Could you share an office?
I often read posts by translators and other people who work from home bemoaning their loneliness. I don’t think it’s a problem I ever suffered from though. I did spend seven or eight years working on my own, but, always having contact with other people via e-mail, Skype and Facebook, it never really felt like it. Perhaps when I did work in an office as a journalist I was never much of one for chit-chat, I don’t know. I had friends and enjoyed socialising with them. But when I started translating, after a few years working as a teacher, I really didn’t miss having people around.
One day that changed completely. My wife, a journalist herself, was sent home to work by her newspaper. It was closing offices as a cost-saving exercise and all reporters were given a computer and an Internet connection and told to look after themselves. Unlike some who ended up working from kitchen or dining room tables, she at least had an office to move into. Mine!
In fact it’s not really an office either, it’s just the third bedroom of our rather small flat. Fortunately I’d had a long desk installed and there was plenty of room for two. But even as the computer men were wiring in Marta’s computer, the doom-mongers among our friends and family were sounding their warnings. Some of them couldn’t face the thought of sharing a working space with their own husband or wife so they couldn’t see how our new arrangement could possibly work. How on earth were we going to manage spending so much time together? We’d be throwing things at one other within a fortnight! Personally, I found that hard to believe. We’d always managed to cope very well with day-to-day living together and I couldn’t believe it would be so horrible to share my office with the person I loved.
And so it has proved. Marta and I have now been working alongside one another for seven years and, although I won’t say we’ve never had a cross word, none of the problems has been down to the fact that we work in the same room. We don’t wish we saw less of each other and we don’t seem to find one another’s annoying little habits any more annoying for having to live with them all day. Nor do we find that working alongside one another makes the time we spend together outside the office any less fun. They may not be the most normal working arrangements for a married couple, but they’ve been so successful that I sometimes find myself wondering about the relationships of people (and there are some) who still tell me: “Oh, I don’t think we could cope with being together all day”.
During the seven years we’ve spent sharing our office, our little boy, who was a toddler when we began, has grown up considerably. Both of us being at home has certainly been useful when it’s come to sharing the job of looking after him, especially when he’s ill and can’t go to school or in the holidays. For him, of course, a flat with mum and dad working together in an office is something he’s always known and accepted.
Here are my top five tips for successfully sharing an office, not necessarily with your partner:
1. Adapt the space as you want it to be. We spent quite a bit of money getting our office exactly the way we wanted it and it’s been well worth it.
2. Be considerate. I like listening to music while I work. Marta not only wants but needs silence, especially when doing telephone interviews. The solution is provided by a pair of headphones, which I wear most of the time when working.
3. Be observant. How is your office-mate doing this morning? If she’s busy, she perhaps won’t appreciate you interrupting her with that awful joke you found on Facebook before starting work. If she’s looking stressed, maybe she’d appreciate a coffee. Taking notice of the other person’s situation will help you maintain good relations.
4. Be tolerant. The one thing we can’t agree on in the office is temperature, particularly in summer when it’s hot. I like to keep things nice and cool, Marta generally finds air conditioning too cold, so we have to be tolerant of one another’s preferences.
5. Help but don’t interfere. Sometimes another pair of eyes on a piece of work you’ve just completed are very welcome, but no-one wants to be told how to do their job. Be available but don’t try to organise your office-mate’s life. It’s her job, not yours.