Stay At Home
If your state has not issued a Stay-At-Home order yet, don’t worry, it’s coming. The U.S. Coronavirus infection rate is steeper than an upside down picture of the plummeting stock market. Many state and local governments, schools and non essential businesses are closed. So you and your partner (and kids) now find yourselves working ( and schooling) from home. And depending on how you react to this emergency work situation, the novel coronavirus may become a novel family nuisance.
Maintaining relationship compatibility is never easy
Working couples have a particularly hard time at it. A working couple returns home with every intention to leave work at work. Their goal? Reconnection with their partner, their kids and their loved ones. But what happens when a working couple suddenly finds themselves flung into full-time work from home? How do couples who are used to working miles away from one another, suddenly maintain their composure and their compatibility, when they work mere feet apart from one another? How you react to this situation will determine whether the Coronavirus quarantine becomes a plague that kills your relationship compatibility.
Why Can’t We All Just Get Along?
Working from home, during a quarantine, poses a different set of compatibility challenges than daily office work. It’s easier to get along, when your partner’s annoyances aren’t in your face all day, everyday. For example your work-at-home schedules may highlight poor timing and logistics of your situation. Suppose you start online meetings at 8 am and your partner starts them at 9 am. The untimely start times might work well with showers and getting dressed, but not if your Zoom meeting starts when your partner needs the room to get dressed. Timing can get even more complicated if you have school aged children with their online needs, triple the complication if your children are preschool aged.
Timing issues don’t stop at start times
There are also working lunches and working dinners. These things happen to the most conscientious partner during a typical work week. During a quarantine a lunch meeting means a debate over who has to stop working early, so that Jack and Jill are fed? Meetings that go over their scheduled times become a bone of contention between you and your partner at home. There are emergencies and “emergencies” in every office setting. But what happens when those reply emails, that you feel are an “emergency”, force you to take more time than your partner scheduled you for? Working from home means that instead of being out of sight, and out of your partner’s mind, when you work, you’re right under their watchful and skeptical eye. Your partner is right there to judge whether your “emergency” was really urgent or just mismanagement. Their prying eyes search your expression from across the room, to determine if your rescheduled meeting was worthy of you missing dinner again.
Did You Move My Document?
Working from home exposes differences in the way you organize your work and your workspace too. Suppose your partner likes to roam the house when they work. They travel through the house, leaving little piles of their work everywhere. Or... you find out that your partner talks so loud on the phone that you can’t hear yourself think. Or... you learn that they use paper instead of electronic documents and they scatter them all over your shared workspace. These are all examples of different levels of work orderliness and tidiness. In these work-from-home scenarios (and you have your own), you’re surprised at your partner's level of work tidiness and wonder how they even manage in an office. The quarantine has given you a glimpse into your partner’s work personality. And aren’t you glad you’ve discovered yet another part of your partner that you need to learn to love? Thanks Coronavirus.
That’s Close Enough
After you work in close proximity with your partner all day, who wants intimacy? Intimacy means being even closer than you have been in your one bedroom apartment. What you really want after working together all day is time to yourself. But then you feel guilty about that, so you suggest you both watch Netflix. You feel a movie could offer wordless intimacy and a moment for you to decompress. After the movie, sex feels like work. So you avoid it. This is annoying too. You imagine other couples have it easier, better even, than you and your partner. You feel like you want to scream, right after you have a good cry.
You Get The Picture
I am sure I didn’t capture the full scope of annoyances that couples face working from home during the COVID-19 pandemic. You'll have your own unique challenges. Composure and relationship compatibility are bound to be lost during such challenges. And quarantine could actually make you question your love. So before we go further down the deep dark road rabbit hole, let’s turn our attention towards some tools that can help us all survive working from home. The three main compatibility challenges working from home bring up are: work timing, work orderliness, and work proximity (intimacy). Here are tips that can help you solve these three relationship compatibility issues when you’re working from home.
Don’t Over Schedule
There is no such thing as a productive home work day. Under normal conditions, working from home is chalked full of distraction. Whether it’s the comfort of your own bed, or the availability of snacks , when you work from home you are surrounded by things that steal your productivity. When you add your partner and family, you’re working in a minefield of distraction. Any misstep and your day can explode in your face. That is why you need to slow down.
The best way to slow down is to leave an extra 10 minutes before and after every desired task. That extra 20 minutes will mean things get done less efficiently, but the time will give you an opportunity to place attention on the people around you as you move through your work day. And provide you will a cushion when workflow get a bit tight. We all agree that it’s healthier to eat little meals throughout the day, rather than starve until the end of the day, right? In the same way taking 10 minutes to give little bites of quality attention to the people you live with (and now work with) is a good way to feed their emotional needs too. It is also a way to keep those (emotional) needs from blowing up in your face. Built in time between tasks also provides you with needed flexibility for any emergencies that can surface, like toilet paper runs or wifi overloads.
In This Corner
To work from home you need a work space. A place where you and your family know that you’ve got your company hat on and shouldn’t be disturbed. Now this is easy in a spacious home, but not so easy when the home is full of people. Designating a spot for your work things is the best way to avoid compatibility issues around orderliness and tidiness.
The most flexible place for your work things is a mobile storage space, like a briefcase or backpack. With a mobile work space, you can move as needed to available work areas. If your daughter needs the desktop for her school project, you can pack up and work in the kitchen. When the kitchen becomes unavailable you can pack up and move to the guest bathroom. You always wanted it to yourself anyway, no you have a reason to claim it. But seriously you’ll need this sort of flexibility to be productive and to accommodate your partner and your family.
Don’t scoff, this idea is much better than being tyrannical about space. Just remember, your important client has his spouse and kids pulling on him or her too. So don’t sweat your working logistics. Pick a corner, any quiet corner will do.
I’m Here Aren’t I
When you work from home, it’s easy to feel that proximity equates to time spent with one another. But it doesn’t equate. In fact your distracted presence is more distressful than your absence. That is why you’ll need to practice shutting down and powering up. Since you won’t have a commute to pull yourself together after work, you’ll need new ways to “shutdown” after work. And a new way “power-up” when you slip out of bed and want to get going in your workspace down the hall. If you wear a uniform at work, like a vest with a company logo or a suit, it is a way for your mind to switch gears. Getting dressed tells your system, “we are powering-up for work”. When you come home the same thing happens in reverse. When you underdress, you power down and become available for connection and intimacy at home. Likewise, showering, grooming and dressing are good signals to yourself that you’re powering up for work. They also send a signal to those around you as well. Wearing a “work” baseball cap, slipping on ear buds, or putting on your favorite sweater blazer are all signals to your subconscious that you are powered-up and ready for duty. Taking them off signals the opposite. In quarantine, you don’t get that type of biofeedback. So you have to create a new biofeedback loop to switch gears. Otherwise, you could get stuck in work-mode and miss out on valuable intimacy and connection, even though your loved ones are literally, right under foot. I personally like the idea of dressing to go to work even though I’m only going to that guest bathroom again. (oh no not again!).
Taking Time Taking time to decompress is always advisable, but not always practical. Try using some sort of biofeedback to let your system know, “it’s time to switch gears”. It is also a practical way to signal to yourself “I am now available for connection”. Meditation, listening to music and silence are three biofeedback tools that can help you prepare you for work and slow down for connection. To me, there is nothing better than taking 10 minutes to try and think about nothing. I usually make it about 30 seconds before a thought interrupts. But that is all part of the practice and doing a meditation before you stop working for the day, could be (but I can’t promise it will be), better than being on public transportation or on your commute.
Compatibility is always a challenge for working couples. This challenge is even greater when that work is being done at home together. The pressure to remain productive, along with the distraction of working from home, can cause real stress and disconnection with your partner and family.
The three biggest challenges to relationship compatibility, when you both work from home, are work schedules (timing), work space (order and tidiness) and being emotionally attentive when work is a distraction at home (intimacy).
When you work from home, you can manage timing problems by scheduling in “extra” time before and after tasks. This will keep you from stressing too much and give you time for a “power hug” from your partner. To increase, or at least maintain productivity, create an effective workspace for yourself. The best workspace is one that is flexible, and allows you to accomodate the needs of other quarantined members of the family. Remember a big key to successful work space cohabitation is in your flexibility. Flexibility allows you to work from anywhere and be productive. Just remember, you’re working in a minefield of distraction so set a reasonable level of productivity for yourself. Finally create your own powering-up and shutting- down rituals to help you switch in and out of work mode. Being able to turn off, as you work from home, will keep you from missing valuable moments of intimacy and connection that exist literally, right under foot.
If you want more help on arranging domestic life listen to my podcast called How To Keep It Together When Domestic Duties Tear You Apart. Feel free to email me with any questions here