After spending the lockdown at my parent’s house it was time to go back to work. My last flatmate had emptied her room and a vacant room lay in the house awaiting its new inhabitant. A new co-worker reached out to me inquiring about the vacancy. Living with your co-worker can be a scary, intimidating and overwhelming thought, but desperation to find a flatmate pushed me to respond. A week later I find myself living with my co-worker.
My anxiety shoots through the roof I don’t know what her expectations are, whether she would understand my need for privacy, or would she hold my antics as a flatmate against me at work. How many appropriations would I require at home to ensure our professional relations won’t be affected? How much professionalism at home will be sustainable? Will I get burnt out? Phew…
The journey of living with a co-worker is not for the passive ones. You cannot just retire to your room when you are upset with your flatmate or avoid your coworker at work after a heated discussion, you cannot hold your co-worker against something your flatmate did and vice versa. This choice is an active one. It requires one to be present at the moment with your flatmate and co-worker.
While I understand that the flatmate-coworker dynamic is largely dictated by the individuals involved in it, their attitudes, values, behaviours etc, Here are 4 things I have learnt living with my co-worker.
1. Being intentional about how time is spent
When your co-worker comes home, so does your work. I would often find myself engaging in enticing work-related conversations at the dinner table. Home is a space where one unwinds, connects with parts of self other than the professional in us. Separating work and home has been anyways challenging for everyone in this pandemic. Both my flatmate and I had been (…and still are) working from home, to add to the mix, we are also working on the same project.
It is very tempting to vent to a trusted colleague about a bad day at work, or just complain about how some person from work said this or did that, however, this can get pretty exhausting very soon. It puts unrealistic amounts of pressure on the flatmate and co-worker, biases them about people they have not had bad interactions with and can have noticeable negative effects on our mental health.
Luckily, my flatmate and I have been actively invested in ensuring that we don’t fall into these repetitive habits of complaining. We try not to encourage each other to engage in such behaviour and especially hold off when a day at work has been hard. She does it better than me, but I am still learning.
As cliche as it may sound, meditation really helps one to be intentional about how they spend their time.
2. Confrontations are our friend
The biggest challenge for me has been to be able to confront people about things I feel uncomfortable with. I would often find myself withdrawing from conversations, meetings, friendships and freelance projects to avoid expressing my annoyance with something that didn’t sit right with me. I have found this the most difficult thing to accept, that if I don’t voice my disagreements I can’t hold the other person accountable for their actions. I never told them where I stand about things.
While, confronting others is hard, confronting ourselves is harder. After cycles of withdrawal, annoyance, outbursts I now realize that confrontation don’t mean disharmony. Confrontations don’t ruin relations or vibes. They are just negotiations. Both parties voice their opinions on things and they understand the other better. Understanding the other, helps us adjust our behaviour such that they feel more accommodated and so do we.
3. Your flatmate is not your co-worker and vice-versa.
When one begins to live with their co-worker it is very easy to begin assuming things about their personalities, about how they would react in certain situations or what burger would they like from Burger King. This assumption puts the flatmate and the co-worker in an identity box. Typically what happens then is that we start assuming things about the co-worker based on how the flatmate behaves at home. An example could be that a laid back, unorganised flatmate can be assumed to be an unmotivated, unambitious co-worker. These assumptions can then create unfair disadvantages at work and crippling anxiety to behave ‘well’ at home.
This flatmate-coworker dynamic should be approached with relentless curiosity. Each time one greets their flatmate and their co-worker it should be with a blank slate because your flatmate is not your co-worker and vice versa.
4. Humanisied co-worker
Keeping professional relationships limited only to offices or office outings runs this risk of perceiving our co-workers as just that. Someone we work with. This tends to make work lives very clinical. Sure some people prefer it that way. I however feel that most people, work for most of their lives and a huge chunk of our time in a day is spent at work, with people at work. Clinical work life also contributes to poorer job satisfaction.
When I started living with my coworker I saw her domestic side as well. I saw my flatmate manage cooking, panic before a client call, I saw a sick flatmate trying to be fully present in team meetings and I also saw my flatmate rushing through household chores after coming back from the gym in the morning to work hard in the office. That’s a lot of performance pressure on a person.
Being able to view your coworker go about their lives outside the office humanizes them. It becomes easier to step into their shoes during discussions. This makes you a better co-worker. Suddenly there is no need to have ego tussles or arguments about stuff. it is easier to understand where the other is coming from and negotiate a middle ground. You being to share responsibilities at home and at work. On days you do the heavy lifting as a flatmate, your coworker understands and on days they do the heavy lifting as a coworker, their flatmate understands.
Having each other's backs can significantly improve the quality of life. The notoriously desolate lifestyle that people away from home feel becomes more bearable. Living with a humanised co-worker, I did understand this saying ‘shared load is always divided never multiplied’.