Over the course of the pandemic, many young people decided to ditch their respective working cities and head elsewhere. According to research from Canada Life UK, 3.5 million grown-up children returned to their family homes in Britain, with their parents' houses offering some much-needed comfort and vital low-cost living. For many, the return to their old bedrooms was a welcome break from houseshares but after nearly a year and a half of pandemic life, young professionals are ready to head back out on their own and restart their independent lives.
The thing is, since the mass exodus of twentysomethings took place, the world of houseshares has changed significantly. In a previous life, the biggest problem that came with living with pals was keeping track of whose turn it was to buy loo roll next. Now, as many companies begin to implement permanent working from home infrastructures, the people you choose to live with are also the people you have to work with.
On the surface, this might not seem like such a big deal. If you're willing to share a bathroom with someone, it's likely that you enjoy their company a fair amount. But having a Saturday night drink with someone isn't the same as negotiating quiet time for your Monday morning meeting. Though you may have navigated the WFH waters alongside loved ones before, telling SpareRoom strangers to keep their annoying habits in check is an entirely different beast.
This means that it's incredibly important to set guidelines with housemates ahead of time in order to make working from home together as smooth a transition as possible. And for those who have been WFH with housemates for the entire course of the pandemic, it doesn’t hurt to re-evaluate how you can make the process better for everybody involved.
Ahead, we chat with an expert about how you can make working at home with housemates as harmonious as possible.
Establish everybody’s different working responsibilities early on
If you're old enough to have watched Friends, you'll remember that nobody knew what Chandler Bing did for a job. It was a storyline that rang true for many of us because, let's be honest, who really knows the intimate details of what their pals do for a living? Well, in a work from home situation, this is something you should definitely find out. "Communication and transparency about what your working day looks like is key in this situation," says Catherine Midgley, executive coach and co-author of The Mindful Approach To Working Life. "My suggestion would be that everybody who lives in the house together has a meeting early on. It doesn't have to be overly formal, but discussing your different roles and agreeing on the things that are important for each individual person to work well is a really good way to create a happy work from home set-up."
She also suggests keeping this dialogue going throughout your time WFH. "I think it's important to revisit these conversations on almost a daily basis and checking what times people have meetings or webinars and when they might need quiet working time." On a practical level, Catherine suggests setting up a shared house calendar either online or IRL so you know when people have important events throughout the working day. You know, so you don’t start blending a smoothie in the middle of their big pitch meeting.
Discuss where you want to work and how
Perhaps one of the most hotly debated topics around working from home is the actual space you work in. Is it best to convert your bedroom into an office? Or is it more sociable to pile around the kitchen table and work communally? The answer, unsurprisingly, is whatever works best for you. "For people who are more introverted and like reflective thinking time, communal working in the living room or kitchen may not work in the same way that it does for extroverts who get energised from informal chit-chat," says Catherine.
"If you've got an entire house of extroverts who find that conversation doesn’t destroy their productivity, that's great. But if you're living with some introverts, that might have quite a negative impact, so it's about having a clear conversation." One suggestion for navigating this is hybrid working, which allows for the best of both worlds. This can include agreeing to stick to communal working when responding to emails or doing research but taking calls in a different area where you can shut the door so others can continue working.
Get to know everyone’s working hours and what that means for use of communal spaces
Ah, flexible working, what a joy! It allows morning people to get going at the crack of dawn and night owls to work into the evening. However, if your housemates are on different working schedules, this can become tricky to navigate, especially if you want to make dinner while someone's still working on the dining table. "If you finish earlier than others, that doesn't mean you get to put your music on loud and start dancing around the flat," says Catherine. "I think it's about compromising and knowing that between certain hours you might have to be a bit quieter."
For some, though, pottering around may not be too distracting. "If you know that your housemates do their deep thinking work earlier in the day, they might not mind if there is a little bit of noise once you’re finished but it's about having that conversation and asking, 'If I’m in the kitchen or lounge at this time and you’re still working, is that going to work for you?'" This swings both ways and there has to be leniency when it comes to using communal spaces once your own working day is over. "You've got to feel comfortable in your own home if you want to go make a cup of tea but think about being sensitive to the other people in the house and being considerate, it's being respectful," Catherine notes.
Make time for social activities outside of the house
In the olden days, you could go an entire week without seeing your housemates due to office life, social events, holidays, special nighttime sleepovers, etc. Now, in a WFH world, it's likely that you spend a significant amount of time with your pals every day. In theory this sounds great but the blurring of lines between besties and business partners can be tricky, especially if you’re more used to seeing them down tequila shots than lead a team meeting. This means that it's extra important to re-establish your relationship beyond the parameters of working so as to maintain a friendship outside of working hours.
"Even if you have the loveliest house, if you rarely leave, it has the potential to feel a bit suffocating. I think this is the same for people and relationships. It's important to take it outside of where you live, even if it's going to a coffee shop or pub or cafe, psychologically it gives you the message that you’re socialising, not working. When you spend all day every day working with people it's important to still do fun things together, to promote different kinds of conversation. It's important to bring other people into the house too, so you socialise together with others and bring about a change of pace," says Catherine.
Know what you want from your ideal work partner before entering into a new housing contract
If you’re about to step into a new houseshare, it's important to know that you’re the right fit. In the pre-pandemic era, this might have included questions about how tidy someone is but in the new world, it's all about work compatibility. "You need to understand what the culture will be like living there," says Catherine. "In the same way that when you go for a job interview, it's important that you can see yourself working with the people, it's the same when entering into a houseshare. In practical terms, this can mean asking potential housemates about what type of work they do, what their working hours are, how quiet they want it and importantly, how much of their job requires being on video calls (not all broadband packages are created equal!)."
This can also include more mundane but important questions, like whether they like doing coffee breaks or eating lunch together. "You have to think about what an ideal work colleague would be like for you. If you're thinking about your home being your office environment, you want somebody who communicates with you, somebody who keeps you up to date when things change, somebody who keeps any particularly annoying habits in check. It's about figuring out what your working patterns are like and finding people to suit those needs." And don’t forget to ask the most vital question of them all: do they leave their unwashed mugs in the sink?