It is a scary, stressful, and uncertain time for all of us with the global spread of coronavirus. And if you are a spouse, partner, parent, or housemate, it is likely that you now have someone working from home. While there is plenty of advice for the individual ranging from how to set up their desk/office space, to how to use Zoom, Slack and a range of other technologies and tools and overall how they can be productive; there is little advice or insight on the impact on the household which now has people working from home.

In March, we conducted a survey of experienced remote workers throughout the world from Ireland to Brazil to the US and beyond working in a variety of roles from Salespeople to Software engineers to Founders and project managers for their advice. These people came from a mix of households with stay at home partners, children, parents, housemates, and more. They had managed to adapt so they could be productive when working from home but perhaps more importantly established how they would manage their relationships within the space they were now using as an office as well as home.

We collated their responses and gathered ten requests you should have of your new to working from home housemate or partner:

  1. Accept that I will be in the house too – I accept that you now work from home and that will bring changes, but I am living in this space too. I will have important things I need to do too, often things to keep the house running, so these will need to be accommodated. I may have own routine in the household from when you are not working here and there will be an adjustment period as we both find how you can work and I can live here with both of us achieving what is required in our days.
  2. Share your calendar – Each day tell me which are the most important times of the day and I will then be able to manage what is happening in the house so that noise and distractions are kept to a minimum. Every role has peak hours and with more insight into your daily schedule I can adjust my activities to try and be as accommodating as possible. Through ongoing and open communication, we can avoid mishaps at crucial times and gain a common understanding of the new timeline for the household.
  3. Be specific– Give me as much information as possible about the importance, urgency and focus of your work throughout the day. Saying ‘I have a call in 10 minutes with a key client and it’s likely to last about an hour’ is better than ‘I’m on the phone for the next hour’ – I can’t judge what’s important or not if you don’t tell me and the additional context can help me manage my day and activities to minimise impact on your most important periods of work.
  4. Use a physical cue or sign when you shouldn’t be disturbed – Put a sign on the door, put on your headphones, close the door– it communicates to me and the rest of the household and reminds us of your work status and we can keep you from being disturbed. Communication both verbal and non-verbal is going to be vital to allow us to adapt so you can work successfully and I can live my life.
  5. If there are children let them in to see you working – Let the children see how you have set up, what you do, and even let them join a video conference, kids are curious and it’s ok for them to want to be part of your work day. Getting to spend more time with your children should be a benefit to come from this period once you recognise that they cannot be always aligned to your work schedule and focus levels and are accepting of the inevitable distractions.
  6. Have your meals with us not around us – Let us have lunch together as household unit every day if possible. When you are having meals with us make the effort to engage fully and disconnect from work. It gives you a break and gives us a chance to enjoy your company. Do differentiate your work time from down time but do take advantage of being home so we can spend time together and socialise.
  7. If possible, please don’t work from the dinner or kitchen table or the couch – Try not to co-opt the more social and commonly used parts of the house for working.  There is a benefit in working from a part of the house that is more private and quiet and setting up permanently there, as it will help us respect and understand the physical boundaries better and can help minimise noise and distraction for your work and the impact on the household’s typical day.
  8. Show when your workday has ended – Close your laptop, turn off your work phone, etc. but please don’t let the working day extend into the full day. Let us know when it’s family or household time again and show that you are fully present and engaged by leaving your phone at your workspace and breaking contact with work. One of the benefits of working from home should be a greater work life balance but this can only be achieved if you shut off from work and recognise the distinction in work and down time.  
  9. Stick to the working week – Clear away your workspace fully at the weekends, put away your notes in a drawer, unplug the monitors, turn off the laptop and computer, even open your workspace for communal use. This will let us know that you have set aside the weekend for us and recognise in yourself you are no longer working and remove any temptation to get some work done due to proximity.
  10. Cut me some slack – Working from home for the first time will be hard for you, but having you work from home for the first time is also likely hard for me. There is going to be a change in how we communicate, establish and recognise boundaries and seek to understand each other. We can make it work but we both need to recognise this is a challenge for each other and have empathy for each other.

Working from home can have amazing benefits for households and relationships as well as work productivity but it does often impact more than just the worker.

Conclusion

From talking to experienced remote workers, these ten tips will help you get started and keep your relationships thriving while working from home. If you can have clear communication, show empathy, establish boundaries and recognise a divide in work time versus leisure within the household you will see the positives that can come from this flexibility and new working reality for many.