Raise your hand if your life looks totally different right now than it did three months ago. Us too! With the current COVID-19 pandemic, we’re all just trying to manage the best we can, but it’s natural to feel frustrated and overwhelmed by the circumstances. Most of us aren’t used to being cooped up at home, especially if we’re quarantining at home with a partner. Even in the happiest relationships, couples need to spend some time apart, and stay at home orders have made alone time a rare commodity. Things can get especially stressful when you and your partner are both working from home – not only do you have the normal stresses of work, you have to do it while figuring out how to deal with your partner’s presence.  Usually, home is a place where we can go to relax from the stresses of the world, but being stuck at home takes away that option, especially for folks who are also working from home and quarantining with a partner. 

Working from home is the reality for millions of people right now. Even though working at home sounds pretty great (you can work and pet your animals at the same time!), it is actually trickier in practice than in theory. 

When you work at home, it can be hard to maintain boundaries between work and your personal life. It can be tricky to motivate yourself without the hustle and bustle of your workplace around you. You might have a hard time focusing on work while there’s so much else going on right now. It’s also hard to get used to working with someone new, even if it’s just your partner working in the other room. If you’re having a hard time dealing with the adjustment to working from home at the same time as your partner, you’re not alone. 

Remember, we’re not just working at home right now, we’re working at home through a global pandemic. Be gentle with yourself during this time – if you’re struggling that’s nothing to be ashamed of.  

Here are some ways to make working from home together go more smoothly: 

  1. Minimize distractions
    1. If you’re both working from home, you probably have more distractions than you normally do in the office. When you need to get into work mode, it’s easier to do so if you have a set space to work with minimal distractions. If space is tight, it’s totally fine to work from bed or the couch (not everyone has a home office ready to go!). Just make sure you take a look around and remove anything that could be distracting to you. Put your phone on “do not disturb”, turn off the TV, close the blinds if the outdoors is too distracting. It might also be helpful to work in a completely different space from your partner. Coworking sessions can be productive, but it can also be distracting to have your partner across the room from you while you’re trying to focus. See if you can split up who gets which space so you have a plan, and then stick to it. 
  2. Talk about what you each need to concentrate
    1. You might have a totally different work style from your partner. Some folks like to listen to music or have background noise, while others need silence to get things done. Talk about the ways you focus at the office and see how you can adapt them to your home office. Can you turn on a fan for white noise? Does wearing headphones mean you are in “Do not disturb” mode? If your door is closed, can you be interrupted? Go over the hypotheticals so you have a better idea of what to do when issues come up. 
  3. Don’t forget to spend time together
    1. Yes, you’re home with your partner all day, but spending all day in the same building doing different things doesn’t necessarily mean you’re connecting with your partner. Set aside time after work (or before, whatever works for you!) to spend quality time together, with no talk of work and no agenda other than to connect with one another. Even if you’ve both had long days and you just sit with each other cuddling after work, taking the time to focus on intimacy can be helpful.
  4. Make sure everyone has their own supplies
    1. Getting work done might be impossible if you’re sharing your work resources or supplies with your partner. Make sure everyone has their own computer (or if you don’t, set up a schedule so it’s clear who gets the computer and when), pens, paper, chargers, and anything else they need to get their job done. 
  5. Talk about how to talk to each other
    1. Communication! It’s the best. Before you jump into a work day together, talk about how you will communicate during the work day. If you’re home together, that doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll be talking to your partner all day. Some people don’t like disruptions while they work, so figure out if that’s the case before you jump in. Talk about how to talk to each other – can you send messages on slack or google hangouts? Do you want to keep up an all day text thread? Do you want to not chat during the day and talk about things when you’re done with work?
  6. Keep each other posted about potential distractions or interruptions to the routine
    1. If you have important meetings or other blocks of time where you cannot be interrupted or where your work will be extra distracting to your partner, let them know ahead of time so they can plan their day around it. 
  7. Have each other’s backs
    1. One nice thing about working in close proximity to someone who knows you really well is that they might see signs of burnout before you do. You can keep an eye on each other’s state of mind and encourage each other to take breaks and make time for self-care as necessary. It can be hard to disconnect from work when you’re working from home, so you can support each other to take it easy when you’re overwhelmed. 
  8. Accept that there will be frustrations
    1. Like with all things during this pandemic, there are going to be days where nothing is going as planned. There are going to be frustrations and you’re probably going to be annoyed by each other, at least some of the time. Figure out how you’d like to express your frustration with each other beforehand. Do you need to be left alone when you’re frustrated? Do you shut down and have a hard time asking for what you need? Let your partner know that so you can work through your frustration as a team. 

Working from home with your partner can be a little trickier than it sounds, especially during a pandemic. However, taking the time to make a plan and communicate your needs beforehand can help ease the transition and make working together easier for both partners. If you need more support figuring out how to work from home with your partner, our counselors can help you come up with something that will work for you. 

Brice N Sanner, LMFT & Lindsay N Sanner, LSCSW, RPT