We’d only been dating about six months when I recommended my boyfriend to my company’s bosses. The Marketing Director had just quit, and Ian was hired to fill the gap on an interim basis. We had suddenly become the marketing team — the two of us. We were getting to know each other over dinner; we were getting to know each other in the office. We’d never worked side-by-side before: now we were drawing up marketing plans and co-hosting presentations.
I guess we quickly learned how to juggle the personal with the professional. We must have liked it, because when I left the company to have our first baby, we started working together properly for our own small independent business. And here we are 16 years later.
Our personal relationship evolved in tandem with working together — so perhaps that’s what has made it successful for us. We don’t know any other way. It’s certainly not for everyone. And probably few people would even want to spend their professional and personal lives entwined and I completely get that. It’s not always easy after all. When you have a disagreement about how to parent the kids or on the domestic front, it can be hard to then switch and ask hey, did you hear back from that client?
In this time of lockdown, more couples than ever are now marking out their workspace on the same kitchen table. There are a plethora of webinars and blog posts on how to work from home. But what about when you work alongside each other? Here are a few tips that have worked for us:
- Find your respective grooves. We’ve fitted into a rhythm where we know each other. Like a comedy double act or dueting singers, we know what’s on each other’s mind, what they mean, where they’re coming from. Think Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton, without a few of the obvious attributes. And we have different styles, approaches and ways of working which we respect.
- Allow anything, including ideas you think ridiculous. Critiquing views different to yours is always done better with kindness. We don’t always agree on things, but we endeavour to let each other know with a dose of tact.
- Go for a walk and talk things through. Honestly, the insights we’ve had while walking side-by-side could never have occurred sitting next to one another.
- Work out who’s best at doing certain things. Ian’s way better at making the coffee. He whips up a mean salad too. So I’m happy to leave those to him.
- Tell the other one that it’s OK to quit, to take a break and give permission to do something fun. You can see when your partner is in need of some time out, and yet they may feel more responsible to you as not only a co-worker but as a partner. They don’t need your permission but sometimes giving it helps them be kind to themselves.
- Champion each other. When we’ve put in the effort, or when something’s gone well, it’s really good to be recognised for that. We are life partners as well as work partners but we try not to take each other’s work for granted. So we pat each other on the back.
- It helps when you have the same values. We have chosen this independent life based on the principles of doing good work, having freedom, being creative and expressing ourselves, all with positivity and professionalism. So — mostly — we are on the same page. This life also means accepting it comes with a good dose of instability and uncertainty, and we need to lean in and buoy each other up when things get tough.
- Have fun. Ian is funny. I laugh. We try not to take ourselves too seriously and welcome the opportunity to step away from our laptops and have a bit of a boogie when a tune comes on the radio.
- Leave work chat outside the bedroom door. It’s tempting to say what comes into your mind at 10.30pm, like asking if such and such paid the invoice or if you sent that email. But that’s an absolute no-no. Put boundaries around your work.
- Make sure one of you is out of the house/home office some of the week. This one’s really important. Or in these difficult times, have different zones to work in. It’s vital to have your own space to think and do your own stuff. We get on, but sometimes can be stretched to the edge of endurance if we’re around each other 24/7. “Oh, it’s you again…” we sometimes joke as we walk into the same room.
We dog walk together, (used to) go to coffee shops for a change of scenery to discuss stuff and of course head out with our two sons.“People must think we’re joined at the hip,” we’ve commented to each other as we’ve waved hello to friends and neighbours on the streets. With London and other business trips out of reach, we are spending more time together than before. We know we’re a little strange in our habits, and it helps to acknowledge this. And actually now in these challenging times, there are a hell of a lot more of us around!
What have I missed? Let me know what works for you!