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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Monday, October 20, 2008

Say Buh-Bye to Flexibility and Hello to Longer Hours

I went on eBay the other day to try and purchase a crystal ball. Unfortunately, the ones that were available didn't come with a guarantee, so I decided to pass.

I mean, who wouldn't want a crystal ball to see into the future -- to see how we're all going to survive this mess and whether or not the Rays really can go from being the worst team in baseball to winning the World Series in a year's time?

OK, so when the crystal ball thing didn't work out, I decided to just talk to a lot of different people about the situation on the job today. I didn't talk to just experts, but also regular folks who worry about their jobs, who wonder if their bosses are telling them the truth and if they need to be looking for a second job.

While this is unscientific, this is what my gut tells me -- after decades of covering the workplace -- what you may see come to your workplace:

1. Less flexibility. Companies already are operating lean, but because of the nervousness about how deep and long the recession will last, employers will want employees to really buckle down. And that means that bosses or companies offering flexibility options such as working certain hours or working from home may start to cut back those choices because they want to stick really close to workers right now. So that means where and when the boss works -- so will you.

2. Less tolerance for whining. Bosses are tense. I mean really tense. Maybe they're not showing it to employees, but trust me, they're very stressed by what is going on. They want to be there for employees who are worried about their jobs or the economy, but they can only take so much whining. Those workers who don't recognize when to suck it up and just shut up and work are going to put themselves in jeopardy. Remember: There are lots of great, qualified people out of work right now, and the boss's pickings to replace you have never been better.

3. More generational conflict. Things between older and younger workers have sometimes been tense, but there's always been the argument that baby boomers are going to be retiring in droves soon, so employers will be forced to pay attention to what younger workers want. But with so many baby boomers seeing their portfolios and 401(k)s tank, chances are good many of them are going to stick around much longer. And that's not going to sit well with GenX and GenY, since it mucks up their plans. Employers are going to have little patience (see No.2) for workers who can't get along.

4. Longer hours. Maybe you thought your workload couldn't get any worse. Guess what? It can.

5. Fewer benefits. Those goody packages used to attract and retain top workers are going to start drying up. Companies have pretty much cut as many bodies as they can, so they're going to look for other ways to trim costs. So, if you're thinking of using your company's tuition reimbursement, adoption assistance, gym memberships, etc., do it now. Before too much longer, they may be gone.

What other trends do you think we'll see -- or already are seeing -- in the workplace because of the struggling economy?

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