Monday, November 9, 2009

5 tips for working at home with your significant other

The tough times have brought about a lot of changes, both personally and professionally. One of those changes has been a lot of people launching their own businesses from home. But what happens when you and your significant other both start working from home? Will it work? Will it cause a rift so wide you'll never recover?

That was a question I posed to Scot and Kate Herrick this week for my Gannett column. Here's what they had to say....

Actress Bette Davis once said that the key to a successful marriage was separate bathrooms.

For Scot and Kate Herrick, it’s headphones.

The Bellevue, Wash. couple have both been working from home since March. She likes to listen to heavy metal music while working. He usually likes instrumentals. They have found marital and professional harmony by using headphones, their iPods delivering the music they each favor.

It’s just one of the many ways the couple, who both once worked for Washington Mutual, have found to share domestic and professional spaces. They both also have separate work areas.

“We’ve found ways not to get on each other’s nerves,” says Scot, owner of, an online career management site.

The recession has had a lot of impact on American lives, and one of those areas has been that many couples have found themselves spending more time together because of job loss, career change – or because they’ve launched businesses from home like the Herricks.

And like the Herricks, many couples are trying to work out the kinks of being together 24/7.

“I love my husband dearly,” Kate says, “but he likes it so quiet that this house is like a museum.”

Despite their different working styles, the Herricks say they’ve managed to develop a system that works for them professionally and personally. The recommend other couples wanting to do the same should:

• Respect the work. Just as you wouldn’t interrupt a colleague unnecessarily, the same should be true of a partner at home. It’s best to have separate work spaces with required office equipment, but if that’s not possible, it’s even more important to be sensitive to the other person’s work style. For example, headphones are a good idea to eliminate distractions, or moving to another part of the house for a conference call is helpful. At the same time, not interacting too much during the day is important “so you can later tell each other about your day,” Scot says. “You need something to talk about.”

• Have regular meetings. The Herricks say they discuss their work schedules every day so they know how they can best support one another. While they each have cell phones for business, they like to use the home land line for conference calls, so coordinated schedules make sure there isn’t a conflict.

• Stay connected. The Herricks admit that with any home-based job, there is a sense of isolation. “I really miss the social interaction of an office a lot,” Kate says. “I miss the collaboration with my colleagues. (Working at home) can be very lonely.” Notes Scott: “When you’re separated because you work in different places, it gives you something to talk about later. Now, we have the same experience because we work in the same place.” Experts say it’s a good idea for those who work at home to schedule meetings or coffee dates with colleagues or friends, and look for opportunities to get out and network at professional events.

• Set terms. Couples need to agree on household duties, and when they will be done. For the Herricks, they live by the schedule they established when both were working outside the home and don’t begin household tasks such as laundry until 5 p.m. “When you work at home, you have to ask yourself: ‘Is this something I would be doing if I was in an office right now?’” Scot says. Adds Kate: “You’ve got to maintain the integrity of the workday.”

• Establish transitions. While one of the advantages of working from home is that couples no longer have to commute to and from work, the Herricks say it’s still important to find a way to “transition” between a professional and domestic life. “You need to find a way to move mentally and socially into the next part of your life,” Scot says. “For me, it’s starting the chores. For someone else, it might be going on a walk. But you have to find that ritual that takes the place of the commute.”

What suggestions do you have for working at home with a significant other?


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