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WFH Conversations with Your Partner: Different Work Hours
Over the years, one of the areas that Charlie and I have had to navigate is what our work hours look like, whether they were the same or different, and what impact that had on us as individuals and on our relationship. Before my natural rhythms, and thus my work schedule, shifted in the not-too-distant past, Charlie and I had very different daily rhythms and work cycles. His work day generally began a couple of hours before mine, and so often he was done with work for the day and I typically still had a few hours of work left to do. These different rhythms would occasionally wreak havoc on our internal worlds, and in some ways would also leak over into our conscious and connected relationship time. Sometimes we tried to get into the same or similar rhythms of work times, knowing we were trying to fit a square peg into a round hole. Other times we just went with our own individual rhythms, but yet we each found ourselves feeling like we “should” be working when the other one of us was working. If you and your partner are both working from home now — whether it is new to you or not — this is a great time to have a conversation about what your work hours are and what they are not. Whether the requirements of your job include you working specific set hours (being available and online from 9:00 a.m.–5:00 p.m.) or you have more say over the specific hours of the day you work, it’s important that you and your partner know when those times are, and to be specific about what’s expected of you during those hours. For those of us who have more flexibility in our schedules, we need to be especially aware of our “on-and-at-work” hours and our “off-work” hours. It is incredibly easy for “checking one last work email” to put you on a loop that lasts several more hours, while your partner and kids are in the other room waiting on you to join them for dinner. Here are a couple of scenarios that might serve as useful examples if you are both currently working from home. They may give you some ideas of things to talk about and how to navigate them together.
Example #1, Set Schedule: Your supervisor has said that you need to be on Slack and available by phone Monday–Friday from 8:00 a.m.–4:00 p.m. When you are not on work calls or in work meetings on Zoom, you will be working on accounts receivable on your computer. You expect to be off work no later than 4:15 p.m. every day. You will be available to eat lunch with your partner and the kids every day around 11:30 a.m. for a half-hour, but that is the only time you will be available during your work day.
(Clearly an even further in-depth conversation will be needed to see what expectations you and your partner both have, but you can see that specifics are really important for a shared understanding.)
Example #2, “Open” Schedule: Your company expects you to work around 7–8 hours a day, but they are less specific about the schedule you must work. Your manager just needs to see your deliverables at the end of the day or week, and you need to be available from 9:00–9:30 a.m. every morning for a beginning-of-the-day huddle with your supervisor and teammates.
Your partner works for themselves, is a super early bird, and is usually done with their work for the day by 2:00 p.m.
Because your partner is up and at work for three hours before you even have to meet with your team for the day, you will want to talk to them about boundaries that work for both of you, particularly about where your work takes place, so that when you are not on the clock it won’t interrupt the other person who is still working.
Perhaps the partner who works for themself decides that they would like to take a short morning walk around 8:30 a.m. and sees if you would like to join them to connect for about a half-hour before you start your workday and meet with your teammates.
Or, it may be that when the partner who starts work early is done with work for the day that they retreat to a completely different space such that the partner who still has a few hours of work left to do can concentrate on their work and the partner who works for themselves doesn’t get the urge to just keep working because the other person in their house is.
These are just two possible scenarios of probably thousands of different iterations that couples and families are currently contending with in their new work-from-home situations. The most important thing to remember when navigating your different needs and requirements for your workday with your partner is that you are very clear and direct about when and how you will be working, and when you will not be working and available to relate in a conscious and fully connected way with them.