try to create separate workable space with what you have. Move around some furniture to create a nook in opposite corners of the room. Maybe one person doesn’t mind working in the bedroom.
Early into our coworking adventure, I crawled on the floor to tell James that his livestream with Chris Perkins had cut out so as to not be seen on camera. James assured me that no matter the importance of the meeting I NEVER needed to crawl on the floor. What a guy.
We also strongly recommend you find separate rooms of the house to work in, if possible. If you do end up creating a nook in your living room, try to position it so that your back and computer screen are facing a wall. Then if your partner walks into that shared space where your office is, you don’t feel like they’re invading your space or sneaking up on you. You are aware of where they are and have control over the privacy of your work.
Remember that your work is something you usually navigate independently. It’s okay that you feel weird that your loved ones are suddenly RIGHT THERE. I trust James more than anyone in the world; yet, if I have a call that I’m nervous about, I’ll ask him to put on headphones if there’s even a remote possibility he might overhear. It’s okay to want your privacy.
(If you have children, you’ll have to look elsewhere for advice for that one. Maybe you do need to lock the door, as this very serious BBC reporter learned the hard way.)
Just like in the office and in all relationships, communicating is key. In an old office job my entire team shared calendars with one another, so we’d have a sense of when someone was slammed with meetings or if they were taking off work. It was common procedure to check that calendar first before going to chat with someone or, of course, scheduling a meeting.
That’s just what James and I do in our two-person office space. Google Calendar makes it easy to share calendars so we can see them all in one view. Then if I want to ask James a question or take a break and just chat, I can look at his calendar. Is he in a meeting? Is he about to be in a meeting? Then I’d find another way to take a break. James does the same for me!
Since we would alternate use of the dedicated office space, we also checked in with each other in the morning. What do you have going on today? Who is going to use the space? Do we need to switch off at a certain point?
Make sure you talk to each other about how you like to work. I get very fidgety and even a little depressed when I’m at the computer all day. James would live in his dragon-filled world with the curtains drawn and no human interaction for days. Just because we have different styles, doesn’t mean we can’t accommodate each other. We have regular lunch dates so we can chat during the day. Before we dive into a conversation, we ask the other person if they have a moment to chat and expect an honest answer. Keep that answer polite and snark-free.
Be open about your working style, especially when you’re finding it changing. Often, I work in my office in the morning and by the afternoon I like to sit in the dining room for a change of scenery. James is pretty much at his desk all the time. Be open about how you find yourself changing even just day-to-day in this new environment. Change is good! Be kind to yourselves and to each other. It takes some getting used to.
It may seem absurd since we’re in the same building, sometimes just a wall between us, but we also talk through Google Hangouts, which is an unobtrusive way to have more casual banter and send each other funny animal videos. If you keep thinking of things you want to talk to your spouse about, try keeping a list for later or emailing them, so they won’t get an immediate notification and can look at it on their schedule.
We’ve heard from lots of people that they could never work at home with their partner, but now many of us should do so for the good of humanity. Here’s the thing: working together at home can be really wonderful. We love it! I encourage you to try and enjoy these things:
- If I’m having a bad day or a frustrating few hours, I go and ask James for a hug. It is the best remedy to know that he is there and he supports me when I am feeling frustrated or the imposter syndrome is creeping in. (James note: Bonnie does the same for me. She is the best. Boundaries and communication are important, but remember to throw that stuff out the window when your partner really needs you. No work I do is more important than Bonnie.)
- Schedule time to chat with each other and be with the person you love most in the world. A dog-walk date, coffee break, a lunch, or even knocking off early to enjoy some time outside before dinner. You work from home now. These are the freedoms you can enjoy together!
- They say that petting a dog can relieve stress and James and I have set up space for our beloved Lilo to be at our side at all times. Giving her some scritches or taking fifteen minutes to play can be a necessary break for your brain. Sometimes we both take a break to play with the puppo.
Remember these are new circumstances. It took a year for James and I to understand our rhythm, and sometimes we still fall out of it. Have patience for each other and remember that not only is working from home new, but all the constant news about the virus and the economy is really, really stressful. Some tips for success:
DON’T send your spouse every crazy news alert you see. We all need to stay informed but also find time to focus and perhaps your partner just got in the zone. Make rules about when you are sharing this info and stick to them.
DO send adorable videos of penguins touring the empty aquarium. These are always welcome endorphin rushes. But maybe email it, or save it until you can ooh and aww together cuddled on the couch.
Take care of yourself, try to limit your scary news intake, and deep breaths do work. If you’ve got more questions, tweet at us @BonnieMacPlans and @JamesIntrocaso.
Stay safe, friends!
Next week: tips for all people working from home about how to stay focused and get into a good routine.
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