These days, Judy Herbst is still adapting to working at her Larchmont, New York, home, which often means motioning her attorney husband to be quiet while she’s on the phone, or moving her computer around so her colleagues on the other side of a Zoom call don’t see him — sometimes in his bathrobe — in the background.
Before the coronavirus pandemic, the director of marketing for Worthy.com, an online auction house, was a regular on the 7:55 a.m. train to Manhattan. Now she’s at her kitchen table, usually with a cup of coffee, at 7 a.m. for conference calls with colleagues in Madrid, Tel Aviv and Chicago.
“On a normal day, he’d walk into the kitchen and start a conversation and all would be fine,” she said. “But now, I’ve taken over the kitchen table and he’ll think I’m rude for not answering him when he clearly doesn’t see I have my earbuds in and am in the middle of a conference call.”
A week into this new work-at-home situation — complete with two phones and two computers — Herbst said they’re slowly getting the hang of it. It doesn’t help, she said, that she has a “needy dog” who barks a lot when she’s on the phone.
“Everyone else is running to the supermarket for groceries,” she said. “I, on the other hand, need to stock up on dog biscuits to keep him quiet.”
Dealing with ‘the little things’
For Kelsey DiCarlo of Thiells, New York, it’s the little things. Like the way her boyfriend doesn’t always knock before entering her home office (she purposely shuts the door to get work done) or the volume of the videos he’s watching that can get to her.
In life before coronavirus, she commuted to White Plains as an analyst at USI insurance services, while her partner, Michael Mancuso, was on the road as an appliance repair person. Now the two, both also part-time students, are home and struggling not to get in each other’s way.
It doesn’t help that they only have one desk to share for both work and school.
The fact that her sister, also a student, is staying at their place some of the time — on an air mattress in the office — doesn’t make it easier. “My main goal to let them entertain each other so they’d be out of my hair,” she said. “They can be loud.”
Indeed, says Kathryn Haydon, an author, speaker and innovation strategist, it can be challenging to suddenly be under the same roof 24/7 when you’re used to being apart. The key to harmony, she said, is choosing a designated space in your house or apartment that’s specifically yours, even if it’s just the kitchen table.
“This will be your designated focus ‘do not bother me’ spot,'” she said.
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Discuss ground rules
You also need to set aside ground rules so each person understands the other’s parameters and needs.
That’s what’s worked for Lisa Iannucci, a Poughkeepsie, New York, resident who’s worked at home for 25 years, the last four with her sportswriter partner.
A freelance writer and author of “Road Trip: The Sports Lover’s Travel Guide to Museums, Halls of Fame, Fantasy Camps, Stadium Tours, and More!” she suggests having a conversation (now!) about how working together should be handled.
That means not interrupting your partner or spouse every few minutes. “Pretend that they’re at work for those hours,” she said. “If you want to connect, set up a ‘lunch date’ or meet for ‘break time.'”
Another key to working from home is to divide and conquer household and family responsibilities.
“It may be typical that one spouse handles most of the household chores on a daily basis, but there needs to be more even sharing of responsibility when both adults are working from home,” suggests Haydon. “One reason is the house gets messier with more people in it for a greater part of the day. Another reason is that household chores can be a rabbit hole that precludes you from accomplishing work.”
If you have kids, share responsibilities from the youngest to the oldest.
This may mean your kids are suddenly learning valuable life skills like planning or cooking a meal, doing laundry, or making a shopping list.
This is necessary, she said, to maintain balance and to support both spouses in getting their “work work” done. “It requires a lot of flexibility, because one spouse may have a lot to accomplish for work one day and have a lighter schedule the next,” she explained.
Being accommodating and recognizing that everyone’s in the same boat is key, seconds Iannucci.
“This is something that’s unheard of right now, so working with your spouse or partner at home can be stressful because it’s not a normal work-at-home situation. Remember, that everyone is under stress, so if you find that you’re arguing or stressing out too much, go for a walk together or make a ‘date’ to watch a movie when the work is done.”
Step away from ‘work’
DiCarlo and Mancuso are trying their best to set aside “us” time.
In their off-hours together, they’re trying to be creative with meals using the canned goods they have in their pantry and are also tackling some of the puzzles they previously had stacked in their closet. “We’ve done three so far. Doing one is a great way to kill six hours straight,” said DiCarlo.
They’re also bonding over Netflix shows and are each taking free online classes.
For Herbst, it’s finding the gratitude in working home and being together. That now includes the return from Manhattan of her 27-year-old son.
Follow reporter Jeanne Muchnick on Twitter: @dinner4moms