Tips for working from home as a couple

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Susan Zevon

More and more couples are finding themselves working from home, thanks to the rise of telecommuting and the downsizing of many full-time jobs. So how to cope with 24/7 togetherness?

Clinical psychologist Judy Kuriansky, who has given relationship advice as an author (The Complete Idiot’s Guide to a Healthy Relationship) and as host of a syndicated radio call-in show, says there are practical and psychological issues to be resolved when couples live and work together.

Space, for example. “It is important to find a space that is your own,” agreed Bruce Weinstein, who writes food books with his partner, Mark Scarbrough.

For years, they lived in a 600-square-foot apartment in New York City, where the foyer served as Scarbrough’s office and the kitchen was Weinstein’s domain. Looking for more space, they moved to Litchfield, Conn., four years ago.

But while having one’s own domain is important, Scarbrough said, “You need to keep in mind that it is still part of the home that belongs to you both.”

Working together from home is less stressful when couples find work they enjoy doing together, Kuriansky said. But in that case, it’s important to divide responsibilities clearly.

Weinstein and Scarbrough found they took different roles according to talent and inclination: Weinstein is the chef and Scarbrough is the writer; Weinstein oversees accounts receivable, Scarbrough accounts payable.

Sharing a bedroom

Anna Kotler decided she wanted to work from her home in Roslyn, N.Y., as a marketing consultant when her second child was born. But several years later, when her husband, Rob Kotler, sold the family’s car dealership to work from home as an inventory consultant to car dealers, it was a big adjustment.

“We were both working in the bedroom, Anna on one side of the bed and me on the other,” Rob said. “And with the onset of the recession we were both finding less and less consultant work.”

Capitalizing on the green movement, the Kotlers started a company called Waste-less that produces reusable totes. They now have moved to a bigger house, where they both work in a spacious room that also houses the company’s inventory.

Rob Kotler said he handles the accounting, and Anna does design and marketing.

Other guidelines from Kuriansky for couples working from home:

  • Discuss the practical and emotional issues that come up from working in such close quarters. Those can include resentment, fear, humiliation, money worries and childcare. Set aside a couple of hours a week at a set time for such discussions, or consult with a professional or outside party.
  • Spend some time apart. Go to the gym, to the market or for a walk.
  • Find a place outside the home where you can work when necessary. Many libraries, schools and cafes offer wireless Internet service.

Fine arts photographer Victoria Blewer was working full-time from home in Lincoln, Vt., when her husband, Chris Bohjalian, decided to leave his advertising job to write novels full-time. Blewer said her mother warned her “that it was a terrible idea. He will constantly be underfoot and you will have to make him lunch.”

It hasn’t turned out that way. With the luxury of a spacious house, Blewer and Bohjalian each have their own rooms for work and — although they enjoy having lunch together and comparing their morning’s work — they make their own sandwiches.

“One of the great advantages of us both working at home was that we are really able to be full-time parents to our daughter,” Bohjalian said.

Beyond 9 to 5

Many couples who work from home, however, say that ending the workday can be difficult.

Some say they set a time for turning off computers and office phones, and closing the office door, if there is one.

But many agree with Scarbrough, who said, “We live in a weird modern world where work and life are not clearly divisible.”

The Kotlers often go back to work after they put their children to bed at 8:30 p.m. While workdays frequently seem long, Anna Kotler said she is more efficient since she started working from home.

“I get more done in six hours here than in a full day in an office. I am more efficient because I have to be,” she said.   

— AP