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How to work from home as a couple

If you're a couple starting a business from home, there's plenty to consider first

Marriage vows include loving, honouring, obeying – but where in all of that does it say anything about working together? Yet thousands of couples not only work from home, they work together too.

Friends and family often look on aghast as their nearest and dearest announce proudly that they intend to set up shop from home.

They wonder how anyone can stand the pressure of sharing the same space 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. What will happen when things get tough in the business? How can they possibly stop working at the end of the day? And won’t they get bored if they talk shop day after day?

Well, there are a few simple rules to follow if you are serious about taking the partnership one stage further. All the couples that we spoke to agreed that discussing the problems as well as the benefits from the outset will make it a much healthier relationship – in all ways. So if you are thinking about running a business together from home, we’ve got five tips that you should consider before you take things any further.

Division of responsibilities

Anyone considering working with their partner should spend serious amounts of time thinking through the consequences. If the relationship breaks down because the pair cannot survive living and working together, the consequences are far greater than for others – after all, the business and the home will have to be divided up.

One of the areas that can cause the most trouble is the division of labour. If you have quite different skills that you are each bringing to the business, the division might be quite straightforward. But you need to think through all the angles.

You may both be quite brilliant in your respective fields, but are either of you organised enough to run the business side and keep on top of the never-ending admin? And is your partner willing to allow you to have the keys to the kingdom?

What will happen if the “accountant” in the family starts saying there is not enough money to launch a new project which is the other’s pride and joy?

And what will happen if one of you is busting a gut to meet a deadline and the other appears to be sitting back and taking a rest? Will you both dive in with equal gusto or is one able to allow the other to take a break?

What will happen to your home life? You may not have children – but what happens if they come along? Who will do the shopping, cooking, cleaning? Can you divide all the labour or will one half feel put upon?

Separate space

Every couple will have their own way of working and probably the best system will evolve over time. But as you start out, it is worth considering what space you have available.

This is both a physical and mental problem. Some people will work extremely happily in one small room but others will need separate offices.

Do you have the physical space for you both to work at home and for the business to expand? It is always better to be able to shut the door on your work rather than have to sweep the files aside to find a space to put your supper plate on.

You may also have to consider that work will continue after traditional office hours – will that have an impact on your leisure hours or your family?

Mental space is just as important. Most people do need a break from each other every now and again. This could be a matter of taking a day off to go shopping or a day out to see a client.

It could also involve taking separate holidays. The important thing to keep control of is jealousy. Make sure partners get equal opportunities to take time out.

Talking shop

Time out also extends to talking shop. If you work together all day, it is extremely difficult not to talk shop in the evening too, particularly if your job involves long hours or if, say, you are in the travel or entertainment business and the boundaries between work and pleasure start to blur.

Most couples who work together say they are guilty of carrying the work into their social life, so it is important to try and put it to the back of your mind. Having family around or a good outside social life will help.

Fire-fighting

What do you do when things start to go wrong? It is well worth thinking about this at the outset.

If you work separately and one of you loses a job, it is usually possible for the other to tide things over while you get back on your feet. But with both of you wrapped in the same business, the same problem becomes a disaster.

And it need not be a total collapse of business. What happens if you have a run of bad debts? Or if work slows for seasonal reasons? Do you have enough resources to carry on and are you both mentally ready to do this?

Last but not least, have fun. Make sure that you build fun into the itinerary. All work and no play is never good for anybody.

If the relationship breaks down because the pair cannot survive living and working together, the consequences are far greater than for others.

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