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How to Deal with Distracting Housemates When Working from Home

By Daniel Schwarz

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After several years of working from home, I still encounter troubles from time to time. Housemates move in and move out, so every now and then boundaries have to be reestablished, and house responsibilities also shift around as our working hours change — it’s an ever-evolving system that we have to adapt to.

Now unless you share a home with other freelancers, your housemates aren’t going to empathize with your needs right off the bat. Learning how to communicate your needs is key, but you’ll also have to learn how to adapt to new surroundings, to make compromises on noise levels, responsibilities and so on.

If you find it hard to adapt to new surroundings or make compromises on living situations, don’t worry — I firmly believe that anyone can find a balance that suits them, and the folks they share a home with. Worst case scenario, you could always form a roommate agreement (which is a real thing by the way!).

BOUND-A-RIES!

You probably shouldn’t shout and/or enunciate the word (if you feel like you have to, you need new housemates), but you should definitely establish boundaries early on. A quick “heads up guys” in casual conversation is less awkward than “right, we need to have a chat” after a frustrating incident.

Distributing Responsibility

Everybody has to do their fair share of the housework, but between 9am and 5pm (or whatever your working hours are) you’re at work and others need to understand that. The same goes for other responsibilities such as babysitting (for those with a family) or even looking after house pets. Puppies especially need constant (almost 24/7) care, and the novelty of having one will soon wear off as the bank starts to run dry.

Make it clear that you’re happy to chip in with whatever needs to be done, but housemates need to understand that you do in fact have working hours like anybody else, that you’re not just “sitting around the house all day”. I wrote that in quotes because I’ve actually had this said to me several times!

So to summarize, working from home does not mean that:

  1. You’re a stay-at-home wife/husband
  2. You have more time, henceforth you can have a dog/cat
  3. You’re able to do the majority of the housework
  4. You’re available because “you can work whenever, right?”

No, no, no and no!

Balancing Responsibilities and Flexible Hours

A common reason for working from home is “I’ll have more time to [insert fun activity here]”, but that’s rarely ever the case. In fact, you should be actively trying to reduce the amount of responsibilities that you have to ensure that your work comes first. When forming new work contracts you should fight for flexible hours — these will be a Godsend during an unexpected turn of events (things happen). Let’s say that your child needs a doctor but your partner is unable to drive today. Flexible hours means you can expect the unexpected.

If all else fails, you could always distribute responsibility via a quick game of Rock, Paper, Scissors, Lizard, Spock!

Having a Private Space

Whether your household has a child/dog/cat/lizard or not, your own office or room is always a useful thing to have. If you live in a particularly noisy household (or at least one that’s not dead silent), remember that it’s their space too, and a private room for yourself means your housemates can feel free (to an extent of course) in their own home — it benefits everyone.

When the Communication Breaks Down

It happens, and if it hasn’t happened already, it will. And that’s okay as long as you’re dealing with it. Don’t let bad habits run on, but also try not to dive into a fit of rage every time somebody needs a minute of your time. A communication can turn sour after the first spoken sentence, so here’s a method that works for me that I like to call “the day-after rule”.

  1. Identify the issue (by yourself)
  2. Come up with a couple of solutions (by yourself)
  3. Start with “I had trouble working yesterday because…”
  4. Discuss those solutions and come to an understanding
  5. Accept that the understanding may be a compromise
  6. End the conversation with “thanks for understanding”

It Works Both Ways

As a courtesy, even if you’re a bit of an introvert, a certain degree of social chit-chat goes a long way. If you’re only coming out of your room to complain about the noise, you’ll come across as rude and your relationships will only worsen. Ask your fellow tenants about their day, and in return, hopefully, they’ll ask you about yours too. A deeper understanding of how you work will allow housemates to have more consideration, more compassion and more empathy towards your lifestyle.

It works better than a non-verbal “Do not disturb” sign anyway!

Conclusion

As you may have noticed, half of the fun in dealing with distracting housemates involves you taking the first step; reminding them of your needs while also trying to empathize with theirs. It all comes down to communication and how effectively and how quickly you establish boundaries. Bad habits can spread very quickly, but eliminating them is much harder.

Who do you live with, and how does that work for you?

  • Eluwa Emeka Michael

    My brother stays with me here in Lagos Nigeria and i have some couple of friends who visits me at night when i return from work.Its always a tug of war when they visit me and i have a freelance job to execute…I live in a 2 rooms self contained apartment. I would have preferred to work in the bedroom while they shout and scream when watching a movie in the sitting room,but the bed room will be too boring to work from, so what i do is to work lightly when they are still around and then start serious work like coding when they have all gone home before 11pm (thats for those staying few blocks away).

  • https://mrdaniels.ch/warz/ Daniel Schwarz

    You have the experience to make working from home better for you this time around, and I’m confident you will, thanks for sharing mate. If you can make the kids supply you with endless coffee, you’re sorted!

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