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15 Tips for Successfully Working from Home with a Significant Other

Are you wondering how to be productive while working from home? Or maybe you’re going a little crazy trying to figure out how to work with your significant other or room-mate in the same space? Here are 15 ways to successfully work from home!

I’m used to working from home. My partner, goes to the office in the San Francisco financial district. But with the current Covid-19 (Novel Coronavirus) situation, we’re having to merge our schedules together.

To add some context to this, we just got married in July last year and we recognised pretty early on that we had very different styles and schedules to getting work done and staying productive. I remote-lead an award-winning non-profit in Singapore and find I’m most active when my husband comes home and wants to relax on the couch.

I have heard from single friends that they feel isolated and wish they had someone to share their space with – (I like to think the grass is always greener) when in actuality, it’s not as romantic as you think to be able to work together in the same space, especially if you don’t have large spaces to breakout into. Don’t get me wrong, I think wherever you find yourself right now – it will have it’s unique set of wins and challenges to mitigate.

We have learned a lot about ourselves, about each other and have been in experimentation mode since I made the decision to move to the San Francisco Bay Area to live together.

Here’s what we have learned (sometimes the hard way!) works best – whether you’re attempting remote working for the first time or you’re living with someone.

  1. Set Boundaries
  2. Stick to a schedule and why you should have a shared calendar
  3. Do (meaningful) things together
  4. Create your own personal space(s)
  5. Change the scenery
  6. Intentional Do-Not-Disturb cues
  7. Make a co-working date
  8. Find alone time
  9. Have a D&M
  10. Have a snack table (or area)
  11. Get dressed (so under-rated)!
  12. Invest in blue-tooth / noise-canceling headphones
  13. Over-communicate
  14. Routines and Rituals
  15. Be silly, have fun, PLAY!
My workspace is a little ‘temporary’ – we got this console table from one of my husband’s friends who didn’t have space in their next place and I turned it into my little desk. While I don’t particularly like the aesthetics of it, I do believe in extending the life cycle of items – and I just place things that mean a lot to me on it! Try to spot one of my ‘do not disturb’ cues!

Take what you need or give a few a try and let me know how it goes for you. Below, you can find more explanation and personal stories for how we reached these tips!

1. Set Boundaries

Pretty early on in our relationship (we were Long Distance-rs), we knew we had to establish certain ground rules. Some guiding questions that have been helpful to first think through on our own and then share with each other:

What are each of our non-negotiables? What’s important to each of us? What’s important for both? What do we need to be able to work on what matters to each of us?

We also communicate expectations of each other – do we both share in ‘making our house a home’ (my word for ‘doing the house work’)? What times work for us to walk the dog? Do we need to take certain shifts?

The best mindset is to: not assume. And if you do, assume positive intent. (Or blame it on ‘Cheryl’, as evidenced by this tweet!)

Pro-tip for working at home (especially if you’re a couple)!

2. Stick to a schedule and why you should have a shared calendar

During one of our D&M’s (more on what this is below), I asked my husband to join me in an activity where we could create a schedule we can both follow. He works in the construction and commercial real estate sector, so he does have a knack for project management and crazy spreadsheet skills (that totally overwhelm me) and came up with a framework we could work around. Obviously, there will be some days that the schedule can’t be adhered to such as when we do lunch or when we are needing to take on more video-conferencing calls – but we came up with something we both looked forward to implementing the next day!

Because we were originally in a long-distance-relationship, we both had set up a shared Google Calendar very early on in our relationship so that we both knew what we were each up to. We don’t necessarily share all our work meetings and phone-call connects, but just the bigger items so that we know when we can be of support to each other, when we need to give (or hold) space. While it hasn’t necessarily changed much since we both are under ‘shelter-in-place’ enforcements in the San Francisco Bay Area, it helps with our communication and awareness of each other.

If you’re a little stuck – I find what works is to ask the question: What does our dream week look like? And then from there you can adjust to make it more realistic and aligned for both of you.

3. Do (meaningful) things together

While there isn’t much we can do right now outside of the home, we both enjoy being in nature. When I flew my two dogs across from Singapore, I think I underestimated how much emotional support they would become – from when I grieved a loss of community, family and friends when I left Singapore… both the dogs have now become who we turn to when we need a brain-break in between work flows and for doing a group walk together at the end of the day.

We’re still coming up with other things we can do to meaningfully connect when we both are not working on our personal projects – from having a conversation over a puzzle to watching Jeopardy (seriously, I never knew of this show until I moved here and I am obsessed) and to singing along to Disney playlists and entering into quiet meditation and prayer.

4. Create your own personal space(s)

Before many parts of the world initiated self-quarantine and total lock-down measures, I was spending some time to create personal spaces where I could retreat to throughout the day. As I work from home a lot, I knew that being able to move around – even in the same home – would help. I have been determined not to buy items that are brand new if I can avoid it – especially living in one of the most over-the-top consumer countries, it was important to me to extend the life-cycle of an item. So I joined Buy-Nothing Groups (you can search to see if there is one near you), I browsed through listings on Facebook Marketplace and other spots and I found some pretty great items…like this thrifted reading chair that I like to sit in the morning when the sunshine spills in and read a book or do a video-conference call on.

I have started setting up a personal space in our second bedroom – even if it meant I work from the floor for periods of time during the day. It’s been super helpful (especially for me as I start to share more video and live content)!
Look through Buy-Nothing Groups on Facebook or reach out to your neighbourhood, family and friends to see if they have something to pass along to you to create personal spaces in your home on a budget!

5. Change the scenery

Depending on where you are in the world, this may still be possible for you to get out of the house and go to a coffee shop or a library. But if you’re finding yourself in a similar situation as me right now, changing up where you work – even for just the day – can help with your mindset and overall well-being. It also helps to prevent that ‘cabin-fever’ feeling!

6. Intentional Do-not-Disturb cues

This one we had to learn the hard way. I won’t get into too much detail but related to what I shared earlier about the different time zones we both have had to navigate, I’m more active during the late afternoons and through the night. When my husband wanted to connect and have fun, I really found it hard to balance both or I would end up feeling frustrated. So while I was spring-cleaning through our garage (I’m guilty to admit that I have yet to unpack all my belongings from Singapore yet!), I found a light I’ve had with me since my high school days. It was a gift and ironically, my first career at 17 years old was as a Radio Producer/Presenter. In my radio days, whenever we saw this light switch on just outside our studio, it was a visual cue for everyone to enter quietly or to not disturb the host.

So here I am, many years after leaving the media industry and we’ve decided to use this as my visual cue for when I don’t want to be disturbed.

Visual cues are a brilliant way to communicate your needs while working from home and respecting each other’s need for personal space!

7. Make a co-working date

When my husband was previously working at a global co-working space, I enjoyed making a date out of co-working. Of course, I was usually on my own as he had other things to focus on but it was fun to create personal space even in a co-working setting, change the scenery and get into productive flow zones. Now that physical interaction is limited on a large scale, you can connect with others virtually to do co-working calls. It’s something I do on a regular basis – and I even lead some of them!

8. Find alone time

Because we’ve set up our work spaces in separate rooms or we’re working from a different desk or corner of our home, this one isn’t too challenging. But it’s important to carve out the space and time you need to recharge and re-connect with yourself. Whether that’s to journal, reading a book, doing a little dance off to music or connecting with your own friends (via the phone)!

9. Have a D&M

I mentioned this term earlier on – D&M stands for Deep and Meaningful. When we dated long-distance, these were intentional conversations that we scheduled weekly. It isn’t the same all the time – for instance, we would read a book together and unpack our thoughts, we did an ‘Annual Year in Review’ on video in 2019 and we will rewatch it at the end of 2020 when we record another version and we co-created a vision board at the start of the year using our D&M time. It’s time for us to share something we put a book-mark on to address later in the week.

These are for things that need more presence, time and space.

You can structure them however you like and there will be lots of trial and error to see what suits both of you to meaningfully connect.

Our D&M’s take place every Saturday and I would highly encourage you to experiment and try it out.

10. Create a snack table filled with things you both enjoy and set in a common area of the home

Just like you would see in some workplaces, we’ve set up a snack corner which is stocked with a variety of tea, fresh fruit, healthy snacks (and unhealthy ones) and other items in our fridge which are grab-and-go style. This encourages each of us to take a break regularly. Because you’re not in an office environment anymore where these type of engagements take place throughout the day when a co-worker walks by your desk or bumps into you in the restroom or the pantry – this becomes a common space for both of us.

Sometimes when one is busier than the other, we’ll help to prepare tea or make a snack for both of us to enjoy and it’s just a way for us to share we’re still thinking of each other even as we are working independently.

11. Get Dressed

I toooootally underestimated this one. I found that when I stayed in my PJ’s for extended time during the day, I would feel a little more tired or sloth-like. I was tempted to sit on the couch and my productivity wasn’t very high. Similarly, if I saw that my husband was in his PJ’s, it would put me in a really sloth-like mindset. Which isn’t bad once in awhile, but if it happens on a regular basis – reflect on what you need to feel and your best and to show up each day!

So with our shared calendar, shared schedule and having communicated our needs to each other, we now get ready as if we’re going to head to the office. Mind you, that means I’m in athleisure most of the time!


12. Invest in blue-tooth / noise-canceling headphones. Clarify your needs.

I’m not one who likes involving too much tech into the everyday. But this is one of those times where it becomes a non-negotiable. Because if you both happen to have to take a call or join a conference call together, it’s important to be able to hear yourself and the person you’re speaking to! On top of this, we both reach out to say ‘Hey, is it okay if I don’t use my headphones right now – will this be distracting to you? I can. move to one of the other spaces.’

13. Over-communicate

Even though we’re married and we said ‘till death do us part’ – there will be some days we will drive each other up the wall – especially when we aren’t able to do what we usually do to have healthy emotional release such as going to the gym, going for a bush walk or connecting with people IRL (in real life)! When he used to work in the city, I could organise my own day and scheduling. So now, I’ve taken it upon myself to over-communicate – letting him know what I plan on making for a meal and asking for feedback, sharing what I need support with or gentle reminders of what’s happening for me (like when I’m doing a LIVE recording or speaking with someone one on one and I should only be disturbed when there’s a life or death emergency going on)!

14. Routines and Rituals

While I’ve been working on this on a personal level – experimenting with what feels right and encourages more productive zones during my day, creating systems and frameworks and implementing rituals has been helpful! When working remotely from home with your significant other around, this has proven to be great points where we connect, engage and get grounded. In the mornings, my husband likes to lead us into a time of quiet prayer and reading a devotional for the day. I like to also think about the three most important projects I want to accomplish by the end of the day – this helps to build momentum. In the evenings, this is when we’re a little more relaxed on the television and we’ll most likely tune in to catch the most important news of the day. My husband will read a book while I’m usually ramping up my productivity levels once the sun starts to set due to the global timezones I’m accommodating! But we will always end the evening with gratitude (for me, I journal this) and I’ll read a chapter aloud for both of us – this, I’ve found has been helpful not only because we’re processing the same content together but because I can practice speaking aloud since most of the day I am largely quiet when working from my laptop!

15. Be silly, have fun, PLAY!

I remember one of my therapists prompting me with a question: “What do you like to do for fun?” – at the time, I really had no clue. And just recently, another person who has come into my husband and my life prompted a similar question asking what we can BOTH do to have fun. While I don’t have a long laundry list of specifics to share right now because I think it is unique to each person – I think that’s the point about play, you can’t force it and sometimes it’s about doing absolutely nothing or doing something ‘just for the fun of it’! So while I continue to play with purpose on a personal capacity – I’m often reminding myself to quit being in ‘planner’ mode or ‘finding intention’ in #allthethings – this opens up more possibility for curiosity, wonder and play to take place!

Are you working from home? What have you learned that works for you? What has been helpful for you and your partner (or room-mate/family member/friend!) to work from home?

Hugs and virtual hi-fives!

Note to Editor – This post originally appeared with more images: https://www.emilyteng.com/blog/15-tips-for-successfully-working-from-home-with-a-significant-other

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