My wife, teenage son, and I live in a condo in downtown West Palm Beach. When we moved here we cut our living space in half. Our last home in Connecticut had a 1,600 square foot main floor as well as a basement with another 1,000 square feet, including an office and a bedroom with a desk.
In Florida, we have roughly 1,250 square feet with one small office that also serves as a guest bedroom and a den. It’s more than enough space when I’m the only one working from home. When both of us have to work from home, however, it can become quite a challenge to share an office that does not have desk space for two people.
It’s not easy, of course, but it’s required we make it work. That requires doing a few things.
I’m generally happy spending some of the day working on the couch. I normally start my day around 7:30 a.m. watching a little news before switching to sports talk in the background while I crank out an article or two. My wife generally starts later (since her office tends to open around 9 a.m. and she’s used to a more traditional schedule).
Once mid-morning hits, I usually move to the office. Sometimes I have meetings to attend virtually and on other days I have podcasts or videos to shoot. Those generally require being in the office although, in a pinch, I could attend a meeting without video from the master bedroom.
Because we’re sharing a limited resource — the office — and both have meetings, on days we’re both home we share our schedules as soon as things come up. If my wife knows I’m taping a podcast at 11:30 a.m., she will avoid scheduling a meeting in that window.
On a normal day, we know next to nothing about each other’s schedules unless it impacts the other (like if she might be home late so I can adjust making dinner accordingly or if I have travel coming up). When we’re stuck at home together, communication becomes incredibly important.
2. Get what you need
Our condo is small. We traded space for location in wanting to live downtown (and it’s not so bad being less than two miles from the beach either). We have no place to put a second desk and our kitchen table isn’t a super comfortable place to work.
To create an alternative we bought an adjustable-height rolling desk. It’s small but fits a laptop and can be rolled up to the couch or used with a folding chair. It’s not perfect but it’s more comfortable than spending long periods typing on the couch.
Remember it's a workday
My wife and I don’t communicate much during a normal workday when I’m home or on the road and she’s at her office. We may send short texts on practical matters and I sometimes send her pictures of our cats doing cute things, but we try to put little demand on the other because I never know when she’s in a meeting and she never knows when I’m rushing to meet a deadline.
When we’re both working from home, we treat it the same way. If we’re both breaking for food or coffee (for me, tea for her) we may chat, but we generally assume that the other person has something important going on and should not be bothered.
Talk it out
Sharing a workspace — whether it be cramped like our home or spacious like our previous condo — comes with a big set of challenges. Sometimes two people who get along well can get on each other’s nerves when sharing limited resources or even simply being in the same place for extended periods of time. Talking and being willing to compromise can go a long way toward keeping everything amicable and help you solve problems before they affect your ability to work.