How to Manage Multiple Home Offices in One House

Here’s the quandary: Two (or more) home offices reside under the same roof, sharing precious space, resources, coffee and other work elements.

If you’re in this round-shouldered predicament, take a deep breath (if there’s enough air to go around). Then, check out how some people solved these six common snafus:

Problem: Many computers, all needing ongoing Internet access. While each computer could always have its own connection, that type of luxury can prove exceedingly pricey.

Solution: Computer networking. Public relations executive Margie Fisher and her husband, David, a schoolteacher working toward his doctorate, solved this dilemma in their Boca Raton, Fla., home offices. Internet access was a constant need, although availability was not. “I’m on the Internet all the time and, since my husband couldn’t get on sometimes, it was really hindering his research. We installed a wireless network router so all our computers could be on at the same time. It really worked out great.” Another option: Limit the connection to one machine and schedule each person’s access. (For do-it-yourself tips for creating a PC network, see this article.)

Problem: “Mine!” “No, mine!” One of the advantages of multi-office homes is shared expenses for necessary printers, scanners and other gear. The downside is not merely who has priority in using the equipment, but where it should be located. This is particularly troublesome in large homes with gobs of space separating the offices.

Solution: He (she) who pays, plays. Edna Kaplan, president of a health-care public relations company, and physician husband Donald of Marblehead, Mass., had all the space they needed for two offices. Too much, in fact. Her upstairs office and his in the basement raised the ticklish question of just where the scanner and other equipment should go. No biggie, they figured — if you pulled out the checkbook, you make the call. Guess who sprang for the copying machine: “We figured whoever paid for it gets to keep it close,” Edna says, then adds with a laugh, “My husband uses the copier a lot; he gets a lot of exercise walking up and down two flights of stairs.” The same dynamic also seems sensible for priority of use: Try to compromise as much as possible but, if you really lock horns, let the person who footed the bill have dibs.

Problem: He said, she said. A particular annoyance in relatively small spaces is two phone conversations going on at once. It’s not merely distracting, but also potentially unprofessional-sounding to those on the other end of the line.

Solution: Move it! Any shared home-office space is careening towards the edge of a cliff if there isn’t at least one transportable phone. In particular, one should leave the room if both of you are likely to be on the line for a while. That happens a lot in the Littleton, Colo., home of Lisa and Brett Cutler. “The biggest challenge is when we’re both making calls,” Lisa says. “I’m a consultant and he’s a salesman, so we’re pitching a lot. When it happens, he just makes sure to move into the dining room.” Another alternative is to make sure different lines are installed in far removed rooms. That lets you set up shop in a particular place and eliminate the need to roam.

Problem: Seeing each other too much. For some, this may be the most potentially unnerving element of the two-office home — knowing every single thing that happens to the other person minute by minute. It’s seemingly a one-way ticket to a conversational no-man’s land.

Solution: Stay away. This strategy and the extent that it’s useful depends a lot on the people involved. But many folks who maintain multiple home offices make it a practice to keep to themselves during the day. That can be a snap if your work regimens differ considerably. Notes public relations consultant Robyn Frankel of Clayton, Mo., “My husband and I rarely see each other during the day. At the end, we meet in the kitchen and our conversation begins like any other couple: ‘How was your day?’ ”

Problem: Can’t see each other enough. In disparate office space, it can be hard to coordinate those activities you need to coordinate.

Solution: Use whatever technology is necessary to communicate (one work-at-home couple opts for an old baby monitor to chat). For Brendan Tobin, whose wife works as his office manager, that meant a specialized phone line in their Tinton Falls, N.J., home. “Since we can’t see or hear each other, we had to add a phone that shows which line is in use.”

Problem: Murphy’s Law of Meetings. This is a nightmare for businesses that require client contact — two meetings, but only one suitable meeting space in the home.

Solution: Take it outside. Since adding space isn’t always financially practical, try to schedule meetings away from home as much as possible. As Frankel says, “The reason we’ve been able to work from home is that our businesses are geared to meeting with clients at their offices.” That means having a workable laptop and other gear to make your out-of-office persona as professional as possible. An alternative is detailed scheduling — for instance, one person gets the in-house meeting space one week, the other the next.

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