5 Tips on How to Work from Home (When Your Significant Other is, too)

business people working on laptops

Consider these scheduling and productivity tips from a veteran of at-home co-working.

We've all seen the funny memes about couples working from home and inventing fake co-workers to take the blame for bad behavior:

"Oh look, 'Sam' left the dishes in the sink again."

You're probably wondering what makes me qualified to give advice on this subject? My husband and I both work from home full time and have for the past five years, and we each have demanding schedules that involve a lot of presentations, client and sales calls, big projects and tight deadlines. Over the years, I've learned some key lessons on how to make working from home together work (for us, the struggle over the thermostat is real!).

So, how do you balance working from home (and staying on work-related tasks) when you have a significant other in the same situation? Here are some ideas on how to work productively when you're both under the same roof.

  1. Discuss the ground rules
    • Working from home together may be a new reality for many couples, so it's important to discuss boundaries such as where you're going to work in the home and for what periods of time
      • If you have the luxury of an upstairs or downstairs, consider working from different floors
    • Talk about your schedule before each day begins
      • Are there overlapping conference calls or WebEx meetings?
      • Will this require one person to move to another part of the home or put on noise cancelling headphones or ear buds to continue to be productive simultaneously?
      • Do you need to "ration" or rotate usage of bandwidth in the home because of multiple users (i.e. college students at home who have "live" classes with streaming video that uses a lot of bandwidth)?
    • Take into consideration that each of you likely needs quiet time to get work done, and set time aside for that as well
  1. Establish a schedule together
    • It's important to have a routine where you have set "office hours" – when you will start and end your work day
    • As tempting as it is to start working when you wake up and continuing well beyond bedtime, maintain "office hours" and avoid keeping your laptop open 24/7
    • You may discover that it helps to follow the same routine you did when you physically went into the office each day – i.e. wake up, work out, have coffee / breakfast, get ready and start work (minus the commute!)
      • Use the "extra" time you have not commuting to spend time together as a family or set aside "me" time, where you focus on reading, meditating or exercising (or whatever makes you happy)
  1. Outline a plan for who will manage child and / or fur baby care throughout the day
    • Don't forget to factor in child and pet care when you're trying to do your "day job"
      • If this pertains to you, pull together a schedule (knowing it may change day-to-day) of who will take care of the kids and pets, perhaps that means alternating between the adults in the home
      • If you have young children, do your best to create a separate workspace with a door (if the door is closed, don't come in)
  1. Have a signal for "do not disturb"
    • When you suddenly get pulled into an urgent project, call or deadline to meet, have a signal to alert your spouse – who may wander into your workspace for whatever reason – that you cannot be disturbed
      • This signal might be given via body language (shake your head, cross your arms, give a look, wave them away, etc.) or a note that you can hold up with "DND" or "urgent" written on it
  1. Spend time together
    • Carve out time to spend together as a couple, not as co-workers
      • Check in on each other throughout the day, even if it's just a short text message
    • Meet face-to-face at least once throughout the day
      • Schedule a lunch date, or mid-afternoon break, minus screen time each day
    • Shut down your computer completely at a set time each evening

As you can see, it takes more than a high-speed internet connection and video conferencing to work from home effectively. So, start putting these tips into practice now to streamline your routine and increase your productivity.

Related content

Dogs Bark, NBD! 3 Tips for Managing Remote Workers

Get customizable email templates and in-depth information on direct deposit, recent legislation and other valuable topics in the COVID-19 Employee Communications Toolkit.

Find FAQs, checklists, webcasts, and the resources to help you protect and manage your workforce here: ADP Employer Preparedness Toolkit — Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19)