Working from home offers many benefits, but few are more beneficial than the utter lack of co-workers. There are no forced Monday greetings, no tortured ‘and how was your weekend?’ babble about soccer and swimming, no alleged conversations while waiting for everyone to show up to the conference room. My sole colleagues are the baristas who equate my face with “grande Pike Place” and editors and sources with whom I interact from behind my safe electronic curtain. Generally speaking, I don’t have to worry about any of them using my coffee creamer.
Yet none of this is the case for my wife, whose health-care career requires her to not only work with other people, but: 1. Work with a lot of other people, 2. Deal with those other people, 3. Deal with patients, 4. Deal with annoyed patients, 5. Deal with annoyed patients and office politics, 6. Do so in what most of us would consider a high-stress environment and 7. Occasionally be out of the house by 6 a.m. for “surgeries” or something. (There is also the commute.) On many mornings, she’ll be in the OR by the time I’m making the kids waffles and preparing for a day of writing comedy in a coffee shop.
We don’t have a lot of job similarities, is what I’m saying. But we do have a drive to support each other, and with the disparity in our work environments, it’s something that took me a good while to figure out. I’ll be honest: As a work-from-home dad who’s handled the bulk of the kid stuff for seven years, I’m not always great (and sometimes extremely terrible) at remembering the importance of navigating the tiny battles of office life. But on my best days, here’s what I strive to do
Spend the first 10 or 15 minutes after she gets home not talking.
At the risk of using the kind of hyperbole employed by everyone else in the universe, most coworkers are terrible. And over time (and after a great deal of trial and error), we’ve found that a lively venting session, generally accompanied by dinner prep or a walk around the block, does an exceedingly fine job of unpacking the mind for the remainder of the evening. Your job here is to listen. You may be moved to counter with tales of your own terrible day, or the stresses of daily parenting, if you’re an at-home guy. Crush this impulse with a imaginary and large boot; you’ll have your chance to reciprocate in a few minutes.
Make an office-politics family tree/depth chart.
Think of your partner’s office as Game of Thrones, but with fewer ethics and double-edged battle axes. Probably. It’s easy to remember the stock power structure of the Stressful Workplace: maniacal boss, wishy-washy office manager, irrationally energetic millennial out to make a name. But you’ll want to know the other players too: the ones who set up all the pointless meetings, the lunch buddies, the unambitious underlings. I have actually written notes on things like this so I didn’t have to keep asking, “Wait, which one is Karen?” “Is this the guy who keeps scheduling late meetings?” It felt a little creepy. But if you’re going to be an ally, you need to have an active understanding of the players, and few things are more irritating than asking, “Wait, who?” nine times.
Office politics are a singular blend of fundamentally pointless and all-consuming. They’re universally accepted as a hideous waste of time, energy and the blessed gift of life. They’re also something that your loved one deals with approximately eight hours a day, and thus go from easily brushed-off annoyances to monumentally taxing daily nightmares. The tales you hear may seem minor and easily fixed, but keep in mind that they are Very Big Deals to the people living them out. And that you’ve complained about your share of absurd nonsense too.
Know when to step off.
There will be times when the two of you will probably sit at your kitchen table and plot the fluorescent-lit office equivalent of a good old-fashioned English-kings monarchy overthrow. This can be healthy and fun! But as you are with a functional adult, know when to step back, admit you can do literally nothing to control the situation and let her do her thing. You’re a battlefield advisor but not the boots on the ground. Avoid being overbearing, a lesson I learned after only a few years.
Wait your turn.
You’ll need to unload your share of bitching as well — it’s coming. Turns out listening to other people makes them want to listen to you — who knew.