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Home Work

How to succeed when you share your office with your family

Photograph by Bill Bilsley

As I pumped my car's brakes during their morning stop-and-go workout, the hour-long commute downtown wasn't the only thing blocking my peace of mind. Envy was also taking its toll. With each flicker of brake lights ahead of me, I longed for an arrangement similar to the one my wife enjoyed. I wanted her comfy, home-based business—or at least my own version of it.

While I rode the brakes, she enjoyed breaking with a bowl of Cheerios, the morning paper and my recliner. While I suffered a suit and tie all day, her suits sported a zipper and a logo that swooshed. And as I worked surrounded by cubicle walls of an indeterminate color, she looked out on our multicolored landscape—in which I do all the weeding.

So rather than keep fighting Chicago traffic and my growing sense of envy, I decided to take my show off the road. Now, although Mary Beth and I work in different rooms and on separate projects, we occasionally take time for joint ventures such as emptying the dishwasher or paying the bills.

Our at-home schedule has given us a chance to tap into a whole new lifestyle. We wake up together and find ourselves just a flight of stairs away from our offices. But it has also meant opening up a can of work-related worms.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not a "glass-is-half-empty" kind of guy. In fact, there are many advantages when both partners work at home. We can be spontaneous—getting away for a leisurely lunch or running a non-business errand during "normal" working hours. We don't have to wait until the end of the day to share a business victory or to be consoled if we lose an account. And we can knock off early since we've eliminated the long commute, endless water-cooler gossip and catch-up-on-my-sleep committee meetings.

There have, however, been a few obstacles. If you, like Mary Beth and I, spend your working hours at home, here are four simple steps that can remedy potential mishaps.

1. Call Ahead for Reservations

I had my day all planned out. Several hours of Internet research in the morning, then a short break followed by an afternoon of writing to meet a fast-approaching deadline. But as I headed toward the computer, I noticed something different. Oh yeah, my wife was using it—sending e-mail correspondence that simply couldn't wait. We do have two computers. But only one of them is tucked away in a quiet office, away from the bustling thoroughfare of television, snacks and kids.

Linda Kroll, a family therapist, mediator and attorney in Deerfield, Illinois, says this scenario is to be expected. "It takes a great deal of communication and respect for each other's time and space when you both work from home—especially if you're sharing equipment," she says. "It may be best to set special times for each person—checking in first if you need something during his or her time. And you may have to prioritize what urgent means."

This may include limiting what you hope to accomplish in a normal work day unless you plan ahead or get creative with your resources. Of course, having two of everything may well be worth its price in headaches avoided.

2. Know When to Hit the Road

After months of persistence, followed by several weeks of phone tag, arrangements finally were made for a sports celebrity to come to my home office to be interviewed. It was a great opportunity for me, but an even greater chance of ruining my wife's plans for that day. That's because in addition to organizing my office (where the interview would take place) I wanted the entire house to look, smell and sound as if, well, some other family lives here. Grudgingly, Mary Beth traded her mop for her diaper bag and headed for the library, toddler in tow. She expected a personalized autograph when she returned. And not from me.

Other work-at-home couples have their own set of challenges. Like who becomes the parent and who continues working when a child stays home sick from school? About every six weeks or so, it's Diana Black's turn to host a playgroup at her house in Seattle.

Unfortunately, nine kids playing in the house doesn't always make for a perfect work environment for her husband, Pete, a financial adviser.

"Because I know in advance about the playdate, I'll find something else to do outside the house," he says. "I may bring some work to a coffee shop or bookstore, or take my golf clubs to a local driving range. That's one of the perks of working at home."

3. Create a "No Business"

Zone Linda Kroll points out that just as it's important to carve out boundaries for your professional life, you also need to set boundaries for your personal life. "Your home has to be a sanctuary for you to go and get away from the pressures," she says. "Otherwise, you're working 24 hours a day." So she suggests making certain rooms off limits for business talk—such as the family room, children's rooms and, of course, your bedroom.

I have to admit that when I first set up my home-based business, I couldn't turn it off. If I wasn't actually working on something, I was thinking or talking about it. My wife may have been impressed with my drive, but after a while she felt that the guy she had married had become one-dimensional.

But, I got the message that I was driving her crazy. I think it happened one day when she walked up to me and said, "You're driving me crazy!"

To help define our boundaries, Mary Beth and I set up some simple rules. We can talk business during lunch, but not during dinner. And if the business line rings after six, voicemail fields the call.

4. Team Up for Success

It's a pleasure and a challenge when you both work at home. But instead of competing against each other for your own time, space and office equipment, concentrate on how you can better accommodate your spouse. Share in each other's glories and provide a strong shoulder to lean on in defeats. You'll be surprised how much things improve.

Even if your jobs aren't related, the income you bring in benefits you both. Especially if you remodel the spare bedroom into a second home office.

Conrad Theodre, a writer in Lake Forest, Illinois, happily shares his computer, fax and free time with his wife, Mary Beth, and their three children, Maria, Frank and Leo.

Read more articles that highlight writing by Christian women at ChristianityToday.com/Women

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Home; Marriage; Work
Today's Christian Woman, Summer, 2000
Posted September 30, 2008

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