Here’s How to Work From Home with Your Partner, Kids, Roommate, or Parents

updated Mar 25, 2020
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Credit: Joe Lingeman/Apartment Therapy

You have a video meeting in t-minus five minutes, so you set up at the kitchen table and grab a cup of tea before the show gets on the road. Just as the bag dips into the hot water, you look up and make eye contact with your roommate tip-toeing in with their laptop, both of you looking flabbergasted. You both have a work meeting. And you both need the only room in your tiny apartment to do it in.

Trying to adapt to full-time work from home life life when you’re not used to it is one thing, but doing it while your housemate—whether it’s your partner, child, parent, or roommate—is also making the transition can create some serious growing pains. How in the world are you expected to get any work done and stick to your schedule? Don’t worry—we talked to some experts and found out that it’s entirely possible.

WFH with: your significant other

When it comes to balancing your work alongside your partner’s, Dr. Marianna Strongin, Clinical Psychologist and Founder of Strong In Therapy, emphasizes that respecting each other’s old routine is crucial. “There are ways to still have two separate lives—have breakfast in the morning and go to two opposite rooms (if possible), put on their headphones for work—and then come back together,” Dr. Strongin says. “Although we’re all in one space, recreating aspects of the old familiar routine is really essential.”

If you listen to a podcast on your way to work, go to your room and tune in to get into that right headspace, or make sure you squeeze in a walk around the block at lunchtime if that’s how you clear your mind. Check in with yourself on what parts of your daily routine sets you up for productivity and how you can maintain it at home, then communicate that to your partner and listen to their needs as well.

Dr. Kathrine Bejanyan, practicing therapist and relationship consultant, says that respecting each other’s work schedule is crucial to staying productive and maintaining a routine that works. “Each of you should have a routine, a rhythm that works for you, but make sure their routine doesn’t interfere with yours and vice-versa,” Dr. Bejanyan said.

Laura Schocker, AT’s Editor in Chief, goes over her work schedule with her husband daily to strike that balance. “We’ve been looking at our calendars together each morning before work, so we can see where we’ll have meeting overlap,” Schocker says. “The living room is the only place we have a table, but we set up a makeshift option on a bedroom dresser in case we both need to be on calls at the same time.“

If you don’t have time to run through your schedule every morning, create a shared Google calendar where you can both add your work calls and meetings. That way, you and your partner can see when you have overlapping meetings and “book” certain rooms (if possible), similar to what you would do with a coworker.

WFH with: your kids

While this scenario has different energy than working from home with your partner, the solution is fairly similar: establishing a routine.

Of course, it’s more complicated when it comes to unpredictability with infants. If you live with a partner, family member, or roommate, create a schedule with them so they can watch the baby while you get some work in. Dr. Robert Sege, pediatrician at Floating Hospital for Children at Tufts Medical Center in Boston, Massachusetts, suggests that if you have older kids, have them pitch in as helpers. “Engage older siblings as much as you can by encouraging them to be your special helpers, so they can help out in developmentally appropriate ways.”

However, not everyone lives with a helping hand, and being prepared with efficient soothing tips to calm your infant is crucial to getting some work done. “You may need to try a few things, over and over, before they calm,” Dr. Sege wrote. “Try holding them, feeding them, swaddling them, gently rocking them, singing to them. If these don’t work, put the baby down and take a break.” (You can find some additional tips from Dr. Sege here.)

For toddlers, playtime is work time—and respecting that is crucial to letting them express themselves and understand the world around them. “When we go, ‘it’s done, lunchtime right now,’ it would be like while you’re in the middle of writing an article, someone being like, ‘Lunchtime! Set it down,’” Bejanyan says. Instead of interrupting, provide five-minute warnings that suggests a change in routine is about to occur, similar to what you would do with a partner.

When it comes to young kids, Dr. Strongin suggests establishing a structured routine that also grants your child independence and responsibility. “Make a schedule for them in 30 to 45 minute increments and decide with them the schedule (what comes first, second, third),” Dr. Strongin says. “By giving them this sense of power, they are more likely to take every activity more seriously. Eventually the child will get in the habit of going from one chore or task to another with ease because they are a part of it.”

Anna Hoffman, Executive Creative Director at AT, is now juggling home life with her husband and three children that vary in age: 10 months, 3.5 years, and 14 years. For her, with all of her children being in different stages, it’s all about splitting up kid duties. “If I’m with the kids, I basically imagine that he’s not in the house, even if it would be so nice to have an extra pair of hands to wash a baby bottle or prepare a snack and vice-versa,” Hoffman says. “I find when I get up to say hi to the kids or help strap someone into a stroller, it ends up costing me more time and focus than the amount of time I took ‘off.’ So the idea is, we split up the days and can each get a chunk of intense, focused work time.”

For minors of all ages, including pre-teens and teens, create a written-out schedule together that is displayed on the refrigerator, a large whiteboard, or anywhere that is extremely visible at home. In addition to work time and chores, this should include breaks from all work to create a mental balance and also carve out some time to connect during the day.

WFH with: your parents

Moving back in with your parents, even if it’s temporary, can feel like quite the adjustment—especially for college students and recent graduates who got used to new independence. But Dr. Bejanyan says it’s up to you to communicate how the previous environment at home needs to change and suggest ways for setting boundaries.

“You left a certain way and there was a certain dynamic, and now you’re coming back and it’s changed for you but nothing’s changed for them, so you have to communicate that shift,” Dr. Bejanyan says. “You have to communicate your structure very clearly. They want you to succeed, and when they see that you’re taking responsibility for that, so they’ll support that process.”

For example, let them know that walking out of your room for a snack doesn’t mean you’re off the clock with studies or work. You might be in the middle of a thought about troubleshooting or shaping an angle for a story. Physical indicators could help, too, like wearing headphones or work glasses that lets them know you’re not available to chat at that particular moment.

Nicole Lund, AT’s Commerce Editor, is currently staying with her parents and has created signals to let them know she’s in working mode. “I’ve set up a home office space in my childhood bedroom, so I go in there and shut the door and my parents know I’m working,” Lund says. “My advice is to set clear boundaries, whether that’s designating a space that’s just for work or telling your family members when you have a meeting so they know not to interrupt.”

Dr. Strongin stresses that families have to be open-minded about renegotiating the amount of separation that they’re used to, too. That means accepting if their child wants to make their own meals, do their own laundry, and any other responsibilities that helps a certain level of independence they desire.

WFH with: your roommates

Many times, people can manage living with multiple roommates because everyone isn’t always there at the same time. Regardless of whether you’re friends or not, when you’re suddenly home together at the same time all the time, the balance of emotions and routines can take some getting used to.

Dr. Bejanyan warns that it’s a crucial time to be cognizant of your internal state and steer clear of information that’s going to cause extreme emotions. “If someone’s made you angry or caused anxiety, there’s normally a walk or the gym…an outlet. But you’re in a confined space and you’re creating chaos internally, there’s no outlet, and it’s probably going to get taken out on the people around you or it’s going to make your existence that much more miserable.”

If strong emotions like irritation or anger starts to happen, Dr. Strongin puts a large emphasis on being honest with how you’re feeling, but also communicating that in the right way. Write out your frustration on a piece of paper, then read it as a third person observer. Then think to yourself, what’s going to be the predicted outcome of my words? If it would hurt them and therefore create a strong response in return, then the intention of bringing up a problem in the first place is undermined.

Amanda Becker, a social media expert living in New York City, is currently working from home with her roommate, and she’s found that getting on a similar schedule has helped stay productive and keep the peace. “We’re both trying to stay active, so we’re trying to carve out time in the afternoon where we can both do an in home workout together,” Becker says. “We’ve also both been cognizant to keep headphones handy, and we both work in open concept offices so are used to sharing the space.”

Dr. Strongin says it’s important for roommates to get on a similar wavelength and embracing being inside together right now, if possible. “I’ve seen roommates create routines together, so in the morning they have their coffee together, then they do the chores around the house together, then they both go to opposite rooms to do their work,” Dr. Strongin says. “They’re recreating life that existed outside the world within the apartment together, and I think it’s a way to stay accountable.”

How are you adjusting to working from home with others? Tell us in the comments.