For many of us, navigating working from home has been shared with an unlikely “coworker,” whether that be a partner, spouse, child, or pet, and we have all experienced unique challenges. You may have signed up to live with this person, but no one could have predicted you would essentially be working together for an extended period, and this is a difficult adjustment. Maybe your new “coworker” likes to blast music while working or turns the living room into an intense workout scene — whatever it may be that’s annoying you, good communication is the key to keeping your relationship healthy.
The truth is, you’ve never seen your partner at work, and they’ve never known your work-self either, so this adjustment might not come naturally. While you might feel comfortable taking a phone call next to your desk buddy, turning on work-mode in front of your partner could trigger some discomfort or nervousness. You’ve probably realized by now that there is a domain of this person’s life that you know very little about, and many of us probably hoped to keep it that way — but now your lives are integrated more than ever.
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Suddenly, our workflows have to sync with a partner, housemate, or spouse, and this adjustment takes time and intention to grow. Your support system is fundamental to the resilience you harness under challenging times, and it’s crucial to maintain these relationships through compromise and empathy. Here are some tips that will help you build a healthy relationship and communicate through moments of tension:
Prioritize your relationship
Sadly, being together 24/7 doesn’t automatically transfer into work from home bliss. If you want to upkeep a healthy work and home atmosphere, this relationship should be your first priority. Keep in mind that you need to work together on prioritizing your relationship, which can start by simply setting aside time for one another.
Spend time together, distraction-free
Spend at least 30 minutes a day together, distraction-free, to talk about non-work related topics and prioritize this time. Even though you’ve been in close proximity all day, discuss your daily highs and lows, enjoy a coffee together or get some fresh air. Of course, mute your notifications so you can genuinely take a break from work and relax with your “coworker.”
- Take a 30m walk with your partner once a day to refresh and check-in with one another.
- Always ask how their day went - even when you feel like you were there for 90% of it.
- Allow them to share any concerns they have by listening to understand rather than listening to respond.
Balance the workload
These are different working conditions than we’re used to and can be incredibly stressful, especially if you’re juggling kids or other care-giving responsibilities. There’s no perfect balance, but it’s essential to refrain from keeping score or getting into a competition about who’s taking more responsibility. Support each other both emotionally and pragmatically on a day-to-day basis — whether that means alternating chores, making breakfast for your partner, or simply checking in regularly.
Collaborate on a to-do list using Todoist, Any.do or, TickTick and define everything that needs to be done, so you can evaluate how to support each other best. Instead of splitting the workload in half, talk about each other’s strengths and preferences — if you’re lucky, you might find that some of the things you hate doing your partner prefers.
Tip: Find work-life balance by prioritizing sleep, self-care, and exercise. Before you can balance your life with a partner, you need to find the perfect balance for yourself. When you understand your sleep chronotype and schedule your day according to when you're most productive, you will find your focus and your balance.
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Practice gratitude and recognition
Appreciation and gratitude play a massive role in any successful relationship, directly related to the relationship's resilience and response to changing circumstances. No one likes to feel under-appreciated, especially in a tight-knit partnership, and it can be easy to let the little things pass by without recognition. But, recognition and expression of gratitude are so fundamental to any relationship and an easy step you can take towards work from home harmony. Integrate tiny moments of gratitude into your workday to show your partner appreciation and willingness to support one another.
Working to understand each other’s perspectives is a form of appreciation that helps solve problems or address frustrations. Always place greater importance on maintaining your relationship than whatever issue is at hand and remind each other of the things you’re grateful for. Even something as little as thanking your partner for unloading the dishwasher, taking the dog for a walk, or bringing the garbage out to the curb, will make a wave of a difference.
- Tell your partner or housemate one thing that you appreciate them doing at least once a day.
- Recognize the little things! Take time to reflect on small things your partner does that improve your day and let them know.
- Make a list of 10 things you are grateful for today and remind your "coworker" to do the same.
Communicate and set boundaries
Unfortunately, there’s no HR department in your home, and you might have to set out some boundaries on your own. It’s more important than ever to be in tune with your partner and talk about your feelings toward the situation, openly and honestly. Open up the floor to speak individually about your levels of anxiety, apathy or annoyance, to mitigate the situation and find ways to work in harmony while prioritizing your relationship.
Address the elephant in the room
Before you can successfully communicate you need to create a work environment that feels psychologically safe, which means you and your partner both feel heard and respected. You can create this safe environment by making sure all parties feel comfortable and expressing your willingness to listen. Address this shift in your workflow openly and remember you are both trying to find a mutually beneficial solution to any concerns drifting above water.
Suppose you feel awkward or uncomfortable taking a meeting in front of your partner or needing more alone time throughout the day. In that case, whatever it might be, these boundaries need to be communicated clearly. Address the underlying issues before they boil up and become unmanageable or irreversible.
- Talk about your insecurities when working next to each other.
- Organize a joint schedule to separate work life from personal life.
- Make sure your partner feels they are a priority to you.
If you keep your concerns known and speak openly about them, you will invoke a degree of empathy in your partner and negotiate boundaries more easily. Chances are you and your partner or roommate have different work styles and learning about what they need for a productive workday sets intentions for a harmonious relationship.
Tip: You can learn about introverts and extroverts in our work from home guides to better understand and accommodate for the differences you might face in this relationship.
Reflect and embrace change
Treat the adversities you experience as room for growth and a transformational opportunity for your relationship. You have a new “coworker,” so it’s only natural to use some project management tactics: get organized, communicate, and delegate. You might have to make some changes to accommodate both partners’ work schedules and understand the different pressures you’re experiencing. Check-in with your new “coworker” and ask, ‘what worked for us today? What do we need to work on? Was it OK that I asked about your work today? Would you like to keep having lunches together?’” You won’t find work from home bliss overnight, but you can craft an efficient system to work together by creating rules for the new workplace.
Tip: Before you can create a work from home environment that accommodates you and your "coworker," you need to set up your ideal workstation. Design your workstation carefully: personalize your desk, set work and life boundaries, and find a routine for the weekday.
Build a bridge
When you’re facing challenges at home, the best way to meet the problem is to find a solution that will benefit both parties. To do this, you need to understand the source of frustration in both you and your “coworker.” Maybe you have conflicting issues that weren’t apparent before moving into the same workspace — for example, they need more alone time, are facing overwhelming pressures at work, or are worried about the sustainability of your current situation. Whatever the issue may be, it’s crucial to identify these frustrations and work together to find a mutually beneficial solution.
- Build in a feedback loop to check on previously made agreements that might not serve your situation anymore.
- External circumstances might force you to change up the routine you have gotten so used to, so be prepared to improvise and innovate.
- Remember, “go hard on the problem and soft on the person” to avoid getting too personal and listen to understand the other point of view.
Remember that both you and your new “coworker” are adjusting and searching for the same solution in a stressful time. If you intentionally try to approach the problem with empathy and understanding, you will find your partner to be much more receptive. Exploring each side’s perceptions openly and avoiding the tendency to blame one another will result in a healthier, happier relationship.
Find a solution that compliments your workflow
If you’re frustrated with your productivity, motivation, or organizational skills while working from home, these frustrations can quickly wreak havoc on your relationship. Instead of letting your workflow get out of control and taking it out on your partner, look for solutions to help you move through the new workplace culture. Seriously, finding a solution that keeps you organized will not only benefit your productivity at work, but you will also see transformations in your personal life.
Shift is a productivity app that brings everything together in one place, so you don’t have to stress about the little things, and you can focus more of your time on your relationship. It seems silly; a productivity app will help my relationship? But, taking added stressors off your back, such as organizing your emails, aggregating your app notifications, or nailing down the perfect schedule, will seriously improve your day-to-day.