Ground Rules for Working from Home with a Spouse


The first Monday of each month, I dust off a favorite post from the Bennis Inc Blog archives and give you another chance to enjoy the wit and wisdom that’s been shared. Enjoy this month’s treasure – and if it inspires you – be sure to share it with family and friends!

Untitled design (56)

If this subject matter doesn’t pertain to you, consider yourself among the few and the lucky. We love our spouses, obviously that’s among the main reasons why we are married to them after all. But if we’re being honest, none of us entered 2020 with the intent of working with them, side-by-side, for the foreseeable future. And then let’s throw kids into the mix! If we’re going to mentally and professionally survive these “unprecedented times” we’re going to need to set some ground rules. Am I right?

Thanks to COVID-19, we’ve all had to adjust our work schedules and expectations. If you’re like me and struggling to stay afloat most days, consider these ground rules for working from home with a spouse (and kids)! 

1. Have an “internal” morning meeting to set expectations.

This doesn’t need to be a formal sit-down meeting, it can take place over breakfast, while making the bed, or folding laundry. The key is to communicate early and consistently your expectations for the day. When two adults work from home together, it’s important to have an understanding as to what’s on each other’s agenda for the day. Does your spouse need peace and quiet to dive deep into a project, or is it a day filled with virtual meetings where they need uninterrupted office space? Especially when you’re juggling childcare, set clear expectations as to who is doing what, where, and when.

2. Create a shared calendar – and keep it up to date.

Another critical tip is to have a shared calendar. If you had one previously, it was likely more for social and family-related events. You didn’t need to know hour-by-hour what your spouse had on their work schedule when you were working in separate spaces. Now that information is essential to managing your own schedule. This will help you avoid the stress of double scheduling two important work events, especially with the possibility that there may be a kid or two in the house unaccounted for and likely to need one of you for something.

3. Mark when virtual meetings include video!

I can’t count how many times I’ve walked into our home office and had to whisper-yell “Are you on video?” only to sprint out of the room likely still wearing my pajamas. The most thoughtful thing you can do for your spouse when sharing an office space is to note on your calendar whether the conference call is actually a video call. Working from home blurs all sorts of lines and I can almost always guarantee you that I never want to be caught off guard by a video call.

4. Be considerate with speakerphone. 

I’m guilty of this one, and really I have no excuse. I just prefer to take calls hands-free so I can be typing and taking notes (or more often answering emails and working on other projects) during conference calls. And when I don’t have my blue tooth earbuds immediately next to me it’s far more tempting to turn on speakerphone than it is to run and find my earbuds wherever I left them last. The problem with speakerphone and shared work spaces is it’s really intrusive to anyone else nearby who doesn’t need to be a part of the conversation and who needs to get work done. So the ground rule here is save speakerphone for when two or more people in the same room need to be a part of the same conversation. And always know where your earbuds are!

5. Make lunch truly a break.

There are some benefits of working from home with your spouse and one is a shared lunch break. This may not be possible every day, but when it lines up be sure to enjoy lunch together. Before the COVID pandemic, this was a real treat! I don’t want to take it for granted now. When time allows, maybe even go out for lunch or eat somewhere outside just to mix things up. This small break in your day is essential for recharging mentally and physically. I find it also allows us to bounce ideas off one another and check in just in case there’s something causing us stress or frustration.

6.  Communicate and assign household responsibilities.

Next, be clear about your expectations for household responsibilities. Even though you’re both working from home, there is still laundry that needs to get done, dishes that need washed and put away, and the daily sweeping of floors (if you have kids you know what I mean). Rewind to six months ago when I worked from home solo and it was natural for me to be the one flipping the laundry and there were far less dishes to wash during the day. Now with a spouse at home to pitch in, take advantage of the new shared responsibility and communicate what is expected and when. I’m fortunate to have a “well-trained” one who sees the messy floors, sink full of dishes, and overflowing laundry baskets and takes action. If that’s not your case, be sure to speak up. We all deserve a helpful co-worker/roommate/spouse!

7. Schedule time to have fun!

And most importantly, enjoy the extra time together. Work can wait for a few hours or even a day. This year our anniversary happened to fall on a Tuesday and we took the day off, enjoyed lunch outside the house, and lounged around for the better part of the day. It felt like a mini vacation! The work will always be there, so be sure to schedule time for a special activity or two during the week – whether together or solo – that you wouldn’t typically do if you were back in your former work environment. This is the silver lining in it all!

Has COVID-19 had you working from home? If so, I want to know what additional advice you might add to this list! Join in the conversation by leaving a comment below so we can all survive this together.