Working from home during coronavirus outbreak? Here’s how to keep your relationships intact

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Coronavirus questions answered: How to properly self-isolate
WATCH: Coronavirus questions answered: How to properly self-isolate – Mar 16, 2020

The federal government and certain employers are encouraging staff to work from home to combat the spread of COVID-19, the illness caused by the novel coronavirus.

If you’re one of the Canadians who is now working remotely, you may be excited to wear pyjamas all day and not commute in traffic. But you may not be as thrilled to spend every waking hour of the day with your spouse.

According to clinical psychologist and psychology professor at York University, Ami Rokach, it is your perspective on working in close quarters with your partner that determines whether the experience is enjoyable or not.

“If we perceive it as punishment, then it will affect our mood,” said Rokach, who has been studying relationships and loneliness for 40 years.

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“It will elevate stress levels and that will influence the way we relate to our partner.”

Instead, Rokach recommends viewing quarantine as a temporary situation and a chance to work with your partner.

After both you and your spouse work throughout the morning, for example, you could have lunch, a cup of coffee or go for a walk together, just as you would with a colleague on your breaks.

“We don’t really appreciate relationships, so [quarantine] could be a nice bonding experience,” he said.

Here are a few ways to make working from home with your partner easier:

Have separate work spaces

If you have enough space in your home, Toronto-based relationship and parenting expert Natasha Sharma said it’s a good idea to carve out different places for you and your spouse to work.

Click to play video: 'How to be productive while working from home during a pandemic'
How to be productive while working from home during a pandemic

This will give you both the privacy you need and prevent you from distracting each other when you’re on the phone or in a meeting over video chat.

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“You’re trying to navigate the space, as well as noise and interference issues that come with two people working at home,” said Sharma, who is also the creator of the Kindness Journal.

If you have a small home, though, Sharma said you can divide a bedroom or kitchen into two separate parts or work at different times of the day, if your jobs permit.

Manage expectations

It is important to remember that working from home with your partner will not be perfect and blissful every day, Sharma said.

For most people, social distancing isn’t a normal thing, but it is normal for you and your partner to get on each other’s nerves when you spend every minute of the day together.

“We’re going to have to be patient and kind with ourselves and each other,” Sharma said.

“Don’t expect that you can jump into just knowing how to social distance and self-isolate right away. We will get better the more we practice it.”

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Canada’s health officer says they are counting on Canadians to do the right thing around self-quarantine

You also can’t expect your spouse to entertain you or give you attention all the time, Rokach said.

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If your partner has a great sense of humour and usually makes you laugh once you get home from a long day at the office, for example, they may not do the same after spending the entire day with you at home, he said.

Help each other out when possible

A lot of couples never talk about their professional life or challenges at work, Rokach said.

When you are working from home together, though, you can offer to help your spouse if they are struggling.

“Not every partner will know exactly how to help,” Rokach said.

But you can ask questions, brainstorm together, or simply just listen as your partner shares their ideas and then give advice, he said.

Self-isolating while living together

You may have a partner who just returned home from travelling and they now have to self-isolate from not only the public, but you, too.

If this is the case for you, Sharma said it is important to talk to your partner about maintaining connection during the outbreak.

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“The important thing is that the couple be on the same page as much as possible and work out their value system,” she said.

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Dating tips, advice for those practicing social distancing amid the coronavirus pandemic

“If you have one person who is social distancing and the other one who is taking it too lightly, then that’s going to create friction.”

Sharma said phone calls or video chatting with each other are simple ways to communicate while self-isolating under the same roof.

Chatting about divorce while in quarantine

You and your spouse may have been contemplating a divorce before the height of the coronavirus outbreak, or you may be in the middle of one.

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Although you may not have control over living in the same house at the moment, Rokach said you can control how you behave.

“The best thing is to try and be as civil as possible so you don’t flare up situations; it’s to your advantage to be civil,” he said.

If you are still living together, Sharma also recommends to give each other as much space as possible.

This could mean working in separate rooms or creating a schedule to use the kitchen and living room at different times.

“We have to do our best to cooperate, communicate, be kind and sympathetic as much as possible.”

Questions about COVID-19? Here are some things you need to know:

Health officials say the risk is low for Canadians but warn this could change quickly. They caution against all international travel. Returning travellers are asked to self-isolate for 14 days in case they develop symptoms and to prevent spreading the virus to others.

Symptoms can include fever, cough and difficulty breathing — very similar to a cold or flu. Some people can develop a more severe illness. People most at risk of this include older adults and people with severe chronic medical conditions like heart, lung or kidney disease. If you develop symptoms, contact public health authorities.

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To prevent the virus from spreading, experts recommend frequent handwashing and coughing into your sleeve. And if you get sick, stay at home.

For full COVID-19 coverage from Global News, click here.

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