I’m used to working from home. Mark works in the San Francisco financial district. But with Covid-19, we’re having to merge our schedules.
To add some context, we got married in July last year and we recognised pretty early on that we have very different styles and schedules to working and staying productive. I remote-lead an award-winning non-profit in Singapore (which is 15 hours ahead) and so I’m usually most active when my husband comes home and just wants to relax on the couch.
I have heard from single friends that they wish they had someone to share their space with. In actuality, it’s not as romantic as you think it would be (the grass is always greener!) to be able to work together in the same space. Don’t get me wrong, I think wherever you find yourself right now – it will have its unique set of wins and challenges to mitigate.
Since moving to the San Francisco Bay Area, my husband and I have learned a lot about ourselves and about each other.
Here are some lessons that we have learned (sometimes the hard way!) – when you’re telecommuting and living with someone.
1. Set Boundaries
Early on in our (long-distance) relationship, we knew we had to establish certain ground rules. Here are some guiding questions that we found helpful, first to think through on our own and then to share with each other:
What are 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 housework)? When do we walk the dog?
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 couples suddenly working from home together: Get yourselves an imaginary coworker to blame things on. In our apartment, Cheryl keeps leaving her dirty water cups all over the place and we really don’t know what to do about her.
— Molly Tolsky (@mollytolsky) March 16, 2020
2. Stick to a schedule and have a shared calendar
During one of our D&M’s (more on this below), I asked my husband to help me create a schedule we can both follow. He works in construction and real estate so he has a knack for project management and crazy spreadsheet skills (that totally overwhelm me). Obviously, there will be some days that we can’t keep to the schedule, but that doesn’t stop us from coming up with something we could both look forward to implementing the next day!
Because we were in a long-distance relationship, we had set up a shared Google Calendar very early on so that we both knew what we were each up to. We don’t necessarily share all our work meetings or phone calls, just the bigger items so that we know when we can support each other and when we need to give 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 stuck on ideas – ask this question: What does your dream week look like? From there, you can adjust it to be 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 out in nature. I am grateful I flew my two dogs here from Singapore. I think I underestimated how much emotional support they would provide when I was grieving the loss of community, family and friends when I left home. Now, we turn to them when we need a break from work and look forward to the walk together at the end of the day.
My husband and I are 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) to singing along to Disney playlists or entering into quiet meditation and prayer.
4. Create your own personal space(s)
Before all the self-quarantine and lockdown measures, I was already creating 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 – helps. I have been determined not to buy items that are brand new if I can help it. Living in one of the most over-the-top consumer countries, it is important to me to be able to extend the lifespan of an item. So I joined Buy-Nothing Groups (search to see if there is one near you), browsed listings on Facebook Marketplace and other sites and I found some pretty great items…like this second-hand reading chair that I like to sit and read in the morning sunshine or do a video-conference call on.
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 I am right now, changing up where you work – even just for the day – can help with your mindset and overall well-being. It also helps to prevent cabin-fever!
6. Intentional Do-not-Disturb cues
This lesson we had to learn the hard way. Since we work in different time zones, I’m more active during the late afternoons and through the night. When my husband wanted to connect and relax, I really found it hard to balance both and ended up feeling frustrated. So while I was spring-cleaning our garage (I admit I have yet to unpack all my belongings from Singapore!), I found a lightbox from my high-school days. It was a gift from my first job at 17 years old as a radio producer/presenter. During my radio days, whenever we saw this light switch on outside the studio, it was a visual cue for everyone to enter quietly and to not disturb the host.
So here I am, years after leaving the media industry, repurposing a blast from the past as my visual cue for when I don’t want to be disturbed!
7. Make a co-working “date”
When my husband worked at a global co-working space, I enjoyed making a date out of co-working. Of course, I was usually the one planning it as he had other things to focus on but it was fun to create personal connections even in a co-working setting and change the scenery. These co-working “dates” don’t necessarily have to be with your significant other, of course! You can also set up timings to work together with friends and business partners. It is the connections that bring positivity and possibly generate new ideas.
Now that physical interaction is limited, you can still connect with others virtually, via co-working calls. It’s something I’ve done and will continue to do. – If you’re interested to know when the next one is happening – sign up for my e-mail newsletter! and there’s a community of us on a Private Facebook Group.
8. Find alone time
Because we’ve set up our work spaces in separate rooms, this isn’t too much of a problem. But it’s also important to carve out the space and time you need to recharge and re-connect with yourself. Whether that’s to journal, read a book, do a little dance or connect with your own friends (via the phone of course!).
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 once a week. It isn’t the same all the time – for instance, we would read a book together and share our thoughts; we did an ‘Annual Year in Review’ video last year which we will rewatch at the end this year to record the 2020 version; and we created a vision board in January.
D&M time is a time for us to share something we do not have time to address during the week. It is a time for things that need more presence, time and space to discuss.
You can structure this time however you like. Expect lots of trial and error to see what works for 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 in a common area
Just like in some workplaces, we’ve set up a snack corner stocked with tea, fresh fruit, healthy (and unhealthy!) snacks. This encourages us to take a break regularly. Because you’re not in an office environment any more, where a co-worker could walk by your desk or bump into you in the restroom or the pantry – this has become a common space for both of us.
Sometimes when one is busier than the other, the other will help to prepare tea or make a snack for both to enjoy. It’s just a way for us to show that 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 PJs for an extended time during the day, I would feel a little more tired or lazy. I would be tempted to sit on the couch and my productivity wasn’t very high. Similarly, if I see that my husband is in his PJs, it would put me in a sloth-like mindset. This isn’t bad once in a while, but not if it happens on a regular basis! It’s important to reflect on what you need to feel your best and to “show up” for work each day!
So now we get ready as if we’re going to head to the office. Mind you, that just means I’m in athleisure outfits most of the time!
12. Invest in noise-canceling headphones.
I don’t like involving too much tech into the everyday. But this is one of those times where it is 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! Also, we make the effort to ask ‘Hey, is it okay if I don’t use my headphones right now – will this be distracting? I can move to one of the other spaces if it is.’
13. It’s okay to over-communicate
Even though we’re married and we have said ‘till death do us part’ – there will be some days that we will drive each other up the wall – especially when we aren’t able to do what we usually do to have a 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. Now, that we are constantly in the same shared space, I’ve taken it upon myself to over-communicate – letting him know what I’m making for a meal and asking for feedback, sharing what I need support with or gently reminding him what’s happening for me (like when I’m doing a live recording or speaking with someone one-on-one and that I should only be disturbed when there’s a life or death emergency going on)!
14. Create routines and rituals
On a personal level – I’ve been experimenting with what feels right and encouraging 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 during the day 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 spend time to 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, when we’re a little more relaxed, we’ll most likely tune in to the television to catch the most important news of the day. Due to my working in a different time zone, my husband will read a book while I’m usually ramping up my productivity levels once the sun starts to set! But we will always end the evening with gratitude and I’ll read a chapter from my journal for both of us. This, I’ve found especially 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 quiet on my laptop!
15. Be silly, have fun, play together!
I remember someone asking me a question: “What do you like to do for fun?” At the time, I really had no clue. While I don’t have a laundry list of specifics to share because I think it is unique to each person or couple, I think the point about play is that you can’t force it. 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? Write in to us!