Home office veteran David Tate knows a thing or two about working from home without going insane, but there's one management challenge that can be particularly tricky: No matter how sound your relationship, a work-from-home lifestyle can be tough on your significant other. Here's how he handles it.
Image: Karlova Irina/Shutterstock.
When you start working from home you have to prepare those around you for the inevitable consequences of this new lifestyle. I'd recommend telling your neighbours, kids, pets, imaginary friend(s), team of personal therapists and parole officer. Of course, the absolute most important person to prepare is your significant other (SO). A lot of people who try working from home give up after about a month and when you ask them why they say "I was driving my SO crazy so she threw a pizza at my face". If you do not properly handle the work from home transition (aka "The Great Move Away From Pants") you will eventually have a pizza thrown at you.
When you start working from home your SO's life is going to change in unexpected ways and they need to be prepared for this shift. The way you communicate, interact and smell are all going to change in ways that they don't expect.
Why? Because of mismatched expectations about the benefits to their lives. The sad reality is that working from home does not offer many benefits to the significant other. Well, maybe you will look at them more and be able to do cool things like eat lunch with them sometimes or do them small favours. But the reality is that telecommuting (i.e. riding your phone to work) has certain realities that lead to other not so pleasant realities for your SO:
Change for you
- You can achieve higher productivity because you don't have to deal with others slowing you down.
- Less physical interaction with others.
- Cooler coffee breaks, low key lifestyle.
- No longer have to shave or get all dressed up.
- Full-time access to internet and kitchen.
- You are always around.
Consequence for your spouse
- You are less patient.
- Your SO now lives with a slightly crazy person who thinks that eating cereal with eggnog instead of milk is totally normal.
- They slowly begin to become jealous of the fact that you get to listen to music/watch TV while working.
- They now live with a person who thinks track suits are a good look.
- Live with 120% more juvenile and fatter version of you.
- You are 140% more annoying.
You can see these realities and mismatched expectations when you announce your transition:
Honey, I'm going to start working from home.
Your SO hears other things:
Sweetheart, I am now available to wait for packages and repairmen for you full-time.
Organic maple syrup, we can now talk on the phone for four hours a day divided up into separate conversations spaced 17 minutes apart even when I'm in the bathroom.
French Toast sticks you can eat on the go, We are going to save $400 a month that we used to spend on petrol and soap so feel free to spend that guilt-free by yourself on something that upgrades our lifestyle permanently without chatting with me first.
Peanut Butter M+M Gift Basket, I have achieved more freedom in my life and you should let your jealousy boil slowly like in a rice cooker until it burns our intimacy like if you picked up a rice cooker and it was crazy hot so you dropped it on your head and wow that hurt.
Never-ending ice cream from New Zealand Natural, you know how when you call me at work you say I'm sort of a jerk and are different and sound stressed - you now live with that version of me!
The SO Management Plan
You need to make sure that your SO knows what working from home actually is and establish the below ground rules.
You wouldn't like me when I'm working from home but will like what it makes me.
Tell your SO what working from home is: a risky challenge with a high payoff. Working from home is stressful — you have to work much harder at staying in the loop, reading between the lines, networking and focusing to get things done. Managing the tension of working out of your home — where you used to just relax — is not easy. Let them know that focused/work version of you isn't chill/at home version of you.
You working from home may offer no direct benefit to your SO but does offer massive benefits to both of you.
Working from home successfully is not easy and might not be all roses and free pizza for your spouse, but it does offer them some good overall relational benefits:
- When you work from home you are more in control of your environment and schedule thus leading to an overall happier version of you.
- They no longer have to listen to you complain about co-workers (because cats are not co-workers).
- You can, if managed properly, save an amazing amount of money.
- You can, if managed properly, have free time in the middle of the day to do other things. If you have a typical commute you can gain 10 hours a week to spend with your family, level up in your favourite video game, work on your novel, tweak your karaoke robot — whatever. For those of you doing the maths at home with an abacus: 10 hours is more than a typical workday that you gain.
Separating work from home is a critical component of telecommuting success and is the only one they can help you with.
Your SO can't help you communicate effectively, stay organised, stay professional and get more things done, but they can help you separate working from non-working. There are two common complaints that affect worker and SO: the SO complains that the worker continues working past normal work hours (as the office is right there) and the worker complains of being constantly interrupted by their SO during the day. Both of these common failures are just cases of work and home not being separated aggressively.
How to separate work from home is a separate topic, but the attitude should be that during established work hours you simply aren't there. Any interruption should be run through the filter of "Would you have called me during work for this?". I for one had my SO text me just like she would have if I had been at work — don't knock on the door.
I'd also suggest a month trial run in which you have very hard and fast rules about work hours, communication and availability so that you set expectations firmly — i.e. as the worker don't be helpful in the beginning. The space this creates allows them to realise that after they leave you alone for a while you are able to establish yourself as a reliable telecommuter that you will be a more relaxed version of yourself.
Being left alone and in charge leads to super-productivity if you are intentional about it, and having more control means more freedom, means more happiness, and will allow the sort of things that they desire. When the Cheetos-dust clears most SOs, when given the choice, prefer a happy slightly crazy/stinky spouse to a clean miserable one.
I'm writing a book about successfully working from home; click here if you want to know when it is complete.
Managing Your Significant Other When Working from Home [Certain Extent]