How to stay married while you both work from home
9 tips for staying productive and free of conflict while you both work remotely
Many couples are finding that COVID sheltering in place allows them to spend more time together while they both work from home. Most of us who are privileged enough to enjoy a work-from-home arrangement feel lucky that we can continue to secure a two-income household. While the saved commute time likely frees up some time, it can also be challenging to find a rhythm with remote work -- especially if it is a new arrangement for you both. To keep the peace and find ways to stay productive and motivated, I offer a few strategies I've gleaned from my own experiences learning to share my work-from-home environment with my spouse.
1. Set up a dedicated workspace for each of you. This doesn't mean you can't work side by side from time to time, but it's vital that you both have a place that each of you can retreat to when you need to concentrate and focus or jump into Zoom meetings. If you want some tips on how to set up a work space for yourself in your home, a blog post called "How to Prepare for a Career Transition" from my career blog offers some insights. If you do engage in regular Zoom meetings, it is imperative that you have a place to conduct these meeting where you can close the door that is free of distracting background noises. If your place is too small to afford you the luxury of a closed-door space simultaneously, try to schedule meetings so that you can access this space as needed.
2. Try to loosen up about regular routines, person territory, WiFi, and household tidiness. Most of us are creatures of habit and tend to settle into certain daily and weekly patterns in both our personal and professional life. The reality of suddenly sharing a workspace with another person is unsettling for most of us, however much we may love them. It may prove necessary, especially if you have children at home who are trying to engage in online learning, to collectively review the shared use of things like WiFi, the kitchen table, and shared computers and printers. Make a schedule if necessary, but understand that busy times during the workweek will likely be chaotic at times. If you are a neatnik, be willing to compromise on your need for especially tidy surrounding. You will preserve your own sanity and lessen the tension in your household. (That said, if you have preteens and teenagers, this is great chance to insist they pull their weight in keeping the house as clean as possible.)
3. Don't skimp on tech solutions like headphones, larger monitors, fast WiFi, etc. Invest in the technology you need to improve the quality of Zoom calls, productivity levels, and, well, stay entertained and informed. Since the COVID shutdown in mid-March, each of our family of four has acquired a pair of Bluetooth headphones, which have been the best money we have spent in the last several months. Get what you need to stay connected to others and fully escape when needed. Larger monitors and headphones (and ergonomic office chairs) can markedly enhance the Zoom experience and reduce fatigue, thus lowering household tension.
4. Get enough exercise, separately and together. Even if it is merely walks around the block, commit to a regular habit to get your body moving. Direct that monthly gym membership you're probably not paying right now into a treadmill or elliptical machine and some free weights. As fall and winter make their presence known, you will be glad to have a way to stay active and fit.
5. Make time to go on “dates” even if it’s a picnic in your back yard. Take advantage of the last remaining days of nice summer weather to plan an outdoor outing. Grab some takeout, a blanket and a bottle of wine and head to a local beach or city park. Or pack some gear and sandwiches and settle into a favorite riverside spot -- one of you can fish while the other paddle boards. Ride your bikes to a restaurant with outdoor seating in a new part of town. With a little imagination, you may find yourself discovering parts of your city and each other that may surprise you.
6. Go on a day trip at least once every three weeks. Get out of town, and give yourself the gift of a change of scenery, even if all you do is drive to another town you have always wanted to explore. Stay safe and socially distanced, of course, but don't neglect your mental health in your pursuit of quarantine purity. No one is handing out COVID compliance medals, and if you take proper precautions, there is no reason you can't keep exploring. Research destinations ahead of time to keep apprised of COVID regulations and accessibility of gas and restaurants, but take a cooler and whatever you might need to make sandwiches with some provisions from a grocery store. My husband and I have camp chairs (and his fishing gear) packed in our car at all times in case we need to find a place to share some takeout when we drive to an Oregon beach or riverside on a weekend.
7. If one or both of you is creative make time to express your gift. This is so important, COVID or no COVID. Those of us who are creative need an outlet as badly as we need food. Carve out time and space to write, paint, embroider, knit, garden -- whatever it is that makes you lose track of time when you do and gives life to your spirit. Meditation and yoga can provide a similar enlivening spark to creatives and noncreative alike.
8. Schedule zoom dates with favorite couples (and individual zoom happy hours or coffee dates with good friends). Stay in touch with other couples with whom you enjoy socializing. They are likely as in need of a social outlet as you are, and will likely appreciate you reaching out. Make sure to each keep in touch with individual friends and family members on your own. This will minimize your feelings of isolation and give you things to look forward to. (We all know that feeling that the days are running together with little to distinguish them.) If you feel like it is safe to do so, meet at a favorite outdoor restaurant or invite them to your backyard for a barbecue.
9. Talk to each other about your work but talk about other stuff, too. It can be so tempting to focus too much on our work when it is literally taking place where we live, but it so important that you find other topics to share and interests to explore. Take this strange time to start a DIY project together, landscape your yard, get involved with the election, or pursue an artistic medium about which you have always been curious. In-person classes are difficult to take these days, but online classes and YouTube tutorials abound.