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Help, My Husband and I Both Work at Home Now—in a Studio Apartment

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I’m already a work-from-home warrior, but last Thursday my husband, Randall, got the call: Due to the coronavirus outbreak, everyone at his Manhattan office had to work from home, too.

I was thrilled. While I’m usually not one to panic about illnesses going around, I’m 19 weeks pregnant, and after a first trimester full of morning sickness, the last thing I want to be exposed to is a virus of any kind, much less this one. Plus, I’d get to spend more time with my husband: Win-win!

Or so I romantically thought until we actually started working from home together—in a studio apartment. All too soon, our rosy relationship started looking more like one of those “social experiment” shows we’ve been bingeing on Netflix.

Here are some hard lessons we’ve learned so far about working at home with your spouse in a small space.

We had to get creative with our desks

Even when it was just me working from home, my setup wasn’t ideal. Our studio didn’t have room for a desk, so I made do with a couch and a coffee table that lifts up to desk height. Voila: a home office!

In fact, my workspace pulls triple duty as my desk, our dinner table, and at night, a plain old coffee table on which we play board games and piece together jigsaw puzzles. (Apparently we’re not that good at jigsaw puzzles, and now there’s a half-done Victorian living room scene on my desk every morning. Whenever I move my computer, I knock over more pieces, which promptly disappear under the couch.)

Now, with two of us working from the apartment, we needed to find a second desk space for Randall. Lacking any other options, he ended up grabbing a chair and perching his laptop on our dresser.

While this space works for him so far, I’m not sure how long he’ll put up with it. For one, he can’t fit his knees under the dresser as he would with a desk, which seems ergonomically bad. Plus, it’s inconvenient when he’s working and I want to grab a fresh pair of yoga pants. (I wear only yoga pants—after all, I work from home.)

Add to this the fact that Randall must fight for real estate with typical dresser items—like my glasses, a plant, some framed photos, knickknacks, and toys we’ve been collecting for the baby. I was able to stash most of this stuff in a drawer, but he’s still left with some framed photos and a plant. We think those items make the space feel more office-y.

It’s a decent solution for now, but if my husband’s lower back begins to break down from leaning forward all day, we will certainly have to find better furniture solutions. Bunk bed desks? In-home office closet? We hope we don’t have to find out.

We lower our exposure levels, but not to each other

Now that Randall works from home, I’m relieved that he’d be lowering his exposure levels (and mine) by avoiding the office and subway.

The problem? Over the past week, Randall has had a sore throat. So of course, I went to Dr. Google, who said that Randall probably, totally has the coronavirus.

All weekend, every time he coughed or sneezed, I jumped up and Lysol-ed in his direction. Despite my best efforts, doing everything short of bathing in Purell, I developed a sore throat, too. Over the past few days our sore throats haven’t gotten much better, or worse, so if we do have the coronavirus, hopefully we’ll be among the lucky people who won’t have bad symptoms.

So far, so good. I guess?

Lunch dates with your partner lose their luster fast

At first, the idea that I could have lunch with Randall felt like a date. But since we couldn’t just pop down the street to check out that new Thai place or even a taco truck, our lunch menu and ambiance aren’t all that mood-enhancing.

After a week of eating English muffin pizzas (one of very few things I can make), I think our lunch date conversation will dwindle and we’ll start battling in earnest over who gets to pick the lunchtime TV entertainment. Stay tuned.

We have the manpower to tackle domestic chores

Of course, with two people at home, one thing we’re really on top of these days is our laundry. And loading and unloading the dishwasher. All kinds of domestic chores are, at least in theory, easily managed during our workday, and (to my delight) they could also be more evenly divided between us, rather than just dumped on me.

The problem is, this perk is countered by the bigger mess that two people at home all day produce. Eating every meal and snacks at home means more dishes. And more dishes means more cleaning when we finally finish working for the day.

Staying home more also means the trash can gets filled quicker. It means the floor gets more crumbs on it. It means we run out of paper towels, tissues, and toilet paper faster—all of which means we’re destined to spend our evenings cleaning and refilling rather than chilling.

Conference calls are complete chaos

For work-at-home regulars, video calls mean we have to change out of those fuzzy robes and into a work shirt, and find a spot in our home with a “professional-looking” background—meaning one without mountains of clutter, an explosion of unfolded laundry, or my collection of tacky YA novels I just don’t want to explain.

But any call, be it video or voice, can be especially hard when there are two of us working in a small, echoing studio apartment.

When Randall is on a call with his co-workers bellowing about consumer OKRs and other jargon I can’t (and don’t want to) understand, it’s impossible for me to concentrate. When both of us are on calls, utter chaos ensues, which has forced me to retreat to the only place left to go: the bathroom. Which takes video conference background embarrassment to a whole new low.

Neither of us gets any private time alone

Now, Randall knows exactly how much ice cream I eat, and has realized we probably didn’t just “lose” that box of Thin Mints. (I’m pregnant, give me a break.) But my bigger point is we all like a little bit of alone time, and that’s no longer an option.

Under any other circumstance, I find Randall is a great conversationalist; I’d wager he enjoys my company, too. (We’re married, after all!) Problem is, when you’re home alone together, things can get pretty dull, fast.

For instance, before Randall started his WFH stint, I used to sometimes see cats in the windows of the apartments across the courtyard. Now, Randall and I not only intentionally watch the cats, but we’ve named them. And their owners.

We talk about “Admiral Kitty” and her owner “Tim” like we know them.

“Look where Admiral Kitty is sitting,” I said today. “It looks like Tim opened the window for her.”

Randall thought this was a completely normal thing for me to say.

We’re thinking it’s time to get Hulu.

All in all, I’ve learned that having your spouse work from home isn’t the cozy intimate scenario I’d hoped it would be. In fact, it takes much of our will power and wherewithal to keep things civil and not kill each other.

But who knows, the day he returns to the office, I will miss him. Just a little.

Or perhaps not.

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