For those who don’t do it often, working from home – the old “WFH” – might be seen as a bit of a blag. You’re surrounded by your home comforts and away from the imperious glare of your boss and the inane jabbering of your colleagues. All you have to do is sprawl on the sofa, absentmindedly typing replies to emails with one hand, while shovelling crisps into your mouth with the other. The reality for regular homeworkers is very different, but still more people are opting for self-employment – well, I say “opting”, quite often people find themselves in it unwittingly.
Things get really interesting as a couple when it’s the pair of you using your home as an office. Whether it’s an unexpected redundancy, midlife career breakdown, wanderlust or a terrifying pandemic forcing you into temporary isolation, the change in dynamic can be unsettling. You’re not just lovers, you’re coworkers, and in the absence of an HR department – the cat has decreed they’re not getting involved in any of workplace spats, thank you very much – you’ll have to rub along.
If the coronavirus has flung you together during office hours and you’re actually working and not just frantically scrolling through social media staring at Cardi B memes or photos of empty shelves, here’s how to play it.
Don’t lie in. Yes, it’s so cosy and, look, your partner is right there and nobody has to commute so, hey, maybe you could work from bed, right? Absolutely not. Working from bed is an earned privilege for longstanding homeworkers only, takes considerable skill and is a solo pursuit. It must never be done alongside a partner because a) life is not a sitcom and b) for God’s sake don’t tell the non-regular homeworkers we work from bed sometimes. This is our thing, our secret – they’ll expose us. No. Get up at the normal time, as if you’re travelling in, shower, have breakfast and then be ready to start.
If one of you must work in the bedroom and there’s no desk, work sitting on the bed, on top of the covers, fully dressed, with trainers on. We need to keep things professional.
Unless you’re collaborating on something – hell, even if you are collaborating – work in different rooms if you have the space. Why? Well, you know how you kind of wanted to garrotte office colleagues sometimes and the only thing keeping you going was clocking out at 5:30pm or whenever? When you both work from home, there’s no escape. That annoying guy who chews his nails and types really, really hard who you’re starting to hate? Guess what? He’s here forever. You’re married! If you want to stay in love, stay out of each other’s way during business hours. If you’re in the same room, keep it professional by eschewing coworking on the sofa together – much harder to lock eyes and do some quick office flirting when you’re side by side. Separate desks or separate seats, at least. And don’t forget…
Insist on them, even if you live in a 70-room manor house in Gloucestershire. It’s amazing how easily you can be distracted by someone else just… existing. Remove them from your world by encasing yourself in your own, happily imprisoned by a wall of sound. It also means you don’t have to endure their music taste, tepid takes on the day’s news, and small exclamations at an email they’ve received from Aubrey in accounts. Headphones, headphones, headphones.
Tea break etiquette
In an office, if you’re working on someone else’s dime and clock-watching, those shleps to the kitchen are the necessary self-care you need to break up the monotony. But there’s a common agreement between you and colleagues that you won’t rip the arse out of it, for fear of losing the privilege. At home, you’ll drink untold cups of tea – who’s to stop you? However: resist this anarchy. No more than two in the morning and one after lunch. There should be an office biscuit tin with one (one!) biscuit per tea break and no more. Whoever initiates the break must make the tea and then, upon delivering it, engage in up to three minutes of ephemeral chitchat before returning to their own workstation. Why so harsh? Because it makes leisure-time cups of tea feel much more like fun and it stops your other half dragging up household miscellany such as dishwasher-emptying and vacuuming.
Coordinated lunch breaks
I am making this sound like prison, aren’t I? That’s because all employment is a form of incarceration, wherever you are! Anyway, have lunch together, because you’re not animals. Catch up, have a break, be around each other. Maybe shove a load of washing on so you don’t have to do it later. Taking lunch at a different time may distract the other and will lead to food envy.
You will say you must do this, but you won’t have time. Do it anyway. Stretch your legs and your brains and talk about something that’s not work-related. Make sure it’s just a short stroll, though, and not a “little diversion” to the high street for a shopping spree.
Respect their daily work routine
If you’re the interloper, don’t be (visibly) shocked by the ridiculous things your love may do as part of their working day. So they repeat mindfulness mantras before they go online or bounce ideas around by sitting on the floor and juggling Champagne corks. So what? Homeworkers are weird – that’s why we can’t go into offices. People call security. And, like I said, headphones.
Remember, you’re at work, but you’re not actually at work. Swap jobs for half a day and see how far you get before a) somebody notices b) you get promoted or fired! During video calls, help them make a good impression by conjuring up your interior design skills and dressing their background “space”. This can be an art project you can work on together! Pretend to be their secretary! To spice things up, rename different parts of your home for a full office vibe. The hallway is now “reception”, the kitchen is “break-time hangout” and, if you’re feeling so inclined, maybe the bedroom could be the “meeting room”. Block out your diary.
Treats in the usual place
The only good thing about working in an office is the “treats in the usual place” email that goes round after someone has been on holiday/won a contract/ordered too many sandwiches in a meeting/gone to the shop and spent £50 on petty cash on Mini Eggs. Re-create this at home, first of all by designating a “usual place” – an end of kitchen worktop or coffee table will do, instead of the usual filing cabinet or empty desk of a now-redundant colleague. Then put some “treats” in it. For authenticity, alternate tasty, brain-frazzling sugary junk that you actually like with dull, healthy snacks nobody ever eats or malformed, homemade sponge cake.
Agree when to stop working so leisure time can begin. Then actually finish, clear away the laptop, move away from the desk and change right into your Cookie Monster onesie and become “home you”.
Remember, you love each other
Yes, you will find new ways to be annoyed by them – have they always whistled? – but the best thing about working at home together? It’s nice to work alongside someone you fancy for a change and it can be proof that workplace romances really do work out.
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