How to work with a partner at home and not kill each other

The coronavirus pandemic has brought about some huge culture shifts in a very short space of time. Suddenly, working from home is no longer the remit of a select few, but is now the norm.

That means that if you and your partner both work full-time, there is now a very high chance that you are both working from home. Chances are you now work with a partner by default, something many of us intuitively try to avoid under normal circumstances.

Don’t get me wrong! Spending more time with your significant other is normally great. Until you realize the reality: you’re now spending 24/7 with just one person. And the issue is significantly compounded by the fact that you can’t leave the house in the evening either.

So you wake up in the same bed, have breakfast together, then sit next to each other typing away. You probably enjoy lunch together too. And your evenings are likely spent sitting in front of the television next to each other.

In stony silence.

Even if this is the person you love and have chosen to spend the rest of your life with… it’s a lot.

So how do you work with a partner during lockdown and avoid strangling them? This article is your guide.

Separation is key

Just because you both work from home, that doesn’t mean you both need to work in the exact same room. If you only have a small apartment, then this might be somewhat unavoidable (working in the room you sleep is not advisable, so the bedroom is out). However, if you have an office, a dining room, a lounge, or even a spare room, then one of you can work there.

This isn’t just about taking a break: it will also give you both the space and focus you need to really concentrate on what you need to do. That means more quality time later on. Working with someone else in the room is never as productive.

Don’t have a second room? Creating a separate space (perhaps a table in the other corner of the room) and wearing noise-cancelling headphones is the next best thing.

And that doesn’t mean you can’t work together at all, either! If you’re just answering emails for example, then you can move into the lounge and do that together while chatting occasionally. There are different levels of interaction and levels and focus, and you can find a system that works for you to move between them.

Of course, taking coffee breaks together is also a nice way to add some socializing!

Respect each other’s focus

The key to being effective working from home, is to enter a “flow state.” This is a mental state where you are completely focused on the work you are doing, with no other distractions. It is at this point that you will work your fastest and get the most done.

The problem is that it takes a long time to get to this point. And if you are interrupted by someone asking if you’d like coffee, that can completely break you out of the zone. That’s when one of you might get stressed and grumpy, leading to arguments!

While offering tea and coffee is always nice, it is better to define set points throughout the day where you come together to do that. Otherwise, you’ll constantly be stopping and starting.

Oh, and if one of you has found your rhythm, make sure that it’s acceptable to take a rain check!

Sharing resources

Another issue when working with a partner from home, is that you will need to share finite resources. That includes everything from internet bandwidth, to space, to use of the printer. Coming up with some kind of system or rota is probably the best option in this case.

And wherever possible, invest in more equipment. You may only have one personal laptop between you, but if you end up constantly fighting over it, then it may be time to make an additional purchase!

Limit work talk

Work is stressful, and chances are that you’re going to get stressed from time to time, whether due to an irritating colleague, a heavy workload, or a shoddy internet connection. Telling your other half all about it is one benefit when it comes to working with a partner.

BUT this also runs the risk of becoming a trend. Once you start venting to your partner every day, it can take an emotional toll on them: they now have to deal with their stress and yours. This can also create a bad habit of coming back to you when they unload as well.

Of course, you can talk about your day. And you should! But be mindful that your partner is not an emotional sponge. And if you both rant and rave at each other, you’ll only feel worse! Set aside at least a little time during the day where “shop talk” is off-limits.

Likewise, try to remember not to bark at your partner about unrelated matters because you’re having a rough day.

Schedules and timing

Creating a routine and a schedule is one of the most important methods for staying in each other’s good books. While lockdown can feel a little like Groundhog Day at the best of times (at least I assume it can, I’ve never seen it), knowing when you’re both going to be working via a defined schedule can really help you to avoid arguments and be your most productive. Agree a time for lunch, a time to start working, and a time to stop.

What’s important is to try and honor this schedule – especially when it comes to the end of the day. Working late is sometimes unavoidable, but if you do it too often, then the line between work and relaxation is going to become increasingly blurred, leaving you with no real downtime and no quality time as a couple. If just one of you is working, it makes it harder for the other one to switch off too!

In my house, we go for a walk at 5pm with my young daughter. This ensures that everyone has finished what they’re doing by that time, and it helps to put a nice stamp on the day. Starting earlier tomorrow is preferable to finishing late tonight.

Doing other things

Finally, make sure that you are making an effort to do other interesting things. That means both with your partner, and apart. Spend some time working on your own projects, chatting to your own friends, and reading your own books. But then watch good TV together, and go for walks. Date nights and activities can help a lot too.

This is important to give you something to talk about with your partner besides work, and to keep your relationship fresh and interesting. It’s up to you to be creative and motivated enough to find new ways to spend time together. Working with a partner can be great, but it mustn’t be the only interaction you have!