Tips for Sharing a Work Space with Your Housemate

When housemates become officemates, tensions can arise. Our experts share their tips for creating boundaries and boosting productivity.

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What happens when two people with different work styles suddenly find themselves working together from home? Increase your chances of a positive and productive experience by having an open conversation with your new co-worker about your unique needs and preferences (ideally before setting up your shared workspace, but better late than never).

We consulted organizing and productivity expert Aby Garvey, founder of simplify 101, and lifestyle and organization expert Jen Robin, founder of Life in Jeneral, about how to preserve harmony in home and relationship.

Workspace Setup

Garvey recommends first assessing physical workspace needs, such as space required for essential equipment like dual monitors or a docking station. But you also should talk out less tangible preferences like clutter tolerance, sound and lighting. Work together to troubleshoot solutions to differing styles.

“If clutter distracts you but your housemate works best in a messy environment, position your workspace against a wall or set up a divider screen to keep visual distractions to a minimum,” Garvey says. “If you both derive energy from others, keep the space open and position yourselves so you face one another.”

She recommends task lighting instead of overhead so each person can adjust as needed.

And Robin recommends noise-cancelling headphones to help customize sound levels, from loud to library-like. (You can easily spend hundreds of dollars on a set, but there are also highly-rated inexpensive noise-cancelling headphones, too.) Bonus: Putting your headphones on sends out a silent Do Not Disturb signal. “They provide a visible way to show coworkers you are in the working zone,” Robin says.

Schedule Smarts

This step has benefits that go beyond the workday. “Setting up a schedule will help establish boundaries between work time and personal time, allowing you to be more productive when you work and, best yet, more relaxed during your off hours,” Garvey says.

If you both prize quiet time, consider staggering schedules so each person has the office to themselves for specific periods each day. And if you and your house/officemate aren’t already sharing a Google, Outlook or iCloud calendar, now is a good time to make that happen, to inform expectations and alleviate misunderstandings, Robin says. Log meetings on the calendar to avoid awkward appearances in each other’s background. Agree on a protocol for lunch breaks, get-up-and-move time and other expectations throughout the day.

Prefer visual reminders? Display a wall calendar that you update each week with meeting times and anything else important to you, such as lunch breaks and designated quiet times.

Stay Supplied

Stock office supplies, snacks and necessities as you would any office, with a shared central go-to spot or individual setups. Robin suggests a rolling cart or two. They accommodate transitioning and movable workspaces and are small enough to roll into a corner or closet at the end of the workday, so all traces of your work stuff is out of sight during downtime.

Plus, carts can be used for dozens of things should your work-from-home situation change — a nightstand, portable kitchen pantry, or kids’ art supply cart.

Stacey Marcus
Freelance lifestyle and travel writer for over 20 top regional and national outlets including Boston magazine, Boston Common Magazine, Bride & Groom Magazine, Destination I Do, Northshore Magazine, Ocean Home Magazine, , Southern Bride Magazine and others