9 Things I’ve learned in the last three years sharing a home office with my husband
When I started working as a freelance journalist back in 2003, I was the only person in my family working from home. Since then, I’ve always worked from home. Eventually my only co-worker was our pooch and I worked from a home office with just him around.
Then in October 2009, we had our first baby. I didn’t do as much work or spend as much time in the office after she was born. My husband got to periodically work from home but not very often.
When I was pregnant with our second baby in 2012, I boxed up many of my work things in the home office because my husband was working from home a bit more often, and I knew I’d be working less once I had two little ones on my hands.
By 2014, when we had a 1-year-old and 4-year-old, my husband’s job changed so that he was working from home most of the time. He spent the first few years working from home nearly solo as I was taking care of our kiddos and only doing a bit of work here and there.
When we built our home in 2017, we knew I’d be able to start working more again because our son was heading to kindergarten that fall. We tweaked the floor plan so what was the formal living room became the home office. And, for the first time, my husband and I were going to share office space.
Getting on the same page
As we began planning the layout for our home office, I realized my husband and I had different ideas. I suggested we get matching desks and have them connected, facing each other.
My husband suggested we take a page from “I Love Lucy” and put masking tape down the center of the room to keep our sides — and our belongings — separate.
So we had to figure out how to best arrange the space to meet both our needs. As a writer and the manager of our family, I deal with a lot of paperwork. As a computer security consultant, my high-tech husband has very little paperwork. He didn’t want my paperwork (mess) spilling over onto his desk. Fair enough.
We decided that we’d each have desks facing the same direction (the door) with mine on one side and his on the other. Basically, we are sitting side-by-side but with a good-sized “aisle” between us.
I’ve got a filing cabinet behind me and one in my desk to help organize my paperwork. We have a shelving unit with our printer and other office supplies in one corner. We each have a large bookshelf as well for our books and other knick-knacks we like.
Working together but separately
One of the issues we’ve had to tackle is working together in the same room but doing completely different jobs. Because we aren’t doing the same work for the same company, we had to figure out how to make that work together.
We had some practice with this before sharing an office. If I had to schedule an article interview while the kids were home, I coordinated with my husband to make sure he could be available for kid duty.
Sharing the office works much the same way. If I’m scheduling an important interview, I check in with my husband’s schedule to avoid us both having important calls at the same time.
Every so often, we do have calls that overlap. In those instances, I leave the office and head to the kitchen table to do my call. I work from a laptop plugged into a monitor and am much more mobile than my husband in that regard.
Being noise considerate
One of the biggest issues in working from home together is dealing with noise. Work can be noisy. I generally work best with music on. My husband often needs to watch videos for work or has them on for background as he’s working. Other times, we need quiet.
But, our times for each of these things don’t always line up well. Sometimes I need my writing music while he is watching a video. Sometimes he needs to watch a video for work while I’m doing a phone interview. Headphones are awesome for helping us stay noise considerate of each other.
We don’t always use our headphones. There are times we don’t need to, but it’s nice to be able to pop in my noise canceling earbuds when I’m working on a big deadline and need to type to the soundtrack of “Riverdance” without distraction.
Being aware of call etiquette
Working from home almost always means that you’re going to have to make and take calls. Some are scheduled and some are random. I know, for example, that my husband has a conference call every weekday morning at 9 a.m.
So if I need to print something (which is a bit noisy), I’ll try and do so before or after his call. If I’m working in the other room (which happens more right now because I’m helping my 2nd grader with his schoolwork), I will try to get things I need from the office beforehand or wait until afterward.
We also pay attention if the other one gets or makes a call. If we have volume going on music or something else, we either pause it or switch to headphones.
The person on the phone or video call also usually uses headphones. We avoid speakerphone because neither of us needs to hear the entire conversation going on with the other person’s work.
If we have calls scheduled outside of usual times, we will often share that with one another just as a heads-up so we both know what to expect during the day.
Deciding on priority
This can be a touchy subject, but there are times we have to decide on whose work has the most priority. Right now when we are also virtual schooling, this is even more the case. For example, I have a weekly deadline on Mondays at noon. My husband knows this, so he will check in with me in between his work tasks to see if I need any help with schooling so I can work uninterrupted.
Speaking of schooling, we had to talk about who would be the point person in virtual schooling the kids. (For the majority of this school year, we have been virtually schooling by choice.) We talked ahead of time about how to make it happen along with our work. We determined I was in the better position to deal with schooling.
In our family, my husband’s job has higher priority because his is the steady, consistent income that also provides our family with health benefits. He also has a more rigid schedule for work than I do. So, we prioritize that higher. Each family and situation is different, but for us that’s what works best.
Finding good times to talk
While we give each other space and peace and quiet to work, we also do want to and enjoy talking with one another. The guy is my best friend! We’ve found one phrase that has helped so very much in working from home together: Is this a good time to talk? (Check out this post on improving communication in your marriage.)
We might want to run work-related ideas by each other, share a story about our kids, tell the other something funny we just read, go over finances or just about anything else. And all of that will go better if we both have the time and are in the head space to do so.
Because we usually have an idea what’s going on with the other’s work, we are almost always aware when is definitely NOT a good time to interrupt the other. And then we usually just wait. (Sometimes I make a note in my planner or set a reminder so I don’t forget to talk with my husband about the topic later. I get distracted by work, kids and life and thoughts can get lost!)
Helping each other
One of the neat things about working at home together is getting a chance to help each other with work. Back when I was the only one of us working from home, if I needed to bounce an idea off of someone or needed tech help, I’d have to wait until my husband got home. And then that only worked if we didn’t have anything else going on and if I remembered!
Working at home together, we have a co-worker with an outside perspective, which can be helpful to talk through an issue. We also can use our skills to help each other. Because my husband is a technology guru, he’s always been my tech guy. Nowadays he can even help me with smaller issues that pop up. Like if I’m having website trouble or need help figuring out a formatting issue in Excel.
And I can edit documents he has to write for work. Earlier this year, I was literally his hands after his shoulder surgery when he couldn’t type. He told me what to type for a report and I did so.
Working from home together gives my husband and me yet another way to be a team.
Knowing when to keep our mouths shut
Lest you think that working from home together is all roses, there are times we irritate with one another. I hate the sound of people chewing, especially crunching. So I’ve had times when my husband was having a snack that I popped in my headphones and cranked up the volume to not be so irritated.
I know I’ve irritated him as well. But just like with majority of time in our relationship, usually we’re irritated about something else that has nothing to do with our spouse!
Getting to see each other as professionals
Before we spent every day working from home together, I knew a bit of what my husband did and that he was good at it. Now that I hear him interacting with clients and doing research, I have a whole new appreciation for his work.
In the 26 years we’ve been together, I’ve seen him in many roles. Getting to regularly see him in his professional role is pretty cool.
Working from home together lets us celebrate our small work successes together. We get to cheer each other on. Having a co-worker who is always on your side and rooting for your best is priceless.