Crowded House

You Must Consider This

Working side by side raises issues, though, which all the good will in the world can't resolve without negotiation. These issues include:

*Space. This is probably your number-one consideration. Levy says the 10-by-10-foot room she and her husband share would never work if Sellheim wasn't out of the office at a construction site most of the time. And though Homan and Hickok's office is larger (they share a long desk and sit only feet apart because they both want the spectacular view of the Hudson River provided by that side of the attic), it gets a bit cramped when Homan has an assistant in once a week. "I have to let John know when the assistant is coming, and we have to remove the stacks of paper we have on the floor," she says. "Otherwise, it wouldn't work."

Separate offices seem to work best--like using two converted bedrooms at opposite ends of the house or one office in the basement and the other in a converted dining room. Of course, if you have the magnificent office setup the Patricks have, you're way ahead of the space dilemma. When Georgia designed their dream offices in the barn, she wanted a central area where they could lunch together or meet with clients. She wanted that space ringed with five offices with walls of glass--one for each of them, one for each of their assistants and one for extra projects. The glass screens out sounds but allows them to see each other.

*Phone systems. Technology has made a myriad of configurations possible for phone usage. Two entrepreneurs under one roof have to devise a system that works best for each of them. All subscribe to the "two entrepreneurs, two lines" theory, though some use the home phone as the second line. In addition, Levy has an extra long phone cord so she can take her phone outside the office she shares with her husband when she needs quiet. Homan, who also often needs privacy, has a cordless headset. And the Patricks have different rings on their phones, so if they're in their conference room, for example, they can determine whose phone is ringing.

*Employees vs. assistance. Jim and Jaine Carter, co-authors of He Works She Works: Successful Strategies for Working Couples (Carter & Carter Enterprises), have been running their human resources development firm out of their Naples, Florida, home for the past four of their 25 years in business together. They use only contracted services, their secretary works out of her own home, and they have an arrangement with a nearby CPA firm to use its conference room when they need it. "We used to have people working here, but it became uncomfortable," says Jim. "Although we were working out of our home, we had to work around their schedules."

Homan has found her assistance needn't be nearby. Though her office is in Dobbs Ferry, New York, her business's chief organizer and administrator, who sets up appointments and sends out her newsletters, works in Dallas. "My virtual assistant is wonderful," says Homan. "We communicate by e-mail and phone, and she's a real pro at what she does."

*Limiting interruptions. It's tempting to drop in on your spouse at times. It's also destructive to each other's business. So one of the things couples have to get straight when they run separate businesses out of the same home is how to differentiate between an emergency situation and one that can wait until the other person has some free time. "When we both need uninterrupted blocks of time," says Jim Carter, "we tell each other that in the morning." The Carters also note it on their master wall calendar.

To avoid disturbing each other, the Patricks send each other messages through an interoffice e-mail network. "We don't forget what we want to tell each other," says Tom, "and we don't interrupt each other either."

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