Like many of you, I’ve been working from home since mid-March. It’s been an interesting change! There are certainly perks, but there are struggles, too. In my situation, I work from my home by myself all day. My husband leaves for work around 6:00am and usually returns around 3:30pm unless there are errands to run. I get a majority of my workday to be productive in whatever environment I want to create. Need to do some heads-down work? Great, I make a cup of tea and sit down at my desk. Need to crank out some paperwork? Perfect, I find that new podcast episode and play it while I check tasks off my to-do list. Need to jump on a spontaneous video call with a few coworkers? Easy, just hop on the call, no need to silence the house or notify anyone so they don’t accidentally make a background cameo. I fully realize how easy I have it when it comes to working from home, but I also know many of you don’t have much wiggle room to accommodate your work-from-home needs.
Working from home with kids, whether they are distance learning or not, comes with a great deal of challenges – we hear people sharing their struggles with this firsthand and on social media. And while I can’t relate to those struggles, I try to empathize and give grace to those I know who are pushing through while in that exact situation.
But one scenario that I don’t see many people talking about, is working from home with your spouse. Specifically, those couples who were thrown into this reality and had to instantly learn how to co-work with their partner every day (not the couples who literally work for the same company together and sort of chose their own destiny).
What are the challenges and unexpected perks of co-working with someone you’re also married to?
I wanted to know, so I asked a few couples I knew who are in this. These couples have been working like this since mid-March and are expecting to continue this way until at least beginning of 2021. So, for them the novelty has worn off and the feeling of it being a temporary situation is starting to feel more permanent, even if they know it’s not.
When I started talking to these couples, they went back and forth, kind of ping-ponging on the good and the bad things about working from home with their spouse. Here are a few of the challenges and perks they shared with me:
The perks of being together 24/7: Co-working with your spouse can be summed up by the phrase “so much togetherness.” All of the couples I talked to commented on this, as both a challenge and a perk. First, the perk side of togetherness. The lack of commute and ease of being at home while you’re working makes way for unexpected moments of togetherness or connection throughout the day. Literally seeing each other more is something these couples appreciate, especially when looking back on the pre-COVID days. Some couples had days where they were apart 7:00am – 7:00pm between work schedules, going to the gym before/after, dropping off kids, and running errands, so the idea of seeing their partner every few hours is something they are trying not to take for granted. The couples I talked to who have kids (who are now back in school or are at daycare) appreciate the extra “adult” time they get back. Sharing a meal together (breakfast, lunch, afternoon coffee break, etc.) and getting to have adult conversation without being interrupted by the needs of little ones is a special way to connect that they never would have had before.
The challenges of being together 24/7: Sometimes the togetherness is just too much, leaving very little space to be independent and separate from one another. Because there is so much togetherness, it can sort of defeat the purpose of connecting when you’re reunited since you were never really apart. It easily dilutes any answer to the question “How was your day?” because you basically already know, and it can rob you of the chance to learn something about each other because you feel like you had a shared experience all day.
What to do: If you’re together 24/7, take time to appreciate the shared moments you enjoy and wouldn’t have otherwise, and communicate about what you need for time alone or just apart from each other. Be intentional about adding separateness into your day.
The perks of living with your coworker: If you work from home, you know there are perks to the situation. We’ve all done laundry, cleaned up the dishes, and prepped dinner in between meetings or when we need a 15-minute break. It’s normal, and frankly since you’re not spending time on water cooler talk, then those chores don’t actually cut into your work time all that much. Plus, without the commute on either end of the workday, you likely start and end your day at different times giving you more of a buffer to accomplish non-work tasks. Couples enjoy this perk and maximize it by ‘tag-teaming’ chores. This ability to start something and have someone else finish it means that they can get more household work done during the day, but without sacrificing an hour here or there to do it. Couples also shared that it was nice to be able to share the responsibility of meals during the day. When you were at the office, it would be pretty rare (and kind of weird) if your coworker would bring you your morning toast or make you lunch, but when you’re at home working with your spouse, it’s definitely a perk to have them just toast two slices of bread and bring you one instead of each of you taking time to make your own.
The challenges of coworker quirks: Your spouse can easily become that annoying coworker. Whether it’s how they click their pen insistently when reading, or how they hunt and peck on their keyboard, or even if it’s that they like to sing or hum when they’re working. Those office habits don’t disappear when you leave the office – they came home with you just like your favorite pen and big display monitor did. Another thing that followed you home, was the unmotivated feeling we all get sometimes while working. And in this environment, there’s no surprise if you’re feeling it more often than normal. Being at home, working, when you’re not used to it, has its motivation challenges. And when the love of your life and best friend is sitting in the other room, the temptation to distract them is real! When you’re feeling unmotivated, you likely try to find someone else to continue enabling that feeling, and having that person be your spouse can get tricky. It’s not good for either of you to be distracted and unmotivated, but we get it – it can be fun for a minute and it fulfills your momentary need to get away from your own work. Surprise – your spouse can find you annoying too!
What to do: If your work habits get on your spouse’s nerves or their quirks annoy you all day, start a discussion about boundaries. Sure, poke fun at the singing or loud munching, but communicate directly about what you need in an environment to be productive, something you both care about when it comes to work. While there’s fun to be had when working from home, actually working is the priority for both of you, so setting some boundaries will help you know when it’s okay to dance by their office door or when it’s probably better to just swiftly walk past on your way to fill up your coffee.
Working from home with your spouse five days a week can be a challenge, as these couples told me, but the perks they shared also sound pretty amazing! As with so many other things in life, there’s an upside and a downside to this new(ish) reality couples have found themselves in. Whether you’re in this situation for a few more months or if it’s a permanent shift, try to appreciate the perks and work to minimize the challenges. If you are working from home along with your spouse, let us know your experience in the comments below.