The first fight was about music. She wanted pop and hip-hop; I wanted classical. A couple of hours later, we sparred over coffee. I was drinking too much, she claimed. I’m not drinking enough, I retorted, practically mainlining espresso at breakneck speed. This was Day One with my new officemate, otherwise known as the wonderful woman I married in the long-ago age of November 2019.
Four months after tying the knot, my wife and I are trapped in a room. We leave every now and then (never underestimate the power of a good walk), but for the most part, we wake up, do our work, then retire for an evening of reading, TV watching and what little relaxation we can attain in this era of increasing anxiety.
It’s taken some effort to establish this pattern, mostly because we have wildly divergent work styles. As a couple, we’re compatible; we have The Newlywed Game scores to prove it. As colleagues? Not so much.
I rise early, make my first of many cups of coffee, and settle in for a day of hammering at the keyboard, sweating the details (in my defense, I’m a writer), and emotionally investing in every sentence I weave. She sleeps in, typically waking an hour or so after me, then does a morning workout before tackling work like an intermittent tornado. She breezes from one project to the next with what can seem like little to no lag time, taking calls and finishing tasks with equal parts ferocity and calm. When she does break, she bakes. Then, with my attention diverted from em dashes to blueberry muffins, she dives back into a conference call with her co-workers.
Shortly after our squabbles over caffeine and our Work From Home soundtrack, we decided to try to make the most of our co-working situation. At the end of each day, we both share a sticky note with one another that highlights one good quality we witnessed on display during that day’s 9-to-5 grind. They keep us sane, and they’ve given me a road map on how to improve my work ethic, be more productive and, best of all, loosen up a little bit.
Here are some of the notes I’ve shared with my new favorite officemate mid-pandemic:
“I Like Your Zoom Etiquette”
This seems like it may not have much shelf life beyond quarantine, but as many of us can now attest, Zoom meetings can be true tests of patience. And my wife’s Zoom etiquette reveals more than just patience; she subscribes to Michael Dell’s advice, too: “Try never to be the smartest person in the room.” She never pretends to know all the answers and takes every opportunity to ask questions. In meetings, she defers to the experts and is eager to check in with her other team members before making demands. No one would blame her if etiquette was left by the wayside, because we’re all adjusting to living through a pandemic. But that’s not how my officemate does business. She is patient, and her patience has reinvigorated my own.
“I Envy Your Efficiency”
I don’t take breaks. I switch back and forth between multiple projects at once. And my eyes often flit from my Google Docs to the news to Spotify. All of which is to say the obvious: multitasking does not work. My wife takes plenty of breaks (did I mention the muffins?), and while she loves to listen to music while she works, she tends to pick one playlist and stick to it. She is a master of efficiency, focusing on one task at a time but taking a moment to breathe when she needs to. Her method has taught me to be a better writer, a better officemate and a far more attentive husband.
“I Admire Your Approach to Problem-Solving”
My wife works in a profession where tough decisions have to be made, often many times a day. At every turn, she pursues collaboration, turning to experienced colleagues and newcomers alike. In isolation—and for the sake of the aforementioned efficiency—it would often be easier for her to act as a committee of one. But my officemate goes to great lengths to offer seats at the table, even if that table is virtual.
“I Like Your Sense of Humor
At first look, there doesn’t seem to be a lot to laugh about these days. The world outside the confines of our tiny apartment seems grim and bleak, and the world inside our tiny apartment is often consumed by a multitasking caffeine fiend. That doesn’t stop my officemate from seeking out reasons to laugh. She finds humor in the everyday, often mundane acts of a workday from home: the quirks of a slide deck, the goofy icebreakers of a virtual team meeting or the lunchtime phone call with a friend. She knows humor can offer refuge from a stressful day, and sharing a laugh with your co-workers can enliven even the darkest of days.
“I Love How You Practice Kindness Every Chance You Get”
A reassuring word to a frazzled co-worker. A kind note to a new team member. An impromptu, stress-reducing dance party in the middle of the kitchen-cum-office. My new officemate does all of that and more each day, all in a perpetual quest to make her team as happy as she can. With the possible exception of a dance party, kind acts are possible every day. They remind us that our co-workers are often much more than just co-workers and, in my case, remind me that I have quite possibly the best office in the world.
Photo by @sesionesconella/Twenty20.com
Tyler Hicks is a writer based in Dallas. His work has been published in Texas Monthly, the Houston Chronicle, D Magazine and The Dallas Morning News, among other publications. When he's not writing, he enjoys reading mystery novels and watching old movies with his wife.