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How to cope when you both work at home

With the rise in homeworking – and the downturn in the economy – it’s no longer uncommon for more than one person in the house to be working from home (or, more stressfully, for one person to be working from home while the other looks for work). While this can have positive side effects – companionship, mutual support – it can also be disruptive. So how do you cope if your partner or housemate also works from home? Here are some tips that can help keep the peace!

Have separate spaces:  unless you are actually working together (and sometimes even then!) try to have different workspaces. This may not always be possible, of course, but even allocating separate shelves for your work materials or deciding who works in the kitchen and who works in the living room, can be beneficial, so that you aren’t tripping over one another, or getting your work mixed up.

Respect one another’s working style: you may be the kind of person who thrives on clutter and distraction, happy to take frequent breaks and work with the radio blaring in the background – your partner may not. Treat one another with the same respect you would treat a fellow office worker: if they need to focus single-mindedly on one task, leave them to it. Don’t sulk if they won’t take a break and don’t inflict your distractions on them.

Don’t judge! Equally, if you’re the kind of person who likes to get up early and work for eight straight hours, it’s easy to think your partner is skiving if they don’t seem as dedicated. Remember that different people have different rhythms, and different jobs have differing demands. Providing they are getting their job done and handling their share of the household responsibilities, it’s not your business how they spend their time. Unless they ask for your advice, leave them to it!

Agree on who ‘owns’ the house landline: if more than one person is working from home, it’s important to agree who has priority over the landline (or simply agree that the home phone is for personal calls, and that you will use your mobiles for work, or vice versa). It’s a fast track to frustration and disagreement if one of you is desperately waiting for a call but the other is ‘hogging’ the line.

Timetable breaks: taking formally scheduled breaks can reduce the temptation to waste time chatting through the rest of the day. (I know one couple where the husband worked upstairs all day and ‘pretended’ to come home for lunch and to be out the rest of the time: sounds corny, but it meant both worked undisturbed but still had the pleasure of a sociable lunch). Again, though, respect the fact that while for some people a lunch break is an essential part of the day, others prefer to work straight through – don’t try and impose your schedule on anyone else!

Be disciplined: when both of you work from home, the temptation to skive is enormous – that extra hour in bed, the extended lunch, finishing early for a glass of wine… Remember that if you encourage one another with this sort of thing, soon the only thing you’ll be doing together is signing on!

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