Opinion: How to live with another freelancer

With more people choosing self-employment and post-lockdown acceptance of remote working, there’s less of a confused reaction when I explain my partner and I both run our own businesses from home. But learning how to live with another freelancer takes a bit of time if you want to get the best out of your situation.

The good news is that there are lots of positive aspects to sharing your house with other freelancers, whether you’re in a relationship or sharing with flatmates. And most of the causes of fustration and arguments can be avoided with a bit of effort. Hopefully it will help other people get more enjoyment of working from home with partners, family or friends.

Accept everyone has their own routines

Some people enjoy getting up early, brewing a pot of coffee and being productive with a soundtrack of falling rain. But despite living with one of those people, I still enjoy working late into the night with loud music in my headphones, and a constant supply of cold fizzy drinks or water. So, we make the most of the time when our schedules overlap, without expecting the other person to adopt our own habits.

Luckily we have the space for her to work upstairs while my home office is downstairs, which means we can both be productive while the other person is doing their own thing, including choosing our own music. But we do pop in to chat with each other throughout the day, and spend evenings hanging out.

Having a rough time in the morning and afternoon to catch up also means we’re not interrupting an important task or meeting. And by using it to also do some Tai Chi, grab drinks and snacks, and remind each other of any important household tasks like paying bills, it’s also handy motivation for each of us to have a better routine.

Just remember that walking in on someone taking a break to watch TV, or playing a videogame, doesn’t mean they haven’t been working hard for the last few hours. Even when you’re rushing between projects and meetings at the time.

Set your work boundaries

We both run businesses which have some overlap, which means I literally live with my closest competitor. But when there’s an opportunity to work together on a project, we always operate as two separate freelancers with clear boundaries around the areas we’re responsible for. Because we treat each other the same as any other professional we work with when it comes to briefs, feedback and deadlines, it makes it easier to separate work and personal life.

Of course, we do end up asking for informal advice and feedback, but it’s always offered with the understanding that it’s fine for the person responsible to ignore it. And that any constructive criticism is purely about improving the specific piece of work.

Some couples may want to team up and work together more closely, and there’s nothing wrong with that approach. It’s about finding what works for your specific circumstances and relationship, and being honest about changing things if it’s causing problems. And being more formal in how you handle work doesn’t mean you don’t like or love your partner as much.

Be honest about finances and stress

Being open and honest is important in any relationship. But when you add differing levels of financial instability, client deadlines or negative feedback, it’s even more vital.

You might think you’re hiding the fact you’re panicking about a contract ending, or that you’re worried about paying bills because a client hasn’t settled their invoice on time. And even that you’re doing the right thing by not stressing out your partner. But they always know.

Freelancing and self-employment mean you’ll have times when projects and cash are rolling in, and other periods when things might be tougher. You don’t have to share every detail of your finances or client discussions, but being open about what’s happening means your partner gets an opportunity to be understanding and supportive. That doesn’t mean you should expect them to bail you out financially whenever you’re a bit short on money, but knowing you’re not alone can give you some perspective to help you find the right route out of your problems.

Keep professional jealousy in check

Sometimes your partner might be earning more than you. They might be nominated for awards or recognised for their work. Or they might decide to book some time off, when you really can’t take time away from your business.

Be happy for them, not jealous or resentful. Unless they’re endlessly boasting and parading their success in front of you, then you should realise they deserve the rewards of their hard work. It might seem frustrating to see someone relaxing while you’re working until midnight that day, but it probably means you should be planning your work and scheduling more holidays for yourself.

My partner is very good at what she does, and I’m happy to refer work or clients to her. If she’s able to negotiate a better deal, or plan her time more effectively, then I should recognise that’s something I need learn from her, rather than begrudging her achievements. And ultimately, success for either of us will benefit our household, which is generally a good thing!

How to live with another freelancer

Share household chores equally

A big pet hate of anyone working from home is the assumption that they’ll simultaneously be able to do all the housework. And surprisingly, it can still cause arguments even when you’re both freelancing. Which means you should add it to the list of things worth discussing, and try to share everything as equally as possible. Don’t assume that because you’re working and your partner is taking a break or time off, they’ll automatically want to cover your household chores.

If things aren’t working, or you’ve struggled due to work pressure, then talk about it. If the laundry has piled up because you’re on a deadline, but you’ll tackle it as soon as your project is complete, then that will stop the other people in your house assuming you’re just ignoring it in the hope it grows legs and walks itself into the washing machine. And just because you’re both working from home doesn’t excuse any non-freelancers or other family members from doing their fair share.

Make time for each other, and get out of the house

Running your own business often means you’re constantly thinking about work. And when everyone in the house is focused on their job, it can feel more like you’re living in an office rather than working from home. So make the most of the benefits of freelancing. You’re both able to set working hours and be more flexible than in a 9-to-5 job. Set regular time to spend together, ban work talk, and remember why you decided to live together in the first place.

Something simple like cooking meals together can make a big difference, and also means you’re more likely to prepare something healthy from scratch rather than surviving on snacks and takeaways.

When it comes to escaping work or household stress, getting out of your home can really help. Aside from the benefits of fresh air and exercise, a change of scenery can also make it easier to talk about relationship issues from a different perspective as you’re both on neutral territory. Or just give you some new things to talk about.

Always remember the positives of living with another freelancer

Taking a moment to think about the benefits of sharing your life with another freelancer will remind you of all the positive aspects. Whether it’s the fact they understand the potential for financial insecurity, or the fact you can both take a random weekday break for a daytrip when everyone else is stuck at work. It’s easy to fall into a daily routine and forget about the advantages you have in working for yourself.

Ultimately, switching to self-employment can be lonely at times, so make the most of having someone close to you that can empathise and understand the challenges you’re facing.

But don’t feel bad about having time for yourself

It’s easy to feel a bit selfish when you’re spending time on hobbies or personal projects. But from another perspective, perhaps your partner doesn’t always want to spend every minute of the day with you, either. They probably also want a bit of time alone to recharge and indulge their own interests without having to take you into account.

Make sure to strike a balance, so your relationship doesn’t become an afterthought compared to your work and hobbies. But time apart can not only make you appreciate your partner more when you’re together, but also gives you some new things to talk about. Whether it’s an evening with friends, an afternoon of sport or just settling down with a good book, everyone needs a bit of time they can call their own.

Ultimately, if there’s one piece of advice I’d urge anyone to learn from my experiences of living with another freelancer, it’s that there’s no magic rule or solution which is guaranteed to work for everyone. You need to work together to find the right approach for your relationship and anyone else in your home, and it’s an ongoing project with no fixed deadline. Treating each other with respect, honesty and openness will help, along with pausing every few months to chat about issues or changes that need to be looked at. And if you focus on tweaking and improving things over time, you’ll realise the benefits of living with another freelancer.

Read more of Dan’s previous opinion columns on freelancing here, including bad briefs, living with another freelancer, and why everyone should be self-employed at least once in their careers.