How to manage home working and domestic relationships in times of crisis

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Let’s face it, Christmas and other holiday periods when families are gathered together can be very stressful, so what happens when a household that normally goes out to work is suddenly forced to work from home and be under the same roof 24/7.

Add to that the very real possibility that one or more of the household may go down with a serious illness that requires nursing and even further isolation and the possibility of food shortages and you have a perfect storm brewing.

And this is just the beginning…………………..

A Day In The Life Of Dorothy

Dorothy is a high-powered HR director in a London-based organisation with a permanent staff of 35 and several part-time workers. Dorothy’s day usually looks something like this – rise at 5.30 and hit the gym on the way in to the office, green juice and protein bar on the run, arrive at the office for a packed day of meetings and team briefings, lunch also on the run, catching up with admin after the office closes and picking up something to cook for dinner on the way home, emails and social media before bed.

Dorothy’s husband Angus has an altogether more laid-back approach. He is a business coach working from home and generally walks their dog Alfie, before having a relaxed breakfast and then engaging with his clients either in person or remotely. He walks Alfie again in the evenings and waits for his exhausted wife to arrive home.

All Change

Now, all of a sudden, everything has shifted and Dorothy is also working from home. It’s as though a whirlwind has hit. Files are littered everywhere, as there is no second office. The kitchen, which is usually a haven of peace, is strewn with half drunk cups of coffee and Dorothy is pacing the hallway taking calls on her mobile in a very loud voice. Yesterday, they ended up having harsh words and Dorothy stormed out leaving Angus angry and agitated, far removed from his usual state of calm and serenity and Alfie howling in disgust. Both Dorothy and Angus wonder how they and their marriage is going to survive in the coming weeks (or perhaps months).

Unforeseen Challenges

With much of the nation’s workforce now in a state of lockdown and working from home being brought in by most organisations, there are many unforeseen challenges on the domestic front that most may not have anticipated let alone planned for. How can organisations and individuals maximize productivity and effectiveness while minimizing the very real possibility of domestic fall-out?

Whether you are a business leader asking your team to work from home or a worker suddenly faced with relocating your workspace to your house, here is an agreement framework that can help you to manage in times of crisis and uncertainty…….

The 5 R’s of Relational Agreements

A Relational Agreement can be oral or, if you prefer, in writing. The purpose is to be clear what you expect of each other and how you will deal with any tension or conflicts along the way.


What do you want to achieve and why?

Be clear why you’re doing this and the desired outcomes. For example, work related outcomes should be clear and specific with as much detail as possible as to what is to be achieved on a day-to-day basis.

Home-related outcomes, though different, should also be clear and specific, on a day-to-day basis, the goal may be to get through the day without anger or anxiety.

Longer-term goals should also be envisaged, such as the desire to keep the company afloat and be able to serve your clients as well as looking way ahead to a vision of how things might be when things get better.


This is about tasks, responsibilities and commitments necessary to achieve the desired result.

Work-related tasks may be different during these times and it’s also important to be clear about times of day etc. Does it matter what time of day the work is done and the employee is available`?

Home-related tasks might include agreements in terms of keeping the kitchen clean and whether or not you want to have lunch together!

The key questions are – what does it need for each of you to be satisfied with the arrangement? And – what evidence is needed that each of you has achieved your objectives?


Circumstances will change, they already have, and it’s critical to anticipate this at the beginning of the arrangement and be prepared to revisit and revise what isn’t working. It should be perfectly normal to question whether your original ideas hold ‘good’ and whether everyone involved is happy and on track (even the dog!)

The idea is not to focus on the negative or look to blame anyone, but rather to have a sort of early warning system and to ‘take the temperature’ from time to time before things reach boiling point.


It’s important to anticipate disappointment and disagreements along the way and if necessary, renegotiate and renew your agreement. Much in the same way that it is now popular to renew marriage vows, so it should be common practice to renew important agreements to keep them alive.


What we often fail to speak about at the beginning of a working arrangement is risks and fears. It’s important to anticipate some of the challenges that might arise and to acknowledge that there will be other issues that you cannot yet see. Being open and honest at this time is important. For example, a person I worked with once identified a concern that it was likely that he might make some important decisions without remembering to consult others. This might easily happen if you are now working away from colleagues. Agree now how disagreements and misunderstandings be resolve.

Is Everyone Agreed?

It’s important at this stage to check and be explicit that everyone is agreed on all of the five Rs above. It’s also important to think about and agree when and how you will revisit your agreement and how any one of you might raise issues or concerns in the meantime. Who will take responsibility for checking in with everyone from time to time and/or calling a meeting to review things as and when necessary.

Working Together

In the challenging times that we are now adjusting to, true collaboration is about working together and making mutual decisions as well as being alert for any signs that the relationship (work or home) is not on track, and taking early steps to avoid things escalating. For things to go smoothly, it’s important that you can hold each other accountable if things do not work out as planned and to know how you will handle any roadblocks along the way.

Jane Gunn is known as ‘The Corporate Peacemaker’ and helps organisations and individuals to manage change, challenge and crisis www.janegunn.co.uk

She is the author of “How To Beat Bedlam In The Boardroom And Boredom In The Bedroom” and “The Authority Guide To Conflict Resolution”

To sign up to her weekly mini-video series “Solved By Midnight” giving tips and tools on managing conflict at work and at home, please click here http://janegunn.co.uk/solved-by-midnight/

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