WFH with a roommate or loved one? 5 ways to avoid killing each other


Your partner is bellowing into their conference call as you try to get reports filed. Your roommate showed you six memes in the last hour. Meanwhile, your manager sent over three more requests for you to complete by end of day.

The coronavirus crisis poses major challenges to the global workforce, even for those workers fortunate enough to have secure employment that allows them to work from home. Many employees with the ability to work remotely have found themselves working alongside their partner and/or roommates for the first time, competing for limited space, internet connection and attention.

I reached out to a few friends and experts for tips on how to navigate the sometimes-fun, sometimes-frustrating experience of co-working with significant others and roommates. Here is their advice:

1. Set clear boundaries

Setting up crystal-clear expectations for the workday is crucial, according to Sharon Emek, the founder, chairman and chief executive officer of WAHVE, a service that matches companies looking for workers with specific skills with experienced talent interested in working from home. Emek specifically recommends setting boundaries around workspace, explaining, “You have to set up the rules. If I close the door to where I’m working, then you cannot come in.” She advises that live-in partners and roommates establish boundaries early on but remain open to redefining the rules as needed. “It’s about being compassionate and helpful,” she says.

2. Share your communal space

Working entirely from your bedroom can be a recipe for disaster. Nicholas Bloom, an economics professor at Stanford University who has studied remote work, suggests that partners and roommates make an effort to share communal space, so that one person isn’t entirely relegated to their room. “People find (working in their bedroom) depressing,” says Bloom. He recommends that roommates create a schedule so that everyone gets a turn working in group areas. “One person gets the living room in the morning, one gets it in the afternoon,” he explains.

3. Protect your personal life

It’s important to establish a clear line between professional and personal life, even when both are taking place inside your home. Erica Hendry, a writer now working from home alongside two roommates in the midst of the coronavirus crisis, recommends separating work and non-work time and making a conscious effort to avoid distracting your roommates, the same way you would avoid distracting coworkers in the office. “Respect when people are in the zone,” she says. Emek cautions against using work devices in areas designated for personal time, like your dinner table or bedroom. She explains, “Don’t bring any electronics to your bedroom. Don’t bring your iPhone to dinner,” adding, “Make sure you do some family things together at night.”

4. Be sound-conscious

Another challenge that comes with sharing a home office is the inevitable noise disruptions when one or more roommates have to participate in conference calls. Hendry, the writer working remotely with her roommates, suggests that everyone sharing a home workspace have a conversation about phone call etiquette and preferences. “For example, Kit is fine with people talking on the phone in front of her while she’s working. But I still sometimes like to go to another space,” she explains. Others recommend creating a shared calendar for roommates to use to let one another know about conference calls as far in advance as possible.

Bloom also advises that partners and roommates invest in a quality microphone to limit the need to speak loudly over calls. “Being able to have a directional microphone makes a big difference,” Bloom says.

5. Take care of each other

Even if you have a secure job that is possible to accomplish remotely, working from home can put a strain on anyone’s mental health. “Check in on your roommate. Is there anything you can do to help them?” recommends Bloom. In addition to regularly touching base with your partner or roommates, it can be a good idea to take some time to lighten the mood.

Jocelyn Coffin, a social media manager, and her partner found a solution to the work-from-home blues: “Skye and I have been taking dance breaks together every two hours to keep things positive and lighthearted. We let Spotify pick the song and we dance for the entire length of whatever it is.”

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