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Summary:

It seems so alluring — you, your computer, your home office, and all the silence/Bach/Led Zeppelin you can handle. This is the home office ideal, right? Right.

But what happens when you put someone else in the picture? What if, right next to the potted palm in your home office, your partner or work-from-home housemate materialized?

With more and more people working remotely at least some of the time, this is a very real question that many of us face. What should you consider if you’re about to embark on a multi-person home workplace?

lilduoIt seems so alluring — you, your computer, your home office, and all the silence/Bach/Led Zeppelin you can handle. A potted palm! A lava lamp! This is the home office ideal, right? Right.

But what happens when you put someone else in the picture? What if, right next to the potted palm in your home office, your partner or work-from-home housemate materialized?

With more and more people working remotely at least some of the time, this is a very real question that many of us face. What should you consider if you’re about to embark on a multi-person home workplace?

There are definitely pros as well as cons. First up, let’s look at the cons. These are the main sticking points I’ve encountered when working from home with another in close proximity.

Personal Space

I’m not just talking about physical space here. There’s also the question of headspace. If you’re close to the person you live with, and you spend any amount of time together, then you may find working in the same physical space a bit intense. You may even find the realities of your both being around the house all day causes friction. You may start to feel like you don’t get a minute to yourself, or find yourself wondering why they don’t talk to you more during the day!

Being clear about your desires and expectations, and keeping your home office partner informed if something’s bugging you. Don’t wait until you reach breaking point if you find something’s not working. Talk about how things are going on a regular basis, and try to make sure you’re both prepared to try new approaches and be flexible.

Facilities

Working in the same office might be cool…until you’re both having telephone conversations at the same time, and can’t hear yourselves think. Or perhaps your home office colleague always has the printer tied up just when you need it. Perhaps they care a whole lot less than you do about office hygiene. Or perhaps they decry your taste in music and find golden silence more conducive to productivity.

“It’s OK,” you may be thinking. “We have enough space here to create separate offices.” Great! Just keep in mind that things like lighting, climate control, and doubling up on fit-outs for two offices won’t just cost you more initially, they may well cost you a lot to run on an ongoing basis.

Schedules

If you and your home office sharer have different working hours, you may find you get more done, or that you end up seeing less of each other in your “downtime.” Making the shift to working remotely will change most peoples’ schedules, since there’s no need to commute, so it’s likely that the new remote worker’s time before and after work will be spent differently than it is now. On the other hand, that person may fall into the trap of doing more hours, which again may reduce the time you spend together.

There are other considerations, too. If one expects the other to be home all day, then gets home to find themselves unexpectedly responsible for dinner or picking up the kids, that they’ve missed the plumber’s service call, or are just plain locked out, fireworks may ensue.

To some degree, the answers to these questions will depend on how much work you do from your home office and how often you’re out and about; how much space you have at home; the hours you both work; and how you arrange your out-of-work time. The solutions will undoubtedly lie in collaboration and communication, and in being flexible enough to help each other (and yourself!) find a productive way to work from home.

So, what are the highlights of sharing your home office? These are the main ones for me:

Inspiration and Motivation

Whether you want to talk about client management or get ideas for solving a problem with the cool new project you’re working on, having someone else around can really make a difference to your problem solving. As a sounding board, adviser, motivator and idea-generator, your in-home colleague can be very handy, whether they work in your industry or not.

Schedules

I know I just finished saying that schedules could be a problem, but of course having another person work from home may also make it easier to manage life. While you’re picking up the kids on your way home from a client meeting via the market, perhaps your work-at-home partner is making dinner or bringing in the washing. Such visions of domestic/work bliss sometimes seem as unlikely as a holiday on the moon, but they are possible with a little pre-planning.

Bonus: The fact that someone who was commuting now has more time in their days may also free up either or both parties to pursue additional interests outside work and home. Yes, it could be time to join the local basketball team/dance class like you’ve always wanted to!

Closeness

You may not want to get any closer to your housemate Dan who doesn’t believe that socks need washing (in which case you might want to make sure you have separate home offices), but in other cases you may hope — and find — that having both yourself and your other domestic half work from home brings you closer. Let’s face it: working solo from home can be an isolating and lonely experience, so you may well relish having someone else working from your home office.

Perhaps you’ll gain a new understanding of your home office colleague and appreciation for their work and they way they operate. You may learn from their mistakes as well as their good habits. You might benefit from their contacts and revel in the teamwork that comes from supporting each other through your busy work days. And you might look forward to those days when you actually get to eat lunch together away from your computers.

That’s my take on dual-party home office politics. But what are your tips for making a success of the two-person home office?

  1. When my SO and I decided to move in together in 2006, one of the top priorities on our list was a house big enough to provide sufficient space for our home offices. He was very enthusiastic about enhancing our togetherness by sharing space. As someone who had had her own office in the corporate world for almost 20 years, I wasn’t so sure.

    One thing I quickly noticed is the different office cultures we’d come from – and how important upholding these cultures was to our general well-being. Here are two examples: 1.) Just starting out with my consultancy, I was very keen on projecting a professional imagine when I was on the phone. I didn’t want my contacts to envisage me working at the end of the dining room table in my bathrobe; holding the phone with one hand while stirring a bubbling pot of spaghetti sauce with the other. He, on the other hand, had no problem continuing a conversation, talking to our puppies, or loudly blowing his nose while I was on the phone, which caused many a tense moment on my part. 2.) Because his consultancy is more established and his work with ongoing clients already routine, my SO has lots of time to spend reading the news online, etc. Of course he wanted to share any interesting tidbits with me and hear my comments. It didn’t matter what I am in the middle of actually doing (and as someone just starting out, there is still always something to do!). Needless to say, his conversational nonchalance diminished in direct proportion to how involved he was in a project or report.

    Fortunately, we have two rooms that are viable as office space. After moving into our small library for technical reasons at the beginning of the winter, I rediscovered the joys of working without interruption, as well of the simple pleasure of listening to my favorite music or radio plays without headphones.

    Although we ended up both moving into the library for awhile to cut our heating costs during the winter, I’m now back up in our large, shared office space. I know he’ll get around to moving his primary computer back up here soon, too, but till he does I’m enjoying having my own office again!

    Tips for Successfully Sharing Office Space:

    1. Talk about issues of office etiquette, and make clear which ones aren’t negotiable.

    2. Spend some time each morning talking about anything important on your agendas. Will someone need the phone all afternoon? Is the black ink in the printer running low? Are you working towards an important deadline all day?

    3. Discuss your preferences about the general noise level. I don’t mind his taste in music, but game sfx are a big no-go with me!

    4. Establish something to signal when you need more personal space. For me it became putting on my earphones.

    5. Take time out together for a coffee break, etc., and just talk.

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  2. To be honest I don’t like the idea of having a home for two. We can both have our home offices at our own homes and communicate through msn messenger when needed. Nowadays it’s so easy to communicate especially through video calls… I like to have my privacy at home.

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  3. I could work from home without problems and space would not be a problem. More than that in my situation i can eliminate the possibility of a home office for two.

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  4. This is exactly why I’m working at the local fast-food restaurant today! But it’s not my spouse/office mate – it’s the kids. We have a laptop hog at home – my laptop is tied up from noon until midnight. As someone who’s constantly hopping on and off the laptop, I can’t take it. I’ve gotten the offender to the point where the laptop stays out of the bedrooms and in the downstairs, but it’s just too much.

    You’re right – personal space is a problem. My spouse and I share that need, so no worries. But the day I had a phone conference and so did he, his had to take precedent as he had too many people in too many countries. Since then, I’ve insisted on coordination of his schedule. If he’s inviting/responding to an invite for a conference, he’d better be copying me so I can accommodate. Otherwise, he’s missing out. I can say that because he has an outside office – I don’t. :)

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  5. [...] June was a big month for browsers. News included the release of the stable and fast Firefox 3.5, the launch of Mozilla Collections, Google Chrome Mac Developer Preview’s debut, and the launch of the beta of Opera 10. Gear-wise, the Palm Pre debuted, although Charles wasn’t that impressed. Google Voice neared launch; Celine told us how to eliminate compulsive Internet fiddling; Aliza went to the 140 Characters conference and explained why Twitter matters now; Darrell wrote about the new trend of singletasking; while Georgina explained how to set up a home office for two. [...]

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