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It can be wonderful to share an office!
It can be wonderful to share an office! Isolation is one thing that is very hard for people who work at home alone. The chance to enjoy some collaboration, to have some help with your work, or just to laugh together once in awhile can make the work-at-home experience much more pleasant. But along with the upside come some possible pitfalls.
You are not good candidates for a shared home office if:
If you try sharing an office with someone whose work style and comfort requirements are too different from yours, instead of tossing around ideas, you may end up tossing each other out.
If nothing listed above is a problem, a shared office may be right for you. Below are several different office arrangements with observations on how they help the people working in them to peacefully co-exist.
Interaction style — Independent: Facing away from each other is a good arrangement when your need for interaction is minimal. It also works best for anyone who finds themselves easily distracted by the movements of another person. Rolling chairs allow you to conveniently scoot across to the other desk if you need to work on anything together.
Storage: The drawers and cubbies to the side of the desks are easily accessible by either person without disrupting the other.
Phone use: If both of you need to use the phone once in awhile, the farther apart you are the better. If both of you need to use the phone a lot, you aren’t good candidates for a shared office. You won’t be able to hear yourself think if you’re both talking at the same time.
A long L-shaped desk can work as well as desks that face away from each other for people who need some separation of space. The desks need to be long enough that you don’t back into the other person when moving back away from the desk to get up.
Interaction style — Collaborative: Facing each other across a large desk would be a good arrangement for two people who spend most of their time interacting with each other. It can also be a nice arrangement if the two people just particularly enjoy each other’s company and are not easily distracted. This would also work better for two people who are not on the telephone much. It would be very uncomfortable for two people on phone conversations at the same time.
Storage: In this office the bulk of the storage space is behind one of the desks. A window is behind the desk on the left. If both people need to access the storage often, it could become annoying to the person nearest the storage to have the other person in their space too often. If you both need access to the same storage, try to locate it where both can reach it without disturbing the other person.
Lighting: Are you both comfortable with the same amount of light? Both desks need to have ample natural light from the windows and an equal amount of light coming from ceiling fixtures. Desk lamps would affect the light for both people.
Storage: Do you each need your own storage? This office would accommodate people who work collaboratively but have their own separate items to store and access. Providing at least some individual storage is good so that you each have your own pens, stapler, paper — whatever you need very often.
Comfort: What does each person require to be comfortable? Sharing an office doesn’t mean that you need to have identical work areas. Each person’s desires should be taken into consideration. Not too long ago, I helped clients who had very different needs for comfort but really wanted to share their home office. One felt most comfortable sitting at a desk to do her work and she wanted strong task lighting. Her partner hated sitting at a desk and instead wanted a big comfortable chair to curl up in with her laptop or books — and she wanted soft lighting.
This office might have been designed for a similar couple. There is a desk and chair with a good desk lamp for one person, while there is also a comfortable chair with a side table lit softly from a wall sconce for the other person.
Space requirements: What workspace does each person need? It isn’t always identical. Even when two people both use desks and do the same type of work, one may have a style where they like to spread everything out on their desk, while the other likes to keep things more compact. If the person who needs larger desktop area doesn’t get it, they may end up spreading out onto the other person’s area or onto joint areas, making the other person feel like their space is being invaded. To avoid friction, evaluate workspace needs independently and provide accordingly.
Interaction style —Semi-independent: Do you each work on your own, but often need to look at something together like blueprints or drawings? Do you sometimes work separately and sometimes want to sit together talking things over? It’s easier to look at things together when you sit next to each other. In this office, both occupants have a nice view out the window and can work on their own and look up to contemplate without staring straight at each other.
Storage: The shared storage works well off to one side where both can easily reach everything. This office has both covered with an extra long desk area separated by drawers for independent work, plus cozy swivel chairs for those fun brainstorming sessions.
Lighting: Each person has her own task lighting so she can adjust lighting to her own preference.
To sum things up:
1. First, decide if you are good candidates for shared office space by determining individual needs for quiet, neatness, comfort, and phone use.
2. Arrange desks facing toward or away from each other or side-by-side, based on interaction styles.
3. Place shared storage so that both can access it without disturbing each other.
4. Provide individual storage and items so each person has what they need when they need it without having to borrow back and forth.
5. If lighting preferences are different, give each person their own adjustable task lighting and arrange desks so each can control their own light.
6. Accommodate differences in comfort requirements such as different chair styles.
7. Allow distance apart for phone use. Constant phone use by both people is an indicator that shared office space isn’t a good option.
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