The Shelter in Place Diaries: Working at Home with Your Spouse

Shelter in Place Diary
Seattle Downtown

Hey, ya’ll. It’s Friday! And I’m imagining all the brand new telecommuters at their desks today. When you work from home, Fridays feel less like Fridays. It’s true! When you’re forced into an office or school during the week the idea of staying home feels like an oasis in the distance. But when you’re always home, well, you’re always home.

Fridays are still nice though.

Earlier today, a fellow micro blogger made a comment about working from home with spouses and kids around. And I can’t comment on the kid thing, because I never had any. But I can offer a few tips on the whole “working in the same room as your spouse” thing because it’s something I’ve had to learn how to do. A few suggestions:

1. Everyone gets their own space.

If possible, try to avoid things like “I get the desk in the morning, you get it in the afternoon.” We may not realize it, but we human animals are territorial. Okay. Maybe I’m territorial. But I can’t be the only one. Try to set up a dedicated work spot for everyone. Consider each person’s field of view. Distractions can be visual or auditory. I think back-to-back workstations work better than face-to-face, most of the time.

2. Communicate your status. Know your modes.

Basically, you need to avoid irking the shit out of one another. And this is the fun part. You have no idea what your spouse’s work habits are, right? Maybe they talk to you at random intervals. Or maybe they sigh a lot while they type. (I do!) Now that you’re office mates, you’re experiencing a whole new level of togetherness with your spouse!  Address this by determining your work modes and find a way to signal them. My three work modes are:

I’m Writing (Only talk to me if something is literally on fire)
I’m Tasking (Feel free to ask me questions, within reason)
I’m Dorking Around (Sure, let’s chit-chat)

Share your work modes with your spouse.  And if you can, use visual signals. I wear big headphones while I’m in writing mode. Or I say something like “I’m going to write now. See you at lunch.” Yes, it feels weird to send your spouse signals like that. But these are strange times. You can keep things light by sailing past your spouse/coworker’s desk, squeezing their bottom, and whispering “workplace sexual harassment” into their ear in a sultry voice. Just make sure their microphone isn’t live, and they aren’t talking to a customer at the time. Because that could get awkward.

3. Plan to reconnect at lunch.

Plan a lunch time and regroup mid-day. Not only is it awesome that you can eat lunch with your sweetie, it’s a time to touch base. If interruptions cannot be avoided (kids at home, for example) perhaps one spouse can be the kid-wrangler in the morning, and the other person in the afternoon? Again, I’m not sure how to handle the challenge of small humans. But someone’s gotta throw themselves on that grenade, right? Alternate, maybe.

4. Need to say something? Check in. Wait.

Let’s say you’re both working. You look at your SO and they are working, but they haven’t thrown up their “don’t bother me” signal. Still, don’t just start talking to them. Say “Let me know when you’re free to talk.” Then wait. For the record, I’m bad at this one. I manage to do it properly about 50% of the time. But it’s a good practice.

5. Ask for what you need. And laugh at your partner’s quirks.

If something in the setup isn’t working for you, propose a solution. And if your new coworker has weird quirks you’ll need to balance between letting their weirdness roll off your back and asking them to tone it down a little. Make peace with the fact your living room or office may resemble a nuthouse for a while. On any given afternoon I may hear P mutter YOU SON OF A BITCH at his computer (He has a fiery relationship with Linux), and later on he’ll be trying to concentrate while I bounce around the condo like Tigger because sitting too long makes me crazy. Embrace these moments. You’re a weirdo. Your spouse is a weirdo. Just roll with it.

Let’s look big picture for a second: It’s such a privilege to be able to spend time with your loved ones, and to eat lunch together, and to support one another in their projects.  Feel lucky, because you are! But it may take time to adjust to a new way of working. Working together is great, after you get over the hump. So don’t sweat the hump, okay? You’ll figure it out. Talk it out over dinner when you’re feeling mellow. And try not to scream HOW DARE YOU ADDRESS ME, PEASANT when your spouse asks a question and you were in the middle of solving a complex problem.


Right now, I’m in tasking mode, signaled by the fact that I’m working on the couch without my headphones on. A few minutes ago I made eye contact with P, and neither of us were in writing/coding mode,  so we talked for a while. Next, I’ll go to my desk and put on the big headphones and say “See you at lunch!” And thus the work day will continue.

Happy Friday, blog buddies. The weekend is right around the corner. Keep washing those paws.