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Here's How People Are Handling Working From Home With Their Roommates And Partners

"I think we're both aware that the worst is yet to come."

Posted on March 11, 2020, at 6:36 p.m. ET

Miguel Medina / Getty Images

A couple kiss in Milano Centrale Railway Station in Milan on March 8 after millions of people were placed under forced quarantine.

*To the tune of Billy Joel's "We Didn't Start the Fire"*

Panic-buying toilet paper / festivals postponed 'til later / coronavirus czar Mike Pence / work-from-home is getting tense

For some, at least! As health officials around the world scramble to contain the coronavirus, many roommates and couples who live together are wading into uncharted territory: They have to share an at-home workspace and spend a majority of their workday in the same area, all while trying to not drive each other up the wall.

Three days into working from home together, L'Oreal Thompson Payton and her husband have already butted heads over a laptop charger.

"I was lazy, I didn't want to get my computer charger out of my backpack, which was in another room," she told BuzzFeed News. "That's probably been the most dramatic thing so far."

Courtesy of L'Oreal Thompson Payton

L'Oreal Thompson Payton and her husband.

Thompson Payton, a communications director for an education nonprofit, works from her home in Chicago every once in a while. But because her husband's company is testing out a WFH situation this week, they are now both working on their laptops from their couch together.

"If I was working from home by myself I wouldn't have a choice, I would get up and get the charger," she said. "But because he was there, I was like, 'Let me just use yours.'"

The hardest thing for her is getting used to sharing her at-home workspace.

"Usually when I work from home by myself, I can do what I want when I want," she said. "I like to have music on in the background [but] for him it can be distracting. It's just adjusting to sharing the space with another person when you're used to being by yourself."

Despite their clash over the charger, Thompson Payton said they're generally mindful of each other's space and needs.

"For now," she said, "we're navigating it OK, I think."

Major tech, media, and other companies have ordered office workers to work from home indefinitely in cities where the outbreak has hit hardest. It's aimed at slowing the spread of what's become a global pandemic — though millions of people in the US remain unable to work from home because of the nature of their industry or lack of benefits.

Dr. Facui in congressional hearing this morning: Q: Is the worst yet to come, Dr. Fauci? A: Yes. Yes it is.

The people BuzzFeed News spoke to were in the beginning stages of their ~WFH journey~ with their roommates and partners, but all expressed varying degrees of concern about the challenge of the indefinite self-quarantine period that lies ahead.

As a freelance reporter who regularly works from home, Elly Belle is no stranger to the lifestyle. But the coronavirus fears have led to her roommate being unable to go into the office. Wednesday was her roommate's first WFH day, and Belle said it was the first time they've had a whole conversation in about five months.

"Usually I see her like, maybe once every two weeks," she said.

Courtesy of Elly Belle

They're not particularly close, but Belle thinks working from home together during the coronavirus quarantine might just change that.

"I imagine that it would be hard for us to not get a little bit closer and build a little more of a friendship and a rapport, like being together for at least 8 hours of the day," she said.

Belle tweeted in jest about wearing pants at home now that her roommate is working from home too, and, like Thompson Payton, she told BuzzFeed News that it's going to take some adjustment to get used to having someone else around during the day.

"I am so used to just having the place entirely to myself that my mentality is like, I can shower whenever I want, I can use the bathroom with the door open...little things like that that you wouldn't normally do when there are people home," she said. "And now it's going to be like, I'm actually sharing a workspace in my apartment with someone."

Belle said she expects more changes to come because of the coronavirus self-quarantine.

"My other roommate is probably soon also going to be quarantined and has to work remotely. So we're all going to be at home, and that's going to be very bizarre for me, I think," she said. "It's like having coworkers, but you live with them."

For Tess Rinearson and her boyfriend Peter Bourgon, working from home together hasn't really been a problem so far.

Courtesy of Tess Rinearson

Peter Bourgon and Tess Rinearson "from back when we used to go outside," she told BuzzFeed News.

Rinearson, a software engineer who has been working from home for a week, told BuzzFeed News that because she and Bourgon work in similar fields, it's not unlike working from a café or a coworking space with a colleague.

The couple lives in a studio apartment in Berlin, and it's big enough that they're not on top of each other during the workday.

"The only time that that can be kind of an issue is if we're both on conference calls at the same time. That doesn't happen too often, but when it does we just have like, a curtain that we pull across and we both put on our headphones," Rinearson said. "It works OK."

Rinearson said she's trying to get all her socializing in before things get worse, though she and Bourgon are ready to self-quarantine for as long as they think they need to.

"I think we're both aware that the worst is yet to come. I'm trying to make the most of this time by continuing to go out into the world a bit and taking lots of walks," she said. "I'm making a point to not completely isolate myself to the apartment with the thought in mind that in a few weeks, I might have to."

Their advice for other couples stuck at home working together?

"You need walls," Bourgon said, and "have a session or two of therapy first."

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