Monday, November 9, 2009

5 tips for working at home with your significant other

The tough times have brought about a lot of changes, both personally and professionally. One of those changes has been a lot of people launching their own businesses from home. But what happens when you and your significant other both start working from home? Will it work? Will it cause a rift so wide you'll never recover?

That was a question I posed to Scot and Kate Herrick this week for my Gannett column. Here's what they had to say....

Actress Bette Davis once said that the key to a successful marriage was separate bathrooms.

For Scot and Kate Herrick, it’s headphones.

The Bellevue, Wash. couple have both been working from home since March. She likes to listen to heavy metal music while working. He usually likes instrumentals. They have found marital and professional harmony by using headphones, their iPods delivering the music they each favor.

It’s just one of the many ways the couple, who both once worked for Washington Mutual, have found to share domestic and professional spaces. They both also have separate work areas.

“We’ve found ways not to get on each other’s nerves,” says Scot, owner of, an online career management site.

The recession has had a lot of impact on American lives, and one of those areas has been that many couples have found themselves spending more time together because of job loss, career change – or because they’ve launched businesses from home like the Herricks.

And like the Herricks, many couples are trying to work out the kinks of being together 24/7.

“I love my husband dearly,” Kate says, “but he likes it so quiet that this house is like a museum.”

Despite their different working styles, the Herricks say they’ve managed to develop a system that works for them professionally and personally. The recommend other couples wanting to do the same should:

• Respect the work. Just as you wouldn’t interrupt a colleague unnecessarily, the same should be true of a partner at home. It’s best to have separate work spaces with required office equipment, but if that’s not possible, it’s even more important to be sensitive to the other person’s work style. For example, headphones are a good idea to eliminate distractions, or moving to another part of the house for a conference call is helpful. At the same time, not interacting too much during the day is important “so you can later tell each other about your day,” Scot says. “You need something to talk about.”

• Have regular meetings. The Herricks say they discuss their work schedules every day so they know how they can best support one another. While they each have cell phones for business, they like to use the home land line for conference calls, so coordinated schedules make sure there isn’t a conflict.

• Stay connected. The Herricks admit that with any home-based job, there is a sense of isolation. “I really miss the social interaction of an office a lot,” Kate says. “I miss the collaboration with my colleagues. (Working at home) can be very lonely.” Notes Scott: “When you’re separated because you work in different places, it gives you something to talk about later. Now, we have the same experience because we work in the same place.” Experts say it’s a good idea for those who work at home to schedule meetings or coffee dates with colleagues or friends, and look for opportunities to get out and network at professional events.

• Set terms. Couples need to agree on household duties, and when they will be done. For the Herricks, they live by the schedule they established when both were working outside the home and don’t begin household tasks such as laundry until 5 p.m. “When you work at home, you have to ask yourself: ‘Is this something I would be doing if I was in an office right now?’” Scot says. Adds Kate: “You’ve got to maintain the integrity of the workday.”

• Establish transitions. While one of the advantages of working from home is that couples no longer have to commute to and from work, the Herricks say it’s still important to find a way to “transition” between a professional and domestic life. “You need to find a way to move mentally and socially into the next part of your life,” Scot says. “For me, it’s starting the chores. For someone else, it might be going on a walk. But you have to find that ritual that takes the place of the commute.”

What suggestions do you have for working at home with a significant other?



David Benjamin said...

Another great post. Working together at home can be challenging but you've laid out some great suggestions.

I think scheduling outside meetings and networking events is the key. Maintain human interaction as much as possible.

Also...get a bigger liquor cabinet :)

Anita said...

Great suggestions. Although your last one may make the most sense to many people...:)

Scot Herrick said...

Anita, did I mention the liquor cabinet needs to get bigger? Must have forgot that one.

Seriously, though, different couples can use different techniques for working together.

The key is that each of you have a relationship and, no matter the work, you need to ensure that the relationship stays healthy.

The techniques will help. But make sure the relationship stays strong and do the stuff that works for you to keep it that way.

Anita said...

First, let me thank you and Kate again for sharing your experiences and your wisdom.
Thanks also for this additional insight. Relationships, whether professional or personal, all take work if they're going to be successful.
And a full liquor cabinet. :)

Anonymous said...

Great blog--I worked with my husband for many years, and setting limits is a huge must. We had a rule that no business talk was allowed at the dinner table; if we needed to work afterwards, it had to be in our home office.

Keeping each other posted on schedules is also a big help, so no one double-books.

Anita said...

That's a great suggestion -- having the "physical" surroundings match the topic of conversation. Thanks for adding to the conversation.

Meryl K. Evans said...

My husband just got laid off and I work out of my home office downstairs. He set up shop upstairs and it works great. If it gets too loud (hardly) -- I can just turn off my hearing aid, but I know not many have this option!

Kathryn/kathrynhallpublicisit said...

Hi, Anita, There are some really good tips in this post.
I guess what I do instead of commute to transition is I go out of doors with my Border Collies and play and then I take a long hot bath with some lovely oil. This makes a clear statement that work is over. :) Good to mention it's different for each person, but a great idea to create that ritual.

Anita said...

Thanks for sharing your personal experience. It's nice to see he respected your work space and found a place for himself! :)

Anita said...

I love that idea. As you said, it's different for everyone, but it's a good example of transitioning to a more peaceful, personal state of mind.

Mary-Frances said...

My husband and I have worked together for over 2 years - I must say that meetings are actually important.
I also think the internet has been a boon - it's amazing how staying connected with other folks makes us feel like we aren't so isolated.
The other major line is the home/work line - although I'm more comfortable going back and forth between work and folding laundry, we do have a very seperate office and try to keep the two areas pretty seperate.

Anita said...

Thanks so much for sharing your personal story -- I know that working from home all the time can be isolating, so it's interesting to hear how you use online contacts to ease that situation.

a wanderer said...

Thanks for your suggestions. I just started working from home, and even as someone without a significant other to worry about, your comments are really helpful.

Anonymous said...

Thanks! A lot of this makes sense. I've been working with my husband for 4 years out of a live/work space. A few tips from my experience:

- Have a separate office, upstairs, downstairs, etc.
- Each person works on separate things and has different specialities.. so there's no room for competition working on the same thing. You can separate the work by client, too
- Make a point to NOT talk about work in the evenings or weekends as a way to get away from it all.

As with any relationship, communication is key!

Beau said...

Nice tips! I think spending time apart but doing business tasks is important. Also, for the guy's...just say yes.

Jennifer Hofmann said...

It's also important to honor your partners work space. Seriously. If one is cluttered and the other is super-neat, realize neither way is "right." Trying to "fix" the other's style negatively affects harmony and productivity.

If your partner's style distracts you, create a visual barrier or other modification. And find ways to celebrate both your positive talents and attributes.

Anita said...

A wanderer,
So glad you found these comments helpful for your situation. Nothing like hearing words of wisdom straight from the trenches!

Anita said...

Thanks for adding your ideas. I think the one about not being competitive with one another will strike a chord with many folks.

Anita said...

What a wise man you are...:)

Anita said...

Great have to remember to respect the person both professionally and personally. Without that, there's not going to be a happy home...or happy home office.

Miss Magpie said...

My husband and I work together at home. Not only do we share the same office space, we share a desk (gasp)! After he spent many years on the road traveling for his job, we have found we are making up for lost time apart. We met working together many years ago, at the mid-point in our careers we worked for the same Fortune 500 company and now we have started a small local business together. The only time it gets a too close for comfort is conference calls on speakerphone. But a pair of headphones and iTunes usually cures that.

Anita said...

Miss Magpie,
You share a desk? I'm impressed! You both sound very fortunate to have found such a good working -- and personal -- relationship.