How to Stay Sane When You Work at Home
By KATHERINE ROTH
Baby boomers moving into semi-retirement or new careers often find themselves working at least some of the time from home — and maybe sharing the space with their spouse or significant other.
That might entail more togetherness than a couple originally bargained for.
Some delicate maneuvering and careful planning, however, can maintain peace, productivity and personal space all at once.
“It’s tough, and it definitely takes some figuring to make it work, but it can also be wonderful,” says Joy Parisi, co-founder and owner of Paragraph, a working space for writers in New York City. It’s one of many shared office spaces across the country.
Some tips for couples who find themselves both working from home:
SET PHYSICAL BOUNDARIES
“The most important thing is to be very clear about each of your office spaces and hours, especially if you’re both going to be at home working at the same time,” says Kerry Hannon, a motivational speaker, AARP jobs expert and author of “Finding the Job You Want After 50 for Dummies.” She works from home, as does her spouse.
“We each have our own offices at separate ends of the house and that definitely helps,” she says.
Lori Leibovich, editor of RealSimple.com, says that if space is an issue, “designate separate office hours or take turns leaving the house.”
“Ideally, though, there should be a wall between your workspaces,” she says.
Good fences — and separate phone lines — make good neighbors.
“It’s OK to grab a coffee or lunch together, but approach it as though you were in an office, and draw those same lines of respect you would have for any other co-worker,” Hannon says. “And be sure you set up your technology so your home and office are separate entities and you don’t have to fight over a phone line. If you each have your own cell phone and can reserve your land line for home, that helps a lot.”
CALL A MEETING …
… or take a walk. It helps to discuss the game plan for the day or week. If you’re in the same field, you can designate brainstorming time to plan for upcoming projects, Leibovich suggests. And if you’re in different fields, but would like to have some input from your partner on something, figure out what time of day will work best and won’t interrupt anything. Many work-at-home couples say that taking a walk at some point in the day to clear the air is very helpful, Hannon said.
CREATE WORK-FREE ZONES
It’s essential to have zones where you can focus on intimacy and leave stress-causing topics behind, says Pepper Schwartz, a relationships expert with AARP’s Life Reimagined, an online resource to help people navigate life transitions.
“You need to be sure you make time and space for yourselves as a couple, and also time as individuals to do yoga or meet friends or do something for yourself, so you don’t end up working a 7-day week and feeling like you’ve lost yourself,” she says.
CONSIDER ALTERNATIVES TO HOME
Many people who work from home are turning to various kinds of shared workspaces.
“Sometimes there are just too many distractions at home. It’s like going to the gym to exercise. You could exercise at home, but if you get yourself to the gym, you know you’re going to exercise,” says Parisi.
Like many shared office spaces, her Paragraph is divided into quiet workspaces and a shared social area. Because it is specialized by field, Paragraph also sponsors readings and visits by agents.
While some shared workspaces around the country cater specifically to start-ups or other types of businesses, others are more general and welcome people from various fields.
“It’s important to make a policy about how you share the practical tasks or take care of the kids or walk the dogs,” says Schwartz.
Hannon said she had to compromise at times when her husband set up his workspace at the dining-room table instead of in his home office. Parisi said she or her husband sometimes ended up heading off to Paragraph to work when doing so at home seemed too challenging.
“Anecdotally, the whole economy is moving in this direction. We’re so plugged in now that even if you work from an office, you’ll end up doing some of your work from home,” Leibovich says. “It may take some creativity, and some compromises, to get it right.”