Working from home with your Spouse: What doesn’t kill you…

NYCVanity Mascot - Maize (Cat) in NYCanity Office

My name is Brandon Kelly and my husband, Keith and I have worked together from our home office in support of our business NYCVanity whose first product, The Palit, launched in July. It has been one of the hardest things we have ever done. While I know we have grown through this process, I also know that we have had to make some substantial adjustments in order to insure that we are both able to contribute to our growing business at a high level while simultaneously preserving our relationship.

The unique challenge of working from home with your spouse is one that requires you to view both terrains from a fresh vantage point. Example: when you walk through your living room during normal business hours, it is no longer the inviting space that you look forward to engaging at the end of a long day, but instead a waiting room that you refrain from entering until you are finished the workday. Additionally, as your workday commences you will view your spouse through a different lens one that may require you to refrain from domestic conversations in order to achieve your day’s tasks effectively.

If you have never worked with your spouse, it is important to note that many people behave very differently at work than they do outside of work. My husband works very quickly and assess even faster. I have a completely different approach and am a little less wieldy when there are too many unknowns. Somehow we make it work, but it takes a lot of communication. Sometimes, we circle back to the same subject a few times before moving forward. But that is what it takes to make sure that two very different people are able to work together.

This transition in mindset did not happen right away. At one point my husband said “treat me like you would treat me if I was someone you worked with!” and then I realized, wait a minute…we DO work together. But know this, the power struggles you have in a marriage can bleed over into the business if you are not careful. So, it is important to create roles for each other and infuse that trust you have outside of the business into the business partnership as well.

Overexposure

If your spouse works alongside you, be aware that you must incorporate outside social activities with others so that you continue to have things to talk about when you come home to your partner. No relationship can withstand 24/7, around the clock overexposure. So if you are working together and working from home, you need to force yourself out for weekly activities away from your partner. Otherwise, you could become those couples who eat out at restaurants and don’t speak to each other. They are no doubt the people that spend entirely too much time together and have not created the necessary boundaries to explore the world away from their partner.

Set boundaries: Always knock

When you live and work from home with your partner you have to make sure to create boundaries. You don’t just storm into the bathroom when the door is shut so you shouldn’t storm into somebody’s office without first knocking. It’s these simple gestures of respect that will allow you to work together and not grow frustrated with the arrangement.

Whose Turn Is It Again?

For one, those chores that you could leave behind a closed door are now front and center glaring at you every time you leave the threshold of your office. Laundry is literally peeking around the corners of your hallway followed a close second by your cat’s litter box. And yes, your cat does in fact go to the bathroom that much. A fact easy to dismiss when you are on your way to work outside of the home, not so easy when you are in fact sharing the space with this creature, though cute and often cuddly, but no way cute enough or cuddly enough to warrant the amount of output it produces.

While many people do not have the budgets for regular housekeeping, it is something that you may want to consider enlisting when you make the decision to work from home. It is important that you consider the time value of your own work capital, so that when you start to think about picking up that broom or cleaning that bathtub, stop and factor in the true cost of that task. You need to remember that your principal task, while you are working from home, is supporting your business.

Beware, the hermit lurks!

Get out of your house! This advice sounds obvious and inevitable, but trust me when I tell you that there have been times when we have not left our house for a few days at a time. You work to create the structure and the wherewithal to anticipate your needs so you load up on groceries, coffee, office supplies etc. Then suddenly you realize, there’s really no reason to leave. So you don’t. You get up, work, eat dinner and go to bed. And like a ritual, do it all over again the next day. But unlike before, you don’t have a commute and no forced reason to leave your house, so if you aren’t careful you can find yourself living in a very tiny bubble. This is not only socially limiting, but is also harmful to your business since you are the best advocate for your product/service and you need to be out circulating to build awareness.

There is no IT department

Unlike working outside of the home you will find very quickly that when your computer or printer isn’t working you have only yourself to look to yoursef a solution. So, if you are not technically inclined it is imperative that you find a resource that can help and have them on speed dial. A day without working tools can cost you far more than the temporary help of a qualified resource.

Health Break

While many who were once working from an office would often bring lunches to their desks and never leave the floor until their workday was done, working from home offers the flexibility to take that yoga break. The time demands and often insufficient facilities often prevented working out and then returning to work easily. But now that you are within close proximity to that yoga tape and subsequent shower, so have at it!

The coffee is better and less expensive!

If you love a good cup of Joe, there’s no place like your own custom coffee station. When you work from home suddenly that Starbucks bill is no more and instead of waiting in line for your fill of your afternoon pick me up you simply walk to your kitchen and pour. This may seem minor but we really love coffee and it is nearly impossible to find the gourmet varieties that we have in our cupboard anywhere else. So, go ahead and pay a little extra for the good stuff, trust me when I tell you, it’s cheaper than buying it on the road.

Flexibility, the Gift and the Curse

Making your own hours is something that many entrepreneurs cite as an advantage of working for yourself. This is no doubt a perk of the arrangement. However, flexibility can be a double-edged sword since the truth is your ability to contribute and push your business forward is not based on a clock but rather your desire to succeed. What this means is that the traditional workday and hours no longer exist. While your clients and vendors may be wedded to those hours, you are not. This means that a Saturday is no longer that coveted day off that it used to be but rather just another day that you could spend getting things done which might move your business ahead. Now that you no longer clock in and out, that habitual practice which marks the beginning and the end of your work day, no longer exists. You need to set boundaries so that your business isn’t running you but rather you running it.

Animal Envy

Our cat seems to feel particularly curious and in need of affection at the precise moment we are on a client call. We don’t yet understand this new phenomenon in radio wave to cat wave frequency but we are pretty sure science should study it; that and the behavioral impossibility of having just one slice of pizza. Not only is she super affectionate but she has been inclined to become chatty during those calls, so now we preemptively excommunicate her from the meeting area before the client call commences. While we don’t have kids and of course a child’s needs would be far superior to that of a cat, no disrespect to super independent kids or far too dependent cats, but we could imagine that structuring your key contact calls during nap times or when you have added assistance available would be wise.

I have been on countless calls with people who have had interruptions by pets, but never by children. While working at a fortune 100 firm, the policy stated that if you worked from home you needed to have in-home support for your child during normal business hours. This may defeat the purpose of being able to be home with children and give them the benefit of your quality time. It is my view that if a scheduled call is on the calendar you need to find a way to be present 100% with no distractions. If an impromptu call comes up while you are tending to your child and you chose to take it, then perhaps you have the wiggle room should your child voice a need. It is important to remember that your client needs to feel like they are the most important person in the room, even when they are just on the phone, so in my view you need to create the space to consistently meet their expectations.

Temptation Station

From your DVR to a quick trip to the grocery store, if you are not a disciplined person, working from home will test your limits. You are the one in charge of your time far more than before. There is no boss to impress by coming in early, you are that boss. So, do what is right for your business not what is right for brownie points. If you are more productive after having 8 hours of sleep, than take the 8 hours and roll with it. If you like to work in the dead of night, you can make that happen also. But remember, to whom much freedom is given, much constraint and discipline is expected.

The Nonbelievers

There is, believe it or not, a segment of people who cannot fathom the notion that actual work gets done from the perch of one’s home office. These people may be your relatives or closest friends but be warned they don’t believe it when you say you are working from home. For whatever reason, whether it’s the residual after affects of factory life that many families have garnered their values from, or just plain lack of creativity, there is a large segment of people who truly believe that all you are doing is watching television and eating pizza, all day long: perhaps because that is how they would manage their time should they ever have the fortune to work from home. Either way, don’t let this group dissuade or distract you. They are prone to valuing your work less than their own because you have the benefit of doing it from the comforts of home and as such may try and dump tasks on you under the auspices that you have the time and “flexibility” that they themselves don’t have. Don’t take this bait and don’t allow them to ply you, stay steadfast and avoid this scenario at all costs. Sometimes it could even be as innocuous as a lunch out one day, but really at the end of the day these people are not in your camp.

The Obvious Benefit

By working from home with your spouse you are working as closely as humanly possible with your most trusted ally. There is no better side-kick than the one you hand-picked to be your roadie for all of life’s challenges and triumphs. There is no person you should want to share this journey with and to be able to do it on a daily basis is a true gift. The only way it won’t work is the same reason a marriage might hit a roadblock and that is because the two of you have failed to communicate and value each other’s concerns and feedback. As long as you are communicating, the sky is the limit!

Brandon Kelly is the CEO of NYCVanity, home of the beauty workspace “The Palit”. She works everyday from her home office with her husband, President and COO of NYCVanity, Keith Wilson.

Brandon Kelly

CEO & Co-Founder of NYCVanity – home of The Palit
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