Blog Post

Our Office: Working Together in a Tight Space

627564_sardinesLast week I woke up to find that my partner had rearranged my home office. She spent the better part of the morning turning it into our home office.

I shouldn’t have been surprised — I’d told her earlier in the week that we might become more productive if we work near each other. At that time it was merely a suggestion. I didn’t think that one day I would just wake up and find it a reality.

“Oh well, there’s nothing wrong with that,” I thought to myself. It’s not like we didn’t discuss it. What’s the worst that could happen? In fact, I believed we were going to be more motivated and productive.

A few days later, I realized that every benefit of coworking with my partner came paired with a disadvantage.

Inspiration vs. Distraction

As Darrell suggested in a previous post, you should pick a coworking partner that you respect and admire. I knew I could learn from my partner’s work ethic and her ability to make connections. I find her inspiring, but having her around is distracting too. Every time she moved or made a sound, I would shoot involuntary glances to her side of the room. To be fair, she told me that although she’s motivated by my passion for work she got annoyed at how loud I type.

This meant that we needed some physical barriers so that we could block out distracting movements and sounds. At the same time, we didn’t want to completely separate our workspaces. Our solution was to keep our desks six feet apart, rather than side-by-side, and place a small shelf of books in between. From where I’m sitting I can see her monitor, keyboard and hands without being distracted with the other movements she makes. Also, she can barely hear me type.

Common Ground vs. Conflicts

Having similar goals and habits can work for you, but there will always be  conflict no matter how compatible you think you are. For example, we agree on the color of the walls (orange), the position of the furniture and having a small garden behind the sliding door. Things we disagree on: everything else.

The workaround to this issue is to know your priorities as a team and as individuals. Do you need a completely silent work environment or can you adjust to soft ambient music? Is your need for a large shelf as important as her need for more leg room? There will always be compromises. Knowing your priorities can identify the compromises that will least affect you.

If you must argue, pick your battles well. An argument over who makes the coffee is not as important as a constructive discussion on how the other person’s habits interfere with your work.

Collaboration vs. Independence

It’s hard to create privacy when you’re working in one room. This can be a good thing, since you can help each other out of time sinks as well as share ideas. Too much collaboration, on the other hand, can be suffocating.

Facilitating collaboration was easy. The whiteboard in the office allowed us to write our to-do lists for the day and the rest of the week. If I need help with something, I just write it on the box labeled “Requests.” She then responds in a way that was most convenient for both of us whether it’s through email, a conversation, or Twitter.

Even then, we’d often think of a question that needed a quick reply. Asking out loud worked at first, but during peak productive moments we’d rather work uninterrupted. How would she know if it was okay to disturb me (and vice versa)?

Here’s the solution we came up with: a simple “DND” under my name in the whiteboard shows that I can’t be bothered until the “DND” has come off. The same goes for her. Now, it’s almost a reflex to look at the whiteboard and check for the “DND” before I speak.

Coworking with my partner was much harder than I expected. The good news is that with continued effort, we’re slowly getting to the point where the arrangement is making us stronger — both as a couple and as teleworkers.

Have you ever tried sharing a home office with your spouse or partner? What challenges did you face and how did you overcome them?

Image by nyuszika from