The Best Ways to Work From Home With Your Partner
Were you working from home first, and now your partner does, too? Or, were you both working in offices until very recently, but you’ve both turned into remote work-from-home employees?
We’re here to tell you how to survive as a couple in which both partners or spouses work from home.
Sure, there are some general rules to follow when you and your partner both work from home and you want to be productive, yet maintain the great parts of your relationship. The goal is to not go crazy.
If you’re working from home with your spouse in the next room, or you have limited space, and you’re spending all day together like when you’re on vacation as a couple, we have a few tips for survival. You still really enjoy your significant other and their presence.
Working from home as a couple is something you can consider a project or a challenge to tackle, like how to stay fit when you work from home together. Or, if you both have a fantastically-positive mindset, working from home as a couple may not pose a threat to your relationship or careers at all.
Take it from us, a couple who are now both working from home, only several feet away from each other in our delightful home office.
The truth is that we got used to the space constraint and joys of working together in the same home during our months of working remotely while traveling around the world. During this time, we got creative in how we led a remote work lifestyle through networking and making use of some great remote work apps and websites.
Want to see our best tips for surviving as two partners who both work from home? Read on!
Decide on the most ideal time to wake up.
This might be one of the most important things to tackle when you first find out that you’ll be working from home…as a couple.
When you and your partner were both commuting to offices, workspaces or work sites, wake-up times were probably non-negotiable. You probably had a system of who woke up first, how long the other got to sleep in and if you both set alarms, or if only one of you did.
Once your commute is a thing of the past, the question is, when does your day start?
Deciding when the alarm goes off is something both halves of a couple have to agree on.
Do you want to keep your former and regular alarm set, but gain a half hour or an hour of “me time” during which you can make coffee, have breakfast together or get ready at a luxuriously-relaxing pace?
Or, do you want to sleep in, and use the time gained to set a later bedtime that you both agree on (we’ll get to that later)?
It depends on when you’re expected to be online for work, which can differ for both significant others.
What we suggest: Talk out the most mutually-beneficial wake-up time, how many alarms you’ll set and how long you’re allowed to snooze. Decide if this applies to both of you, or only one of you. Lastly, make a firm decision on if one person is responsible for waking the other, in time for meetings, calls or obligations.
Talk about a morning work-from-home routine.
When we commuted to work last summer, I’d get up by 7:45. I’d let Dan sleep in while I showered and got dressed, and before I walked out the door, I’d make sure he was up. This is because I’d aim to get to work between 8:45 and 9:00 am, while his arrival time in the office was between 10 and 10:15.
Now that we’re both working from home, we’ve had to start over.
Our work-from-home routine is based more around who’s making coffee and by when, and if one of us has a call before the other.
We also have worked out a work-from-home fitness routine where we schedule who will have control over the yoga mat and home gym area, at which hour. We make sure that one of us won’t be doing a workout when one of us has a video call.
What we suggest: Be clear on your expectations of a morning routine with your partner, and verbalize what you need to feel woken-up and ready to get crackin.’
Work out who gets the shower, and when.
As mentioned above, when we both commuted to offices, our schedules were staggered. I got dibs on the shower and we had no conflicts for use of our bathroom while getting ready.
If your daily stand-up or team meeting is scheduled for 9:00 am and it’s via video, you might want a shower. (Not everyone does, but it’s something to consider.)
What we suggest: Base your shower schedule on video meetings, morning preferences and time. It pays to set some limits, so there’s no confusion.
Keep in mind when each partner has to ‘be at work.’
I feel like for most people, this is a standard time of day that remains constant; however, if one of you is a freelancer, things might be much more client-based or different on a day-by-day basis.
Talk about things you may not have had to discuss before: Does one of you have meetings based on different time zones? Is the start time of the business day non-negotiable, and is there a daily meeting that will always take place without fail?
What we suggest: Be clear about your daily schedule for the following day during the night before, as a reminder to your partner.
Define what ‘work from home’ outfits should be (or keep it undefined).
Is your partner the notorious works-from-underwear-on-the-couch type, or have they turned into this type of person?
Think about what kind of clothing makes you feel best. Is it a dress shirt on top, with gym shorts on the bottom (so that you look classy during that 1-on-1 with your boss)? Is it business on top and leggings on the bottom?
What we suggest: Make sure your partner is aligned with what you consider as appropriate work-from-home attire, just in case he or she walks into the frame when you’re in that team meeting via Zoom.
Decide on a lighting configuration that works for both of you.
Everyone is different, and some people love natural light, while some focus better when there’s fluorescent light blaring from above (it’s why offices use it – to minimize shadows).
If you’re like us, every night we put on the same soft light lamps and we don’t touch the track lights or chandelier in our living room. Same goes for the bedroom. But what about for the at-home workday?
What we suggest: Be mindful of how your partner works, and talk about if starting the day off with bright lights will wake you both up, or if you find it annoying. Discuss use of lamps, overhead lights or light coming from the window, and consider them design factors of your home office.
Pick a ‘home office temperature.’
It has been proven that men prefer cooler temperatures in offices. This shouldn’t come as a surprise to any women. In fact, it even applies to us at home, where Dan will want a fan on and I’ll say I feel perfectly fine.
While you and your partner may have, in the past, only been home together during nights and weekends, you’ll now get to fight over control of the thermostat and that new tower fan you just splurged on.
What we suggest: It doesn’t hurt to keep a fan on at times for air flow, if it makes you feel fresh. Open a window if you both agree. For the rest, talk it out, and luckily, your closet should be in the next room so you can dress appropriately.
Agree on background music (if any)?
Unless one of us is in a call, meeting or tuning into a webinar, I personally like to put on some jams.
Last fall, I took a particular liking to Spotify playlists along the lines of ‘bossa nova jazz,’ which makes me feel like I’m sitting at a cafe in Brazil. No complaints.
What we suggest: If there are no meetings, agree on if you’ll play music from a speaker like the JBL Flip that we recommend. If not, listen to your motivating tunes via some noise-cancelling headphones.
Decide when ‘lunch hour’ is (or if there will be one).
Now that office schedules are out the window, the only thing that remains is meetings (if either of you have any) to dictate the day, along with when your team, coworkers or client expects you to be available.
Will the two of you ‘lunch’ together, or snack throughout the day? Will each person eat when they get hungry, or will mealtime be a way for you both to take a break?
Lastly, who’s doing the cooking, or where’s the ordering coming from?
What we suggest: Discuss beforehand, and one thing to keep in mind is that if one person is in a phone meeting while you’re whipping up a meal in the kitchen, try to keep kitchen noises to a minimum, or wait a half hour.
Choose to take breaks together, for a stretch or a walk.
Who doesn’t look forward to taking breaks at work? We do! We like to do a little bit of exercise during break time in order to get moving, or sometimes we make a snack.
When we worked seven blocks from each other in Midtown Manhattan, during the year before we left to travel the world and work remotely, we’d often meet for a break, a hug, or some type of hand-off of whatever the other left at home by mistake that morning.
When you work in the same room or behind a door in the same apartment or house, are breaks all the time? Can you interrupt each other?
What we suggest: If you want to be breaking together, schedule a break beforehand, around meetings. Put it in Google Calendar, one of our favorite handy remote work apps, or whichever type of calendar you share, so that both parties know to be ready to pause.
Schedule time to talk about non-work things.
Talking about non-work things is crucial for any relationship, whether you’re living with your partner, spouse, relative, sibling, best friend or domestic partner.
Once the home becomes the workplace, it’s easy to mentally separate work from leisure. This can be a challenge.
What we suggest: Choose to stop talking about work after the workday is done. It’ll keep the “home” feeling alive, and untainted by the fact that work is now happening under your roof, for both of you. Talk about travel!
Review each day’s schedule the night before.
This is one of the most important things to talk about, in our opinion. Just last week, I had an 8:45 am call, followed by a surprise second call, and let’s just say I hadn’t been made aware that Dan had a 9:30 am meeting.
What we suggest: The most crucial point when sharing a space is to talk about who has obligations and when. Are meetings by phone, or video? Do you need to be seated at your laptop or will you be milling around? These are all fair items to discuss as a couple.
Start a shared calendar for work obligations like meetings.
Starting a shared calendar is the best solution to keeping track of each other’s schedules.
We like Google Calendar, and in fact, during our year of long distance-dating, we’d make events and ‘invite’ each other, in order to show when we’d be unavailable, unreachable or tied up.
What we suggest: Start right now with building a shared calendar where you can show each other your meetings and other events. You can duplicate events and send invitations, or create a totally new shared calendar that you can flip on and off for viewing.
Have a plan for when phone meetings go longer than scheduled.
Oohhh… this is a tricky one, especially when you and your partner are sharing a home office space.
If Dan’s on a call that’s supposed to be over at 12 pm and I have one that starts at the same time, we’ll be facing a sound and distraction issue if his meeting goes five minutes longer than intended.
This happened to us the other day, and I ensured that my overlapping call was by phone, not by video, and took it from our bed with the door closed in the bedroom. We both survived.
What we suggest: Form a backup plan, especially if you live in a studio apartment. In being completely honest, I even finished a call by darting into the bathroom the other day, but please don’t tell anyone.
Figure out which meetings are by phone and which are by video.
This is an item that comes into play when you’re sharing a space for sure. If you both have home offices in separate rooms of the house, you’re in luck, as long as you’re dressed and showered, and ready for video with the coworkers or a client.
What we suggest: Give a holler to your partner when taking a video call, especially. We do this to avoid either of us walking through the background of a video call.
Be mindful of sounds, and provide constructive feedback.
There was that one day when I was doing the dishes and Dan was on a video call with a colleague, and the sound of the sink was, well, audible.
Other sounds happen, and if either of you are in a meeting, it can turn heads.
Does one of you like the TV on as a constant sound? Discuss this as well, if the other person can’t stand it.
What we suggest: Consider if you’re going to be engaging in a chore that emits sound (dishes, cleaning, doing a quick yoga session with a yoga mat, and determine if you can put it off a few more minutes. Or, save chores for the end of the workday.
Speaking of sounds, get noise-cancelling headphones.
Dan takes his calls with these great soundproof headphones, so that he can’t hear me or anything else going on (neighbors, a screaming cat outside, any noise that our heat pipes make), but his coworkers can hear him through a microphone.
Bluetooth noise-cancelling headphones are also great, as mentioned above, if you can’t come to a compromise on a daytime soundtrack.
Coordinate any dog/pet care walks.
Who’s going to let the dog out? With both spouses or partners working from home, there’s certainly a human around to take your furry family member out for his or her relief, but when?
What we suggest: Start a work-at-home schedule, and put it into your calendar, based on meetings, work start and end times, and other obligations. Communicate who will be taking the dog out, rather than quarreling at the last minute.
Figure out where each person’s workspace will be, and separate.
We have our workstations figured out. Dan gets the writing desk that faces our cool exposed brick wall, with his laptop stand permanently set to his preferred height, and I get the entire dining table to spread out with my mini wireless mouse and cup of tea.
Try to avoid waking up in the morning and both making a beeline for the writing desk, the dining table or your other chosen satisfactory surface of choice.
What we suggest: It’s ideal to have your own workspaces that you can both call yours. Hammer out your home office basics, so that each person can set up their comfortable space day after day.
Define which products are to be shared, and which can’t.
If storage space grew on trees, we’d have two of everything.
We also have two pairs of big headphones lying around, and two wireless keyboards, while we also each have our own Bluetooth earbuds.
We’ve designated things that Dan uses and I don’t (his Sony headphones), and things of mine that are off-limits to him, like my Apple AirPods.
What we suggest: Either discuss which of your office items are “first-come first-serve” home office products, or buy two of the things that you think both partners may use simultaneously.
Determine which work-from-home products would add value for both of you.
What we suggest: If you have an idea of something to split, bring it up with your partner. This could be a second desk, a second desk chair or simply, more cute home office plants. Decide on these together, as your home is a shared place.
Hammer out what qualifies as a distraction to the other.
Distractions can put a damper on your day – everyone knows that. If I need a yoga break in between tasks or if Dan wants to use the Vitamix while I’m about to finish a mentally-challenging assignment, it can be a little less than ideal.
One more factor to consider is your use of the TV. Does one of you like the constant murmur of a TV, while the other can’t stand it? If you keep the news on, but you’re muting the TV, are you starting to watch anyway?
What we suggest: Talk about potential distractions before they occur and cause tension. This is how to keep working from home from ruining your work life!
Take picks on who gets to use the outlet or extension cord.
We have this down to a science because we have a nice array of outlets, but older apartments may have one outlet per wall, or per room.
We’ve set up an extension cord via a side wall outlet, so that Dan can plug in his MacBook Pro, Sony headphones charger, second MacBook Pro charger and our lamp. It’s become quite a charging cord jungle.
What we suggest: If this becomes a contentious topic and if you have too many electronics to plug in, get a second extension cord.
Respect your partner’s schedule.
Schedules may be set, for some jobs and for some people, while for others, they can be up in the air.
If your partner has to get up early for a meeting that came up, accept the reality instead of complaining that you’ll get an hour less sleep when the alarm goes off. No one said work was always fun, right?
What we suggest: Having both had freelance experience, we know the drill of working on a project until we go to bed, so that we can have it ready for deadlines we set ourselves. If one of us wants to relax instead, we respect the other’s need to chill out and unwind.
Have a plan for use of space if one partner has to work late.
Does one of the daytime home office spots double as a dining room table or eating area after-hours?
Communicate desires to have the dining room table ready for dinner for the two of you, while not interrupting a home office setup.
Or, if the living room is being taken up by quiet time needed for a phone call, delay dinner and snack instead.
What we suggest: If one partner or spouse has to be online or work on a last-minute project, plan around it, while respecting space and work needs.
Brainstorm how your home could be more like a ‘coworking space.’
If you’ve ever been to a WeWork, Industrious, The Wing or other chic motivating coworking environment, you know what some experts dreamed up to be the perfect place to cowork.
We do happen to have a love for coworking spaces, especially the reasons why they’re conducive to productivity.
What we suggest: Think about what you’ve liked most in any coworking space you’ve been to. Was it the lighting? The lack of distractions? The unlimited coffee and… beer? Try to replicate those favorites at home.
Think about if you want to limit romance during the workday.
During the day, we stick mostly to our professional obligations, and when work is done, we can goof off, enjoy our hobbies and chill out with taking photos of our food and brushing up on photography tricks on Dan’s favorite YouTube channels.
What we suggest: See what works best for the two of you, but keep in mind that some people prefer to maintain a work persona during work, and a separate personality during play. Think about what you’re envisioning for your relationship.
Make dinner plans and make date night plans.
If Dan’s juggling multiple projects and some deadlines, I’ll start the dinner-cooking process for both of us. Or, if I have an evening online event to attend (webinars, for example), I’ll ask if Dan wants to pick which kind of dinner to cook, and I communicate when I’ll be ready to eat.
With working from home, date night is not dead! Date night can still happen any day of the week, and for some ideas, surprise your partner with a new recipe, put on some fresh undiscovered tunes or open a bottle of wine for some time to get work out of your head.
What we suggest: Separate work from your lifestyle with your partner by designating a select time for enjoying yourselves. You can even put it on the calendar (your shared one) a few days in advance, so that it gives you a goal for ending your workday.
Decide on a time when you can be done for the day.
Previously, if either of us were working late, it meant we weren’t home. Now though, with both partners working from home, working late means they’re still sitting right next to you (maybe) or in the next room.
When does being done really mean being done? It helps to talk about a daily plan.
What we suggest: Communicate your planned end time for the day. If things are super busy this week, let your partner know. If it’s a light week or a light day, mention that in the morning.
Remember to pick a bed time, because after all, it’s a “work night.”
Even though you may not have left the house all day (if it’s cold, hot, rainy or if you didn’t have any errands to run), it was a day of work. For both of you.
While it may start feeling like a Sunday night every night, remember that there’s work to be done, meetings to have and calls to be made, the very following day.
What we suggest: Make an end time for book-reading, Netflixing, YouTubing and Instagramming, and stick to the nightly routine you’ve always had and enjoyed, for consistency.
Don’t start your next workday without briefing our work from home tips, perfect for any first-time remote worker, or veteran.
Next, don’t miss our tips for creating your perfect home office even if you live in a small apartment.