This time last year if you’d been asked if you’d like to spend more time at home with your other half you probably would have said, of course, it will be wonderful. And for a lucky some it will have been, but for many others, it will have been a mixed bag as we have had to fulfil the dual roles of loving partner and workmate.
In a recent survey by ServiceTeamIT 89% of businesses said they will be working from home, far more of them in the future. Up until this year, it was commonplace for one half of a couple to work from home, but this year has thrust many of us into a situation far from ideal and with little opportunity to escape. So just how can get the balance right when your own kitchen kettle becomes the water cooler and home and work frustrations happen under one roof.
I am going to start by sharing my experience of working with my wife at home. My desk is upstairs in one of the bedrooms, my wife works from the kitchen table. For most of the time, this is fine but if I decide to chop some vegetables for lunch while she is struggling to finish a report, it allows her to demonstrate your command of colourful but less commonly used words for genitals. I now know to WhatsApp her before entering her place of work uninvited and that being called a Venus honeypot is not a term of endearment.
As your living space starts to take on new roles, establishing physical boundaries during set times can help, however, rooms serving multiple purposes, especially bedrooms, can cause other problems but more of that later.
During the 9-5, we all strive to put work first and focus, as much as possible, on the task at hand. But what happens when both of you have a video call simultaneously, is one person is very loud, do you have enough bandwidth, and if you add children into the mix, who gets priority to have the call in peace and quiet.
David, a director of a 200 site retail business, explains more. “We got three teenage kids at home, all of them well-behaved and lovely, but there are times when both myself and my wife need to do video calls. This can mean asking the kids to stop streaming Netflix or chatting to friends online. And then dealing with the fallout of this needs to be dealt with by one person who should be on a call. My wife works in public health so ultimately her calls are more important than mine, so she gets priority every time even if that is frustrating.”
And that leads nicely onto the subsequent point, how do you successfully create a buffer between your work and your home? Yes, it’s wonderful to stick in a load of washing between Zoom calls but it’s hard to rant about your unreasonable co-worker when that co-worker is your husband. Don’t moan to your real work colleagues, they don’t want to become marriage councillors.
For many, the commute home was time to unwind and clear the head, some personal time between work and home to reset. Alex, a management consultant, has created her own buffer. “At 5.30 I down tools put on my coat and take the dog out. Barney must hear about all the ups and downs of my day, but he never seems to mind much and by the time we get home I am ready to be the person who my partner chose to be with, and not Alex the boss. Get a dog!”
Balancing being a husband/wife, a good employee and a good parent has proven exhausting for many. Those of us who are used to giving 100% to work and to our families will naturally be tough on ourselves. Carl, a director at a large advertising agency, sums it up well. “I constantly feel like I am letting everyone down. I can’t be an outstanding employee while looking after my kids, I can’t be an awesome dad when I have to keep checking my phone, and being a superb husband has slipped down the priorities, and I still need to carve some time out to be myself”
And before we end a though from the bedroom office of a friend who will remain nameless, “lunch breaks have become a time to reconnect with my wife, wonderful hours of un children interrupting intimacy… I just have to make sure I have ended my last video call…”
But we will all find a way through it, we’ll take lunch together, we’ll find our rhythms, and remember our loved ones will be sharing our lives with us far longer than our jobs will so working out who should take priority should be simple.