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Coronavirus: How to work from home when you live with housemates

Trying to get work done while quarantined in a houseshare can seem difficult. (Getty)

Working from home has its own challenges, but adding a lockdown with flatmates to the mix can make things even harder.

Whether it’s an argument about who is typing too loudly or watching Netflix at full volume, trying to get work done while quarantined in a houseshare can seem impossible.

“Many houseshares are not conducive to shared working as the landlord has tried to maximise the number of rooms, leaving spaces feeling a little squished,” says Rachida Benamar, a career coach, speaker and entrepreneur. “It is likely that you won’t have enough comfortable desk space and chairs close enough to the wi-fi router for everyone.


“However, the real killer is different working styles, how you go about your daily tasks. You could be in a houseshare with someone who needs complete silence to focus, another who needs to have music, and another who loves to talk through issues. These might sound like an insurmountable challenge, but there are some strategies you can follow to avoid any big dramas.”

People will also be sharing their living space with housemates for much longer periods than normally, adds Tim Segaller, co-founder of the social enterprise Rising Minds, which offers coaching and training programmes both to leaders and teams in organisations.

Read more: Five apps to help you work from home during the coronavirus crisis

“This places an extra burden on maintaining harmonious relationships,” Segaller says. “The fundamental challenge here is how to meet everyone’s needs for effective working conditions. This boils down to two key elements: space (or lack of it) and noise (or too much of it). If you feel cramped and are too distracted by noise or interruptions, that’s not conducive to effective work.”

Be empathetic

These are stressful times and everyone is under a lot of pressure to keep calm and carry on. It’s easy for minor inconveniences to bubble over into a full-blown argument, so try to be understanding.

“You cannot control your flat mates, but you can control your attitude towards them. A little dose of empathy will serve you well,” Benamar says. “If your flatmates are listening to music, talking on a call, or using the kitchen, it is not the end of the world. Put your headphones on and listen to your favourite podcast or some relaxing music.”

Improve your room

If you live in a houseshare, the likelihood is that you will spend a considerable amount of time working in your bedroom. If you can fit a small desk in your room, that will give you somewhere private to work.

“Take the opportunity to spruce up your room if it is going to be your place of work for the foreseeable future. Make your space a happy one,” Benamar says. “Also, make sure you keep your desk tidy, so it is a relaxing place to work. Try and get anything that will make your experience more comfortable – for example, a larger screen, a comfortable chair, noise-cancelling headphones – you will be thankful you did.”

Create a coworking space

If you have a big enough lounge or kitchen and prefer working with others around, set up a space in a communal area where you can work together. This might mean working on the sofa, which is less than ideal, but at least you will have some company.

“If you are not getting along, it might be the best time to bury the hatchet. You are stuck together and whilst you might not become best friends you should at least try to have a tension free house,” Benamar adds.

Read more: Four ways to hold a virtual meeting

Set boundaries

“The key is open communication and negotiation. Hold regular house meetings, and one-on-one chats, to agree with each other how you use your space, when you’d like not to be disturbed, when it’s OK to play music, when you are going to spend time together etc,” says Segaller.

“You may need some give and take, and some sensitive negotiation. Having this open dialogue can actually help you forge stronger relationships, and the positive effects of this can last well beyond the current lockdown.”

Make time to socialise

It’s harder to switch off from work when your home effectively becomes your office, so it’s important to create a clear boundary between work time and leisure time. Going to the pub after work isn’t an option, so you’ll have to find new ways to socialise with your housemates while staying indoors.

“Not only will this create a lovely environment, but it will also boost your motivation,” Benamar says. “You could all block out your calendar at 3pm to have a hot drink and a chat or do something fun like a quick round of Heads Up! Also try and agree with your flatmates a time to knock off for the day.”