Working spaces

For as long as I can remember, my partner and I have shared a home office.

For years, this arrangement worked beautifully. For many of those years, my partner worked primarily from home, running his businesses out of our house, while I worked primarily outside the home. For the past decade or so, his business occupied physical office space, so our home office became secondary office space for both of us. (This meant that I had the home office all to myself during my last sabbatical, for the most part.)

Within the past year, my partner’s business decided to downside their physical space and have everyone work from home as much as possible. He’s transitioned back to using our home office as our primary office, and we’d both planned on that arrangement for the long term.

Then, the pandemic hit, and we both found ourselves working exclusively out of the same office.

I enjoy sharing a workspace with my partner, despite his love of techno music as work music and his higher clutter tolerance. We’ve always been able to work comfortably and productively in the same room. It was nice this spring to have a Real Live Software Engineer sitting across the room when I was teaching Software Design, so that I could ask questions about how a particular concept plays out in his work/business as I prepared lectures and asynchronous activities. I’ve been able to help him with some Python questions as he’s found himself doing more Python programming lately. And there is something inspiring about looking across the room at someone completely engaged in their task at hand, doing what they love.

What doesn’t work, of course, are the meetings.

Given our positions in our respective workplaces, we both have a lot of meetings. Sometimes, these meetings overlap, in which case we play everyone’s favorite game, Who’s Going To Find Another Spot In The House With Decent WiFi This Time. But even if they don’t, they disrupt the other person. Noise cancelling headphones only block out so much. And then there are questions like, can you come back into the office in the middle of their meeting? will moving around disrupt the other’s meeting or be disruptive to the people on their meeting? are the contents of this meeting too sensitive for the other person to be present in the room? (Things like advising meetings, discussions involving intellectual property, etc.)

There are other issues sharing an office full time, of course. Recording videos is tricky when someone else is in the room. (“Hilarity” ensued yesterday when my partner declared that I typed too loudly, and requested that I stop typing while he was actively recording.) We do our best work at different times of the day, so if someone is trying to think through a thorny issue while the other is demanding they watch “just this one cute cat video, come on, it will just take 30 seconds”, that’s a problem. This also means that during different times of the day, one or the other of us is the “go-to” parent. But if a kid interrupts one of us and we’re both in the same space, they interrupt both of us.

So the other day we decided to split up our offices. We have a guest room on the main floor that’s, shall we say, lightly/not at all used right now (other than a storage spot for skis and a table we want to get rid of). This weekend, I’ll move into that space.

One of my kiddos LOVES rearranging furniture, so I’ve tasked her with figuring out where to put my desk, where to move the futon and other furniture currently in the room, etc. (Except that table — that’s going out to the curb — and the skis, which hopefully will finally make it up to the attic.) I may be able to “borrow” a whiteboard from my partner’s business, because a nice big whiteboard is a nonnegotiable part of my office setup. I need to figure out if my 2 plants can weather the shift in light, as the new office space has north-facing windows. I also need to figure out how many of my books should move to the new space with me, and take down/rehang my bulletin board and race medal rack. And I need to figure out all of those little touches that will make the space feel like my workspace.

I recognize that I am ridiculously fortunate that I live in a house with room for not one, but multiple spaces for quiet work, with decent WiFi and enough resources. I think about this a lot when I think about my students (and colleagues!) negotiating space within their own homes to work, attend class, and think deeply about thorny problems. I know that for many of them, a space of their own is impossible or difficult to come by. That, and so much about this pandemic, has reinforced just how important our spaces are to our productivity, safety, and well-being.

Now, where did I put that screwdriver….?