January 31, 2010
Home unalone: Telecommuting with your laid-off sweetie underfoot
It's tough enough when a domestic partner loses his or her job. But for telecommuters and freelancers who work at home, having your sweetie suddenly underfoot during the workweek can be a cataclysmic event -- especially if your home is a shoebox.
Relationship author and advice columnist Judy McGuire has experienced such workplace woe firsthand. In a perfect world, she would freelance from her Brooklyn apartment, and her live-in love would work in an office outside their home. But last year her beau lost his job and was unemployed for five months, then working out of their "teeny, tiny" place for another five.
I asked McGuire how she and her S.O. survived working on top of each other without getting violent -- as well as her tips for couples who find themselves in the same predicament. Here's what she had to say.
Q. So how was working at home at the same time as your guy?
A. It was extremely trying. I'm a writer, he does sales. So while I need quiet to concentrate, he needed to be on the phone all day -- and my man is loud. Even in normal conversation it's like he's speaking through a megaphone.
The first week was the worst. I spent a lot of it yelling at him. Then we came to a compromise where he tried to keep the volume down and the cigarette smoking to a minimum. I remain shocked that our relationship survived it.
Q. Did the two of you make any other concessions while working under one roof?
A. At about one or two in the afternoon, he'd take a long walk. I almost joined a writers' space, but [pricy dental work she was undergoing] meant I couldn't afford that. If it happened again, I'd join one like a shot. I also tried to have dinner with friends once or twice a week. I don't care how much you like each other, 24/7 togetherness isn't good for any couple.
I also had to make him understand that the house was also my office. And that if I went into his office (when he had one) and turned on "Blade Runner" in surround sound, it would probably bug him. That helped him understand.
Q. What advice would you give other couples stuck at home together after a layoff?
A. I think leaving the house, going for walks, and/or doing some form of exercise is key. Maybe schedule a Wii Fit date each day. It's funny and will get your butt moving. Also, try to be honest with each other from jump about what you need, in terms of quiet, computer time, solitude, so you don't get resentful and passive aggressive.
Q. How much nudging an always-underfoot S.O. to step up his or her job hunt is okay?
A. This is one of those things where you have to have an annoying "relationship talk." Do it when you're not angry he/she got fired, that your finances are in trouble, and you no longer have the house to yourself. Realize that a lot of people are in his/her/your position at the moment, through no fault of their own.
Tell your partner you're worried and you don't want to take that out on him/her, but you'd like to know how the hunt is going without having to ask all the time. I heard about one couple where the woman would regularly leave a marked-up copy of the Help Wanted section of the paper by her boyfriend's breakfast each morning. She'd circled jobs she wanted him to have. Mind you, he had a job. She just wanted him to have a "better" one. That relationship didn't last too long. Let that be a lesson. Encouraging is good; nagging is not.
Karen Burns is the author of The Amazing Adventures of Working Girl, a career guide based on her 59 jobs over 40 years in 22 cities.
Kristen Fife is a senior recruiter, career mentor, blogger and resume consultant based in the Seattle area.
Lisa Quast is a certified career coach, mentor, business consultant, former corporate executive and author based in the Seattle area.
Randy Woods writes about job-search tools, networking techniques and other tips to help you land your dream job.
Matt Youngquist is the president of Career Horizons, a career counseling firm.
Natalie Singer is a Seattle writer, editor and small-business owner.
Michelle Goodman is the author of "My So-Called Freelance Life" and "The Anti 9-to-5 Guide."
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