By Georgina Laidlaw

Home Office Sharer’s Survival Guide

By Georgina Laidlaw

Last year, I started sharing my “home office” (which is essentially the living room) with my partner. Okay, technically, he was sharing his home office, because until then I’d been working in an office in town. But the challenges I face in sharing my workspace with my partner, and less regularly, with loads of wet washing, guests, a month’s worth of groceries, a sewing machine, firewood, and vegetable seedlings (yes, our living room has many guises) are the same ones that most freelancers face.

It’s the lucky freelancer who has their own, dedicated office with a door that they can use to shut the world out. If you’re considering setting up a home office in a shared space, there are a few points you should be aware of before you begin.

1. You need dedicated space.

Don’t fool yourself into thinking you can work perched on the end of the ironing board in the spare room. You will need a space that you can call your own, even if it’s only a small desk in the corner.

This way, you can leave the essentials of your work — computer, phone, carry bag, note pad, and so on — in that dedicated space, and be assured that they’ll all be there when you return. If you have some wall space near your desk, so much the better: perhaps you’ll use it to house a pin-board for your keys, reminders, and so on. Or maybe it’ll double as a whiteboard for exercises in mind-mapping and process development.

It’s also important that other people who share the space with you respect your workspace and don’t clean, tidy or move things around in that space.

2. You need access.

Wherever your workspace is, you need to ensure it has the connections — phone, scanner, fax, web, home network — that you need.

I say this as someone who has to leave the house to use her phone. Believe me: you really want to be able to talk on your phone while using your web-connected computer in a nice, warm, dry room, even if that room also houses the makings of your home gym. Similarly, you don’t want to have to go to the other end of your home every time you want to scan or fax something.

Work out the connectivity you need, and make sure your workspace offers it. Make life easy for yourself in your home office, and you can focus on your work, rather than distractions like where your wireless signal is strongest.

3. You need minimal distractions.

This point can be especially problematic if you share your home office with another person, but it can be equally important when you’re surrounded not just by work-related bits and pieces, but by the accumulated detritus of life.

If you can shut the door on the rest of the household, do it. If, like me, you can’t, headphones might be a good bet. Allowing yourself to ignore untimely knocks at the front door or non-work calls and emails also helps, as does exercising the discipline to ignore that oil painting you’ve been working on for the last month, which calls to you softly from the other side of your “office”.

Whatever tactics you use, you must be able to create an environment in which you can submerge yourself to work when the need arises.

4. You need to respect other users.

A shared space is shared. Whether your roommate is your partner or your partner’s piano, it’s important that just as you expect to be left to do your work, you allow others to do the things they need to in the shared space.

For me, this means picking my moments to talk to my partner during the work day, since I expect him to leave me to work when it looks like I’m working.  You might share your workspace with a housemate or partner’s hobby, but that doesn’t mean your work always takes precedence. There are times in a shared workspace when your work will need to come second to some other event or pastime. The sooner we workspace sharers come to terms with that, the smoother the sharing experience will be.

I think these are the basic requirements of any shared workspace arrangement. What are your tips for home office sharing?

Image by mzacha.

  • Couldn’t you build an office in that huge space underneath the house? :D

    There’s some interesting tips here. I used to live in a shared house where my office was also a living space, and most of the time it was okay. But on those rare occassions when I needed complete peace and quiet, I just couldn’t get it. In the end I had to leave. So I know how difficult it can be, and how much better it is to have a dedicated space that nobody else comes into.

  • Great tips, Georgina! I am one of the lucky ones to have a dedicated office…but I rarely work in there. I’m all over the house with my laptop (unavoidable with kids underfoot!). I think the advice re: having a dedicated space is so important, though. Even when my “stuff” is not in the office, I want to know that I can leave it in a space (usually the kitchen island), and it will stay there until I come back. Your dedicated space can be mobile (as is mine), but you just need an area that screams, “hands off!”

  • Anonymously

    Anonymously… I don’t agree. I work all the time in a multi-use space and it works get for me and my partner. Focus on getting work done, not the space you’re in.

  • georgina

    Thanks for the comments :)

    Alyssa, I agree: even a mobile space can be dedicated to work. Perhaps, as Anonymous alludes, the dedication is psychological, rather than physical. Still, I agree with James — there *are* times where you really just need peace and quiet. They may be days when you’re either not feeling particularly dedicated, or times when you’re over-dedicated, but either way, they do happen for most of us.

  • Sarah

    I wish I could convince the people I share my workspace with to read this! :)
    The two items that I need from this list is the “Don’t Touch My Workspace Area!” and to have a “closed door” when needed. I have to make client calls from time to time and have to go around the house to tell everyone, “do not come in or even knock unless the house is on fire!” I’m thinking about making a sign that I can flip over on the door saying DO NOT DISTURB (Call in progress) / BUG ME IF YOU DARE!

    Some really good points in this post Georgina!

  • who gets a groceries for a whole month. I go the supermarket at least 10 times a week. I use it like a walk-in closet and just grab what I need for the moment.

  • georgina

    peach, people who live a long way from the shops (and hate shopping) buy groceries for a whole month ;)

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