March 27, 2020

Worlds collide: Getting along with the new “co-workers” in your home

We’ve always been about helping people navigate tough conversations with colleagues — now, your shared workspaces have a completely new dynamic, as people work at home with new “colleagues:” roommates, partners, kids, and extended families. Everyone in your home is adjusting to a new schedule and a new way of using your home; it’s not an easy transition. 

You’re trying to figure out how to get work done without your teammates and your dedicated working space all while being surrounded by people who may have never seen you in “work mode.” It’s normal to feel frustrated, claustrophobic, and a little lost right now. These five tips will help you make the most of your new working arrangement.

  1. Be open from day one.

    This is new territory for a lot of people and not everyone will automatically understand what you need or expect from them. The people you’re sharing a space with will benefit from you being proactive and acknowledging how complicated it might be to work together. Instead of assuming everyone involved will “get it,” make a point to sit down and discuss how you make it work. Our Pros recommend making the conversation fun where you can and as human as possible. For instance, name your office space, implement a “safe word” that lets people know you need help, or create “rules of engagement,” with some silly ones included.

  2. Listen to your deskmates.

    We’re all in this together, and those who are sharing your space are also going to have some needs to be met. Roommates and partners who also have to work from home need the same privacy and quiet you do. Kids need structure and reassurance, because things are scary and different and they may not understand why. Extended family have routines that are being disrupted. Just like we can’t expect our co-habitants to understand what we need, we shouldn’t assume we know what they need. Take the time to ask them and really listen to the answer.

  3. Set physical boundaries.

    Some of us live in small spaces (hi, New York City). It may not feel like there’s enough room for everyone to be home all the time, working or studying or trying to stave off boredom. But we each deserve as much space as is feasible so we can focus on what we’re doing. Have an open conversation about this. Maybe you switch off who uses the desk. Maybe you coordinate meeting schedules as best you can so the person taking a call can have more privacy. This will help with logistics but also help you switch out of work mode when you need to: make sure you actually get up and move away from the computer when you can to create more of a work/life balance.

  4. Create a schedule.

    When we’re working, studying, and living all in the same space, it’s hard to switch modes. This can impact your relationships when the people around you don’t know when you’re Work You versus Parent You. Make a schedule and post it somewhere visible, like the fridge. Let everyone know when you have meetings, when you need quiet time, and when you’re free to give them your attention. And do your best to follow it, realizing that your workload may change from day to day right now. If you can follow the schedule you share, it’ll set clear expectations and reduce friction and hurt feelings.

  5. Give grace.

    This goes for both your new “coworkers” and yourself. We aren’t all coexisting in the same space 24/7 because we want to. We’re stressed and scared and most of us don’t have any clear idea how long this arrangement is going to last. It’ll take time to find your groove and there will be days when emotions are raw and people are exhausted. Do your best to remember the extenuating circumstances and forgive any harsh words so you can focus on fostering positive, open relationships.

Living with others has always required compromise and conversation; we just need to adapt the conversation to this new situation. These tips will help you create boundaries and set expectations with everyone involved. You may not hit on a perfect system from the first day, but if you keep revisiting these tips and keep the conversation going, things will move more smoothly day by day. Shared workspaces can work and once you settle on the “how” of it, you can even find opportunities to enjoy spending more time with the people you’re closest to.

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