While working remotely offers challenges of low visibility, loneliness, and feeling out of the loop, the ability to work from home also comes with major perks.
For example, if you worked remotely in the past, you might have had the whole house to yourself, could pick the perfect workspace for your needs, and had almost total flexibility in your day.
As someone who worked remotely part-time before 2020, the pure silence was something I absolutely loved about remote workdays. While I'd still go to my office for in-person meetings during the first few days of the week, I'd usually work remotely on Thursdays and Fridays to avoid noise or interruptions while focusing on heads-down projects. These turned out to be some of my most productive days of the week.
But now, as more workplaces are going partially or fully remote, employees like me are finding themselves working with family or roommates nearby for the first time. At this point, this change of environment has become a surprising and unique challenge for even the most experienced remote employees.
Even when you get along with family or roommates, putting your professional needs before personal life needs during work hours can feel uncomfortable or tense.
Aside from dealing with this new sense of discomfort, your workday also changes in a number of logistical ways. For example, the house might get louder during the day, planning uninterrupted video calls might feel strenuous, you might have to share your precious workspace, and some roommates or family members might have trouble adapting to remote work boundaries.
In fact, no matter how well you plan out your daily household routine, there's always room for unexpected mishaps.
Remember the viral video where a CNN correspondent's children strutted into their father's video interview? If not, here it is:
While the man in the video might have felt horrified at the time, many people who've been in similar situations actually found the incident to be adorable and relatable.
In 2020, a lot of us are thinking about the CNN contributor's video call as we navigate working remotely with family or roommates.
To help you navigate a shared remote work experience, here's a list of tips from HubSpot employees who've mastered working from home with loved ones or roommates in close proximity.
How to Work Remotely With Roommates or Family
1. Give roommates or working family members as much space as you can.
Remember, you should always have empathy and respect for your roommates or loved ones and their personal space. That doesn't stop when you all have to work from home together. In this situation, you should start to think of your roommates and adult family members like co-workers.
Rather than sitting right next to a roommate, distracting them, or doing something loudly as you would after work hours, create an environment that allows everyone to work well at the same time.
If you have a desk in your room or your own office space already set up, try to work there as much as possible to prevent encroaching on the workspace of roommates that don't have the same space in their room. If no one has a desk or a room they can work in, have each roommate designate where they'll be working each day so that everyone is at a proper distance. You might also want to consider days where you'll relocate to new workspaces in case anyone needs a change of scenery.
2. Communicate about your schedules and expectations.
Almost all the colleagues that I spoke to explained that communication is key when working remotely with roommates and family.
With strong communication, you can prevent someone from accidentally walking into the background of your meeting, two video calls happening in one room or other at-home issues that can impact your workday.
"Before each workday, have a conversation on what your roommates, partners, or family members schedule that day is going to look like. This way, you'll have a good sense of when their day starts, ends, and when they will be taking a break so you can plan accordingly," says Jennifer Stefancik, a marketing manager on our HubSpot Academy team.
If you have children at home, you can also use a morning conversation to talk with adult family members or partners to determine who'll be watching them at different points of the day, helping them with schoolwork, or making them lunch while other family members are in meetings or tuned into work.
While you're discussing schedules with family members or colleagues, you should also discuss your expectations and professional boundaries.
"If you don’t communicate your expectations for behavior during your meetings, they won’t know how to behave," says Rebecca White, a junior staff writer for the HubSpot Blog. "For example, you can say something like ‘I have meetings from 8 a.m. to 9 a.m. and 10 a.m. to 11 a.m. tomorrow. During these meetings, please no cooking or TV. You can walk around, but no talking or sound. I’ll let you know when the meeting is over!’"
3. Avoid interrupting roommate or family-member meetings at all costs.
Think of your roommate or adult family member like a coworker. Would you barge into a colleague's meeting to ask them a quick question? Would you walk into a meeting room when the door is closed and people are talking inside? I really hope not!
"To avoid interrupting (or potential embarrassment), always assume your roommate, partner, or family member is in a meeting before talking or making loud sounds. You can communicate with them via text or Slack. Or, my personal favorite has been waving my arms in the air to get their attention!) to check and see if they are on a call," says Stefancik.
As Stefancik mentions, there are many ways to communicate with roommates aside from knocking on the door, yelling their name, or walking up and talking to them. For example, use Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, or text messages to ask a roommate a question. Or, if it can wait, write it down in your phone's Notes and plan to ask the question later.
Additionally, if your roommate or loved one is working in a common space, like a dining room or a kitchen, be quiet and remain out of the camera's view if you must enter the room.
On the other hand, if you're the roommate who's been forced to work in the kitchen or living room, you should also set boundaries to ensure your housemates don't cause any interruptions.
If you're stuck working in a common space, you might also want to consider setting designated times where roommates can walk freely into common areas, cook, eat, or watch TV each day. However, try to be somewhat flexible. Your roommates are still human and might need to cook an early dinner, grab a quick snack, or watch a show to relax after they finish work.
4. Know when to make compromises.
Yes, your housemates should respect your space and try to avoid interrupting you at all costs. But, at the same time, you'll want to make sure your schedule isn't interrupting them too much.
For example, if one roommate is sitting at the kitchen table and the rest of the house is empty, find a place to sit where you can do your video calls far away from them rather than taking over their territory or interrupting their day.
As you approach your workday, remember that your roommate might be making compromises to make you comfortable, so you should also make compromises for them.
Being empathetic to housemates is something Anna Fitzgerald, a HubSpot Blog staff writer, strongly advises.
"I’m working in an apartment with three roommates where the Wi-Fi really only works in the living room and kitchen, so we’ve had to practice a lot of empathy," says Fitzgerald
"One day, my roommate was on a Zoom call in front of our silverware drawer, so I ended up eating my lunch without a fork. The next day when she was on a call, I tripped over my computer charger, catapulting my laptop from a high-top table to the floor with a shockingly loud thump," Fitzgerald shares. "We know we’re doing our best and are quick to forgive as we learn to be coworkers as well as roommates."
To add to the sense of empathy and understanding, be sure to make time to bond with your roommates after you spend the day keeping your distance during work hours.
"We try to stay out of each other’s way as much as possible during the day and then eat 'family dinner' together. It’s a great way to make sure we stay productive during the day and disconnect at the end," Fitzgerald adds.
5. Avoid overlapping meetings or presentations.
As mentioned above, communicating with your family and roommates will help you prevent embarrassing moments during meetings or interruptions that could affect your work. Aside from this, you should also communicate to make sure each roommate can participate in, host, or present in meetings successfully during the week. If you don't have multiple rooms in your house, this also means making sure your meetings don't overlap.
"We have a small space that isn't easy to soundproof. Early in the week and at the beginning of every day, my husband and I go over our schedule to determine if we have meetings that overlap," says Crystal King, a senior marketing manager. "If one meeting is really important -- like a presentation for a webinar -- we'll shift schedules to accommodate. We've found that our colleagues are all pretty understanding."
Stafancik echoed this statement by advising, "If you are sharing a working space, look at your schedule and see if you'll be presenting or talking a lot in any meetings. If so, plan ahead to either work in a different space or see if your 'coworker' can move to another space during that time."
6. Create a realistic daily routine.
When you're working with family or roommates, having a household routine will help keep everyone aligned and allow everything to run smoothly.
If you have roommates, this routine could include things like cleaning times or roommate bonding times that prevent apartment messes or socialization from cutting into your work hours.
If you're working with family or have children at home, a family routine can be even more important. For example, this routine could determine activities that your children will do while you are occupied in a meeting, or which parent will watch a child during different times of the day.
According to Nataly Kelly, HubSpot's VP of Localization, "Kids thrive on routine. We all know this, but it's hard to not have a schedule for them when you yourself are working on the clock and have scheduled meetings."
While a routine can be an important guideline for each day, Kelly adds that it's important to remain flexible if your daily plan goes off track.
"I believe a routine is great. But, don't stress too much about sticking to a strict schedule with children, because they might not always want to move along." Kelly shares.
To help her children stay on a schedule, and avoid interrupting her own work, Kelly provides them with visual signals to show that she's focusing on work or in a meeting.
"I set up a timer in each major area of my house so that my kids can see the clock counting down without having to ask me how much time is left on my work calls," Kelly explains. "Then, when the timer goes off (one minute after the end of my meetings), they know it's time to change to their next daily activity."
"This doesn't always work. My kids are like everyone else's and don't always listen," Kelly notes. "But, it helps."
7. Don't forget to bond with your roommates or loved ones.
Colleagues that work well together often take time for team bonding and non-work related activities. So, why shouldn't you practice the same tactics with the roommates or family members you live with?
Being sure to tune out at the end of the day, planning activities with roommates, or spending time with family after you've clocked out will further help you communicate with them, work better alongside them, and maintain your work-life balance.
"It's important to carve out mental separations between work and family time," says Sherry Ng, a senior marketing manager. "I recommend always scheduling time to decompress after work so that you don't jump right into time with family and friends while still thinking about emails or projects. It allows you to be more present with those you love."
Embracing Your "New Coworkers"
Working in the same house with roommates or family can be a major challenge, especially if you've never worked in this type of environment before. As you continue to navigate this work style, keep these overarching tips in common.
- Be empathic: Remember, although you might be compromising to help your roommates, they might be compromising for you. Be sure to think about what you're going through, their needs, and how you can both work well together.
- Set boundaries: Although you should be empathetic and respectful to your roommates or family members, it's important to set boundaries such as when you need silence for meetings, how your roommates should behave to avoid disruption or your personal space needs.
- Maintain work-life balance: Even though you should think of your roommates like coworkers during the day, keep things casual like usual during the nights and weekends. This helps to prevent work from sucking the fun out of your family or roommate relationships and also leaves you time to pleasantly bond with them.
To learn more about successfully working from home, check out these tips from some of our remote staff. Interested in learning about how to achieve work-life balance? You might also enjoy this blog post.