Over the past few months, I’ve almost exclusively interviewed teamlancers, especially while writing this series and the one that came before, Adventures in Teamlancing (you can read all articles in the series and more on teamlancing to catch up). And while I initially thought the term was a one-size-fits-all idea, I’ve been introduced to many variations of Teamlancing™ collaboration.
For the most part, all teamlancing structures followed the basic outline of freelancers working together on some even loosely defined team. All had unique variations or setups that might not have been easy to figure out from the outside but usually worked well on a team by team basis. And then there was one group that totally took me by surprise — the married teamlancers.
For some reason, I was expecting married teamlancers to be full of complaints or advice about what not to do, instead of genuine enthusiasm for their setups. And part of that was probably because of all the depressing articles about how more couples working from home for the first time were also breaking up.
But while many coupled up teamlancers shared tales of woe, there were also some inspirational role models in the mix. But first, I’m going to try to figure out why I thought it would all be a doom and gloom scenario for married teamlancers.
Is there only bad news out there about couples during the pandemic?
If you’ve been following a lot of the common themes of the challenges of working and living from home during the past year or so, a topic covered often was how to keep peace with your partner. Couples who weren’t used to working together at the best of times suddenly found themselves spending 24 hours a day together every single day, and for many, things became challenging.
Sadly, there was also an increase in reports on divorce or breakups. The New York Post reported that divorces during the pandemic were up about 34 percent compared to the previous year (though a deeper dive reports those divorcing most often had children under the age of 18).
Heck, even I wrote a story about my own breakup right before the pandemic. Since I like to keep things balanced in my articles, I started paying more attention to people who were specifically teamlancing from their home office/offices. In conversations with friends and colleagues (and fellow teamlancers, of course!) I realized that couples who seemed to be having the most challenging time of things were more used to a rigid or extremely traditional work setup.
And as I started interviewing couples who both lived and worked together in more of a teamlancing structure, I realized something else. There was less of a learning curve for couples who were already living less traditional lives or working atypical jobs when stuck at home.
Positive news about the state of coupledom
For this story, I particularly sought out extremely creative couples or those where one partner has an extremely atypical career path. I reasoned that we were all getting really tired of reading endless stories about how the lockdowns and quarantines seemed to be destroying marriages.
I also wondered if some outlets were repeating those stories since they were almost expected in a way. Whatever the reason, I discovered some couples who were thriving in both careers and relationships even when confined to a small home base together. And, of course, I’m not naive enough to believe that these relationships are perfect, but rather that the partners chose to be together for the long haul and fully embraced each other’s imperfections long before the pandemic hit.
Before you teamlance with your spouse or partner:
- Designate a unique workspace for each of you, even if that means shared custody of the most comfortable office chair instead of fighting over it.
- Forget the old rules of life, much less business. It’s no longer realistic to maintain a regular schedule every day of the week anymore. Just let it go, or you’ll nitpick and find things to fight over.
- You don’t have to do everything together. Seriously, just because you get along well doesn’t mean that you still don’t need time to do your own thing, so be sure to do it from time to time.
For this teamlancing couple, work is better together
About five years ago, Abby Hicks, co-founder of Tweetle Dee Design Co, formed a shared venture with her husband of over two decades, Mike. At that point, Hicks, a former mortgage broker with a real estate license, was designing embroidery and quilt patterns for shops around the country, and her husband was a contractor/carpenter. While visiting a family farm in Upstate New York, Hicks fell in love with a barn quilt (a painted quilt design) hanging on the side of the wall.
She asked her husband to build one for her in the hopes that it would look like the weathered painted quilts visible on some barns. Another and another followed that first until, as she explains, “art dealers sought them out, Sundance carried them, and we decided to offer them on our website for custom orders.”
Things got so busy that Mike quit his home remodeling business, and the two created products including patterns, kits, and a line of paint called Prairie Paints. They also travel across the country teaching and speaking at workshops and conventions.
A family business with lots of moving parts
Hicks has always had careers related to homes or decor of some sort. She said about working with her husband, “We have worked together for years as builders/designers for several companies. We usually go as a package deal.”
The couple, who met online on a dating site, share 10 children from both of their previous marriages.
“We married, combined families and careers,” Hicks explains. “We love to work together and our skillset and creativity feed off of each other. He is my biggest support and I believe he would say the same. Our family is a big part of our business, with each of our children helping in some way.”
Since both work on different parts of the business elements, Hicks said they divide their work by what they each do the best. Hicks “creates the designs and products, manages the business, finances, and marketing.” Mike builds the barn quilts, frames and finishes them, and manages the Prairie Paint line. The two then paint their custom barn quilts together along with a few of their children who love to paint as well. And weekends are often when various family members come over to pack up shipments.
… And a few bumps in the road
Hicks is realistic in understanding her personal and work relationships. “We would be dishonest if we said that we didn’t have our share of challenges,” she said.
“Working together with anyone, in any job would bring challenges. The difference we find in working together is that we each have the other’s back. Meaning, we put our relationship first. We talk about ideas, plans, details, finances, etc. If there is a disagreement on an issue, we work it out and listen to the others’ ideas and then come to an agreement. Sometimes we let the issue go for a day or two and then revisit it. We try to remember that work is our passion, but we are each other’s best friend and love.”
This allows them to categorize and appropriately prioritize both parts of their lives.
A schedule that works for two
Hicks explained that even though she works with her spouse much of the time (and kids, vendors, art dealers, and more), keeping a strong work/life balance allows her to enjoy her relationship and career. To that end, she “created a fluid schedule that helps [them] with this. Mondays are office and planning days, and an occasional house project.”
Tuesdays through Friday, Hicks and her husband work together or he might be out on another project while she works from home. Saturdays are designated for fun.
“We hike, camp, browse antique shops and visit our kids,” Hicks said. Taking it a step further, her one rule is no work on Sunday for any of them.
3 lessons from a creative couple:
- Find careers that mesh well together. While Hicks and her husband share one business, they each work on different side hustles or artistic projects as well.
- Remember your priorities. Hicks said, “Most of all remember that as much as you love what you are creating together for work… work is work and your relationships are forever.”
- Mistakes happen.
Realistically ever after: Making it work in a shared workspace
A few weeks back, I was in a Slack meeting with Chris Hornyak, senior SEO analyst, and fellow teamlancer at The Content Factory, when he mentioned something interesting. Both he and his wife, Nat, were working from home (and previously teamlanced at some of the companies), but because of the sensitivity of one of his wife’s hustles, they were sometimes unable to work in the same room at the same time.
This makes a lot of sense for most of us, but this couple is a bit different than most of us since they thrive on sharing a workspace. But let’s back up a bit.
Though he’s had a few career shifts along the way, Hornyak began his career in academia by teaching writing and literature courses. He also worked as a freelance writer on the side. When the competitive grind of academia felt more draining than enjoyable, Hornyak accepted a full-time job. In true married teamlancer style, Hornyak’s wife was already working for the company that recommended him for the job.
Creating a work environment that works for both of you
Hornyak said that the couples’ responsibilities have changed over the years as their jobs have shifted.
“The one thing that has remained a constant is that we’ve always been in the same room together,” he added… and wait for it, Hornyak and his wife have been working with their desks next to one another for the past six years.
“That always blows people away,” he admits. “When the pandemic hit, there were all these articles, that were like, ‘How can you possibly stand to work with your spouse!’And here we were, laughing. We’d been doing that for years!”
And while Hornyak and his wife don’t work directly with one another anymore, they do still work in the same office together.
“Because of the nature of both of our jobs, we do have to each make some sacrifices,” Hornyak said. When his wife is making calls, Hornyak can’t be in the office so he “grabs his laptop and heads elsewhere.”
And they make other compromises like keeping their two cats out of the office since Hornyak “can’t focus with them walking around [his] desk!” And while they’re both tech-savvy, technical issues fall to Hornyak who said he has “a lot more patience for that sort of thing.”
And in case you’re getting jealous of these two, Hornyak also built both of their computers and optimized their shared network “so that speed is never an issue for either of [them].” In fact, Hornyak is pretty sure that their “IT situation is better than most corporate offices.”
Combining marriage, work, and fun
In another unexpected twist, not only do the Hornyaks work well together, they play together as well — in their shared workspace.
“Our office isn’t just where we get work done,” Hornyak said. It’s also where both he and his wife go to have fun. The couple is into virtual reality and keeps their headsets and gaming computers in the office on the same computers they work on.
“When we first moved in, we kept the office very professional and tried to do the whole leave your work behind you when you close the office door, thing,” Hornyak said. But “that didn’t work. Not at all.”
4 tips for working with your spouse:
- Make your office less professional and more fun. For the Hornyaks, that meant wall art, band merch, a piano, and a futon.
- Stop caring what others think. Hornyak said, “While both of us have to be on conference calls, we can situate the office in such a way that makes it look ‘professional,’ while also looking like… well, a home office that two fun people live in.”
- Assign a value to work vs. fun: Hornyak considers it a minor inconvenience to shift his workspace from time to time. “The inconvenience is totally minor compared to the joy I get from working in a space filled with stuff that makes me happy.”
- Keep things separate. Even if you do have disagreements, try to keep them away from your work life. Hornyak said, “but I feel like two adults in a long-term relationship should be able to deal with those sorts of things without them bleeding into their work life.”