A New Meaning To HR: Tips on Working From Home When Your Household Members Become Your “Colleagues”

Image Credit: Andrew Neel

He’s a software engineer, and I’m a health educator. We were never meant to be colleagues. Yet, we both now share an office “a.k.a living room” and take the same lunch breaks due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and stay-at-home advisories. Although working from home has been a blessing for many reasons; it has presented a few challenges, one being: learning how to create healthy boundaries when my partner and I no longer communicate via text 8 hours a day, but instead work in the same space, practically shoulder-to-shoulder (thanks to my ridiculously small apartment).

These past few months, we’ve created a special work from home HR policy which consists of a list of healthy boundaries to preserve our sanity and make time for our individual selves and our relationship.

As you reflect on your current home working environment and brainstorm areas of improvement for your health and wellbeing, here are some suggestions you can add to your home HR policy:

1. No meetings before 8am or after 5pm

I’ve been guilty of taking work from home, home. While I’ve gained an hour that has usually been spent commuting to and from work. I unknowingly added 3 additional hours to my workday; specifically, I would wake up early and schedule late meetings. Working more than usual from home caused a strain in my relationship as well as my mental health.

Now, I have adopted an 8–5 workday policy. I choose to not work before 8am or after 5pm for my mental health. Since the policy went into effect, I’ve felt so much more balanced and less stressed. During work hours, my partner and I have agreed to respect each other’s work by not distracting one another. When I am not working, I make time to bond with my partner, go for a walk, binge watch my favorite TV shows, or sit on the porch and watch the sunset.

2. Take mental health breaks

We all need time to ourselves. Working from home can be mentally exhausting, especially when you are around people in your household 24/7. Whenever I just need time to myself, I’ll sit outside on the porch and do work. When my partner needs a mental health break, he’ll put his headphones on and listen to music. No matter how you choose to practice self-care, just make sure you do. My partner and I are so in tune with each other that when he’s listening to music or a podcast, I try not to interrupt him and give him space, and he does the same for me.

3. Stay out of your household member’s webcam

One day as my partner was on zoom, I grabbed something from the closet and started looking at his screen and listening in. He quickly said, “babe, you know people can see you.” From that moment on, I’ve become more mindful of refraining from “zoom bombing” his meetings. As good as my intentions were, it was inappropriate; I shouldn’t be listening in on his meetings and in his webcam just because I’m intrigued by the work he’s doing. And vice versa. My partner knows some of the work I’m doing is confidential and respects my work privacy.

4. Be Supportive

Working from home is new for many people, including myself and my partner. Everyday, we make time at the end of the day to reflect on what went well and what was challenging. We provide advice to each other based on our observations; for example, one day I noticed that he was hunching his back while typing, so I suggested he invest in a gamer chair with beneficial ergonomic features. We hold each other accountable of our work and personal tasks, and we show praise when the other person does something well.

Developing an effective work from home HR policy with my new “colleague” and setting healthy boundaries have strengthened not only our relationship, but also our productivity. We make time for work, each other, and most importantly, our individual selves. This journey has not been easy, it definitely took a lot of trial-and-error; however, we persevered and learned how to work as a team.

How has your relationship with the people in your household been while working from home? What are some strengths? What are areas for improvement? Although you may have a personal relationship with people in your household, you probably don’t have a working relationship. It’s important to understand the difference and work as a team to create meaningful solutions in your home environment that will yield positive wellness, strong & healthy relationships, and increased productivity.

And for those with children, there is hope. You too, can develop healthy working relationships with your child when you’re working from home and your child is learning remotely. The policies may need to be slightly tweaked and signed with crayon!

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Bria Gadsden

Bria Gadsden

Menstrual Equity Leader | Bria writes to break the period taboo in 500 words or less. Website: www.briagadsden.com Twitter: @BriaGadsden

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