Surviving the Struggle of the Shared Office

Gillian Sisley

I’m the Messy Creative, he’s the Orderly Accountant. Here’s how we make sharing an office space work.

When my fiancé first moved into my three-bedroom house 8 months ago, we converted my roommate’s old bedroom to his personal office.

That way, we both had our own office space for running our own sh*t.

Early on, we realized how this system wasn’t working. The guest bed (aka. a futon in my office) was getting used regularly by my mother-in-law who lives out of province and visits once a month.

For one week every month, I would have to move into my fiancé’s office. For one week every month, I would have to abandon my workspace and rearrange my office to accommodate a guest.

And I was the one who worked from home.

Full-fledged adulthood had caught up to us: we needed a guest bedroom. We looked at each other, grimaced a little bit, and started to strategize how our two very different decor styles and desk habits would work cohesively in the same room.

Relationships are about sacrifice, after all (can we have a moment of silence for my old office, please? You can see a before shot here).

Here’s how we troubleshot our way to a (mostly) cohesive and harmonic shared working space:

Have your own “zones”.

From the get-go, we’ve been considerate and thoughtful in how we use our shared space, but we also respect each other’s zones.

This is what it looks like:

Our shared office space.

My fiancé started out with his desk facing mine. We thought it would be nice and romantic if we could see each other while we worked, making googly eyes back and forth, etc. etc.

It wasn’t.

It took approximately 5 minutes for him to declare, “I can’t do this!”, and turn his desk around to face the wall.

The organized chaos of my desk made him anxious. The tapping of my fingers on the keyboard drummed in his head. You get the picture.

He needed to have his own little section of the room, and me mine. Once those parameters were established, it made working at the same time in the same room a lot more manageable.

It may take some moving of furniture and testing different arrangements to find the one that feels most comfortable, and works for both of you.

Take the time necessary to test out all of your options.

At the end of the day, your work still needs to get done, and you require a space which allows you to do so effectively.

Be patient with one another and test out a few floor plans until you find the right fit for everyone — this is often known as “half-way happy”.

Invest in products to empower a high-quality working environment.

If one or both of you work from home, you have to still get your work done so you can pay the bills, despite the upheaval of this arrangement.

This is where the necessary trial-and-error of figuring out the shared office puzzle comes into play.

Prepare to do A LOT of troubleshooting as you navigate this new environment.

I’m the type who loves to work with noise. I’ll pop myself in a cafe and not bother turning on any music. The hustle and bustle of background noise helps me focus.

My fiancé is the opposite. He needs complete silence when he works.

Day 2 into sharing an office, and he looked very concerned. While he works a 9–5 on weekdays, he’s also studying to become a Certified Professional Accountant (CPA).

That means he comes home from work and studies for 4–5 hours per day, even on weekends. On top of working 40+ hours a week.

Even with earbuds in, he could still hear me tapping on my keyboard, talking to myself (I work from home, it’s a given), and the dog walking around the house.

On the brink of an emotional breakdown, he searched for the best soundproof headphones the internet could offer. They weren’t cheap. I think they cost $300 for the really high-quality ones he unquestionably needed.

We’re on a fairly tight budget, paying off student debt, paying a mortgage, and saving for our wedding in September.

I told him, for the love of God, to go buy the headphones.

He went out immediately, at 7:30pm, and bought them on the spot.

Those headphones have paid for themselves dozens of times over since we combined offices and have been able to maintain the quality and integrity of our work.

Compromise on the upkeep of the office.

The person who was most worried about this transition was my fiancé. He’s into minimalism and keeping everything in its place.

This is his desk:

Fiance’s tidy, everything-has-its-place desk.

I, on the other hand, describe myself as:

  1. a sentimental hoarder, and
  2. 2. a creative thinker (which is code for sh*t kind of being all over the place at times).
So my desk is more of a “free-spirited creative chaos” sort of space.

On any given day, my workspace looks something like this:

My “organized chaos”

He puts up with the state of my desk.

Would he prefer if it was as spotless as his? Of course. I know it’s a comfort for him that he can sit in his desk chair with his back to the mess.

That said, he also appreciates that I’m the one working from home every day. He has his cubicle at work, I have this desk. Obviously mine is going to be more cluttered.

That has taken compromise on both parts. I keep my desk and the office as a room, in general, more orderly than when it was exclusively my own — for me, being considerate is keeping it tidier than what comes naturally.

And he compromises by knowing and understanding that, while he values minimalism, I do not.

We can each control our own space, but trying to manage one another’s is a big no-no.

Mutual respect is the golden ticket to harmony — you must respect the person who shares an office with you, and they must respect you just the same.

If you can both compromise and find your own comfort within this period of combining office space, you should find some semblance of success.

Final word.

If all else fails, consider creating a schedule for the shared space. Map out times of the day when each of you have rights to the entire space. This is not a new concept; shared office spaces based on renting out time-slots in commercial buildings are becoming more and more popular these days.

If it works for hundreds of thousands of entrepreneurs around the world, you and your partner or roommate can make this arrangement work.

When you have no other choice, you find a way.

Compromise is a given when combining two offices into one shared space, but as long as you are mutually respectful, and utilize an abundance of patience, you too can make it work.

If I, the Messy Creative, and my fiancé, the Orderly Accountant, can make this transition work, then anyone can make it work.

I can almost guarantee you that.

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