Career Development

Tips for Sharing a Workspace with Housemates

Jun 30, 2020

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As COVID-19 continues to affect the country, many people are having to work, live, socialise and share small spaces with their roommates, partners and children in unprecedented ways. As such, you may need to find new ways to navigate this challenge together. It’s likely that people in your home have different priorities and needs during this time. Here are several tips for sharing space with your housemates so you can stay productive and keep your relationships healthy.

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Tips for sharing a workspace at home while social distancing

You can follow these steps to help you share a workspace at home with housemates:

1. Spend some time discussing your needs

You and your housemates likely have different needs and priorities during this time. Remote work, online education, personal and professional development*, unplanned unemployment and self-care all require specific schedules and environments. Finding a good time to talk with your housemates about what you need, and what they need from you, will help you each stay productive towards your goals and avoid misunderstandings.

Ask your housemates when would be a good time to discuss your shared space in light of the coronavirus. Your housemates may be confined indoors with you, but they may not be prepared and emotionally available to talk about the situation right away. Communication is different in every home and circumstance. Some households feel comfortable talking at dinnertime, while others may use a group chat – do whatever feels best and most helpful for the group.

When you meet with your housemates, try to be respectful and specific when talking about what you need to be productive at home. Be sure to ask them what they need from you, and do your best to accommodate their requests if you’re able. Finding compromises and negotiating may be necessary as everyone adapts to this new routine.

For example, if you have online morning meetings, you could consider asking your housemates to establish 'quiet hours' from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m., and then offer to wear noise-cancelling headphones for the rest of your workday so they can play music and talk freely. Focusing on your needs instead of other people’s behaviour will help make the conversation easier.

2. Share workspaces and resources if possible

It’s possible that there aren’t enough workspaces for every person in your household to work at the same time. Communicate with your housemates about their preferred work setup. If there are areas that are more popular, like in front of a large window or on the best lounge chair, try to create a schedule that is fair and equal for everyone. You may be able to adjust your schedules to allow for rotating usage of appropriate workspace.

It’s also possible that you or your housemates don’t have everything needed to work comfortably at home. If you feel comfortable, sharing items that make working easier within your home can make sharing workspaces more pleasant. Be sure to follow your health authority's hygiene guidelines and sanitise anything you borrow before and after you use it.

Common items that could improve shared household workspaces:

  • Spare keyboard or mouse
  • Noise-cancelling headphones
  • Unused or extra monitors
  • Ergonomic items like pillows, laptop stands or boxes that can be used as footrests
  • Charging cables and extension cords

3. Schedule and communicate your working hours to stay focused

Let your housemates know your working hours ahead of time. Setting boundaries with housemates by communicating that you will be unavailable during those times can help you stay focused with minimal distractions. You can consider taping your work schedule to the outside of your door or adding it to the shared household calendar if your home has one.

Scheduling work hours can also improve productivity by creating space for focused work. While working remotely has benefits, it can be challenging to work and live in the same space. Household and personal projects can be tempting distractions when there’s little separation between professional and personal in your home. Scheduling blocks of time to concentrate on specific projects can help you stay focused. Remember to take regular breaks such as stretching or listening to a short podcast – doing so can prevent burnout and help maintain productivity.

4. Create opportunities for artificial distance

Sharing a workspace with your housemates can be difficult, no matter what the situation. You may find that creating artificial distance between you and your housemates helps you all live, work and socialise together peaceably. This separation could improve your well-being and your relationships, even if your housemate is a spouse, family member or a close roommate.

There are many ways to give emotional, physical or mental space to yourself and others, even in an enclosed home. Here are a few ideas on how to create artificial distance from your housemates during the coronavirus:

  • Create 'Do Not Disturb' time periods for yourself. Ask your housemates for undisturbed time by yourself to recharge. Spend a few hours doing something you enjoy, such as reading a book, exercising or watching a movie. Consider creating a sign for your personal space when you require such time.

  • Try facing away from your housemates and wear headphones when you’re working to create the illusion that you’re alone.

  • Structure shared social time and alone time with your housemates. Scheduling together time, like a nightly movie night or shared coffee break, can make it easier to focus on professional and personal work outside of social time.

  • Practice asking for space and time in a respectful way from the people you live with, and be open to your housemates needing space from you, as well.

5. Be patient with yourself and your housemates

Practice patience and empathy both with yourself and your housemates during this time. People respond to uncertainty in different ways. Creating a respectful shared space for working, living and socialising might require some effort and communication, but it can help support the people around you and keep you all productive and healthy during this time.

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