Most people react to the idea of sharing an office with their spouse in one of two ways: blissful optimism at the prospect of spending more time with their loved one or instant fear that too much together time will cause no end of agony.
The reality is probably somewhere in the middle. After a decade of working from home as a solopreneur and 15 years of wedded bliss, my husband is joining me in working from home. That healthy separation of work and life is now being challenged as life just moved into the desk right next to mine.
Here are my five top tips on how to make for a happy home office.
Agree on a set of rules. Don’t rely on an unspoken "agreement" or common courtesy to dictate your office-sharing arrangement. Sit down and spell out exactly what both of you expect of the other between 9:00 a.m. and 5:00 p.m.
What do you need in terms of focus time or conversation privacy? What do you want your spouse to do if he or she needs to interrupt you? How are you going to manage conflicting needs?
Create a division of space. Set up your home office to create two distinct spaces even if you share a desk or group work surface. This can help avoid disputes over important documents getting moved or misplaced.
For example, use shared office resources, such as the printer and filing cabinet, to divide your individual workstations so there is a clear his and hers work surface where paperwork can be left without worry.
Define work boundaries. Establish what is and isn’t open to discussion about each of your daily routines and work projects. Do you really want your spouse weighing in on how you deal with that late-paying client or the amount of time you spend on Facebook? The best approach is unless the other specifically asks for advice, leave it at the office where it belongs.
Separate critical work systems. Only share resources that you each use part-time or infrequently. For example, because we both need the telephone, we each have our own designated line, but as neither of us uses the printer on a daily basis, we share a single printer.
The upside to separating your critical work systems is that in an emergency, you have the other system as a backup. So when a telephone battery dies or a VoIP line isn’t available, you have at least part-time access to an alternate system.
Get the gadgets. Give yourself permission to get a few gadgets to ease the biggest potential source of conflict: noise pollution from your office mate because let’s face it—you can’t always coordinate quiet time.
Our favorite gadgets are the USB headset to make video conference calls more private, cordless telephones for a quick escape during an extended call, and of course, a good old fashion iPod to drown out your loud talking office neighbor.
Know that you are adding another dimension to your relationship, one that has the potential to cause friction. Keep the lines of communication open and be prepared to leave the ‘office’ at the home office.
Read more of Carla Young's insights on home-based businesses and solopreneurship here.