How to work from home with a roommate

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April 8, 2020

A lot has changed in the past couple of months, including your day-to-day schedule. March might feel like a lifetime ago, along with the last time you saw your workplace. Working from home used to feel like a luxury, but maybe now that both you and your roommate are confined to the same space with no reprieve, it feels a little claustrophobic.

Statistics Canada doesn’t have specific data on roommates, but according to the 2016 census, there are roughly 582,000 households of two or more people who do not belong to a “census family” (a married or common-law couple with or without children). As we look down the long barrel of social distancing, that’s a lot of people attempting to work from home, together. If you’re used going into the office, working from home is a transition in and of itself, and when you add another person, it can be an even bigger change. However, that change doesn’t have to derail your productivity. There are a number of strategies you can use to work together more effectively.

Create your own space

Set up your own work space in your home, even if it’s just a small corner or spot on your table. Having a designated workspace helps create some separation between your home and work, and create a sense of independence from your roommate. Stick to your spaces the same way you would a desk in your office.

Try and make the area a motivating space, whether it’s arranging your pens, lighting a candle, or putting up a calendar – whatever helps you get into a workplace mentality. If you have the space, designate an area as a “conference room” to ensure you can both take calls throughout the day without disrupting each other.

Create new routines with your roommate

You’ll probably see a lot of working from home tips that suggest that you “stick to your schedule”. While this is good advice, it’s also important to take your new environment into consideration. Your old 9-5 schedule won’t map directly onto your new work-from-home situation that includes your roommate.

Create new daily rituals that work for everyone in your living space. Maybe you have coffee together and set workday hours that fit both your timetables. Keeping to a routine can decrease stress by limiting the number of decisions you have to make each day. Figure out what works for you and your roommate so you don’t feel like you’re constantly renegotiating your days. That way you can reinvest the energy you would have spent on routine choices into your work.

Communicate and share your schedule

While you’re sharing work space with your roommate, they are also your colleague. Be considerate and empathetic to their needs and remind them to do the same. You wouldn’t leave dirty dishes or play loud music in your co-worker’s space, so don’t do it in your roommate’s either. Respect their work needs, as well as your own, and approach these conversations with the aim to achieve what’s best for both of you.

Share your schedule with your roommate so you both know when you need silence and when a little background noise is okay. If you can, chat about your schedules (or share your Google calendar) every morning and decide when you can take lunch, when you need to take calls, and when you can take breaks. By sharing, you can minimize interruptions during the day and avoid surprises. If you have conflicts, you can work out a solution earlier (perhaps rescheduling a meeting for later or switching  the order of your tasks for the day), rather than when you should be checking in with your boss or working against a deadline.

The importance of headphones

Anyone who has worked in an open-concept office can attest to the value of headphones. They enable you to listen to music, podcasts, or calls, without distracting one another. If you can afford it, now might be a good time to invest in a high quality pair of noise-cancelling headphones, which can effectively block out background noises.

Don’t be too hard on yourself (or your roommate)

Even though you’re working from home, remember, it’s not your whole life. Before turning something into a full-fledged fight, take a breath or a walk around the block and see if it’s actually an issue. Find compromises where you can, including with work. Many of your colleagues, including your boss, are also working under new conditions and will be understanding. Be honest with work about your constraints – asking to reschedule a call because you have a conflict with your roommate is not out of the question. Remember that while you might not leave the office at the end of the day, you don’t need to be working all the time, and even when you are working, you are still human.

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This article offers general information only and is not intended as legal, financial or other professional advice. A professional advisor should be consulted regarding your specific situation. While information presented is believed to be factual and current, its accuracy is not guaranteed and it should not be regarded as a complete analysis of the subjects discussed. All expressions of opinion reflect the judgment of the authors as of the date of publication and are subject to change. No endorsement of any third parties or their advice, opinions, information, products or services is expressly given or implied by RBC Ventures Inc. or its affiliates.

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