I left my advertising job at the end of December and decided to start working at my husband's business. I'm helping him do some office management, accounting, and process improvement, but, more importantly, I'm focused on upping the ante on their marketing game in hopes that I can grow the family business and increase revenues (which would only be a big WIN-WIN for the both of us)!
I knew I was headed for a year full of change. Not only professionally, in how I spent my time from day to day, but also personally. After all, this new venture will mean that my husband and I will be under the same roof for almost 24 hours a day.
Here are seven key lessons we learned about working from home with your significant other:
1. Define clear boundaries between work and home
Before we started working together, my husband and I discussed how we were going to mentally separate work time from home time. One of the things I wanted was to leave work, and work talk, for work hours. Likewise, we agreed that we'd try to leave discussions about our kids or pets to off-work hours. For us, it was vital that we had a clear distinction – mentally and emotionally – between work and our personal lives.
2. Accept your partner's work persona
My husband, an ordinarily kind, funny, affable person outside of work, would get his “game face on” and act no-nonsense at work. He was not really into a lot of chit chat and sometimes would almost sound curt or gruff when he would be explaining some aspect of the business, sharing insights, etc. I felt like he was always in a bad mood. Before long I realized that this was just his attitude at work. He took his “husband” hat off and put on his “business owner” hat, and really, there wasn't anything wrong with that.
3. Establish roles, responsibilities, and pecking order
Before I tried to dive into all the things that are happening on a day-to-day basis with our business, I took some time to discuss what my daily responsibilities would be and what he envisioned for my role. This was a telling discussion because some of the things he assumed I'd be doing did not map to what I thought I'd be doing.
We also talked about the company hierarchy. We are equal in our family and personal lives, but, at the office, he had put in 25 years at the company and had been working the last three years as the President and CEO. So, in our case, since he has the insights and wisdom to make the tough decisions that I cannot make yet due to my inexperience in his industry, there is a reporting structure that applies.
By taking the time to discuss and negotiate these things on the front end, we avoided confusion and frustration once our working partnership began. He knows what I am excited about doing and what my strengths are, and I know the ways he plans to share the workload and how he'd like to handle tough situations.
4. Pledge to keep it professional
This is an area I struggle with more than he does. I find myself calling him sweetie or babe or other terms of endearment, which I suppose isn't a big deal when it is just the two of us, but, quickly becomes awkward when there are other colleagues, vendors, or customers around.
Also, I found it easier to talk more freely about issues with my husband in ways that I would never have with a more traditional work colleague or manager. So, to make sure our interactions are more professional, I'll often ask myself, “How would you raise this question or concern with another colleague?” or “Would you have phrased that last comment the same way in your last job?”
I'm not suggesting you take this to an extreme, but trying to maintain a standard of professionalism not only helps you both to stay focused on the business at hand, but it also helps to separate work and your personal lives.
5. Assess each other's strengths, define roles, and divide and conquer
We each have definitive strengths. I am more organized, more creative, and have a looser work style. He's more regimented, has more product knowledge, and is really good at solving production problems. So, when we started, we agreed on which one of us would be best to tackle the critical tasks of our business, and we divided the work and got busy. We each know enough about what the other person does to cover for each other if either one of us is out, but for the most part, we stick to the things we are good at and stay out of each other's way.
6. Create separate workspaces
In our home, we have two different offices. We are right next door to each other, but if either one of us needs to focus or needs space, we can go to our individual offices, close the door if need be, and do our thing. If you don't have two separate offices, consider a set up where you have dividers, or devise a work schedule where each of you comes in and leaves at slightly different times so that you can each have time to yourselves for a portion of the workday.
7. Make time for individual pursuits
After spending so much time together working, my husband and I realized it was critically important for us to each have personal pursuits outside of our home and work lives. Whether they are volunteer opportunities, sports leagues, an evening class, crafts, bridge group, or quiet time at the coffee shop with your favorite book, getting away by yourself to pursue something that allows you to de-stress and recharge is important.
Do you work from home with your significant other? What tips would you add? What changes did you make to keep your business AND relationship successful?