Running a business from home can be hard enough without succumbing to myriad distractions. But managing one alongside a spouse certainly compounds those challenges.

A spouse—more than any other family member—is the most likely to be a joint owner or co-manager of a business, according to the National Federation of Independent Business. And many entrepreneurs, of course, work from home. It isn’t easy, but here’s how some couples have managed to make it work:

Define your roles and responsibilities. Establishing clearly defined roles and responsibilities has helped some couples cut wasted time spent overlapping in each other’s areas. What client, after all, wants to deal with two people when a deeper relationship with one is more efficient?

This strategy has worked well for John Bodrozic and Elizabeth Dodson, the California-based couple behind the home-organizing software HomeZada. Bodrozic oversees the marketing and management of their product, as well as general legal and financial matters, while Dodson sticks to developing the business by reaching out to new and potential partners.

Schedule meetings, carefully. Dodson is an early bird, whose productivity slows in the afternoon and plunges in the evening. Her husband? “He’s not functional in the morning,” says Dodson, who adds that he’s a night owl. Through trial and error, the couple has discovered their sweet spot for joint meetings falls between 10am and 4pm—which means 7am or 9pm conference calls are out of the question with clients in different time zones. Even so, they keep some wiggle room: “We can still have meetings around 7 or 8 at night, but they have to be more strategic and focused,” says Dodson.

Running a Home Business? With a Spouse? How to Cope
Aquavation's Marc Sachdev and Sarah Plasky
Image credit: Rob Curry

Ditch distractions—with designated workspaces. Setting up distinct places to work can limit interruptions. “If there’s a distraction, like another human being too close, then the risk is we’re not getting any work done,” says Dodson. That’s why she works on the top floor of her two-story home, while Bodrozic toils away downstairs—and on the opposite end of the house. “We can get up and say hello to each other but sometimes, quite candidly, it’s easier to use the phone,” says Bodrozic, who also sets up work-related meetings with Dodson electronically.

Of course, something as simple as a closed door in a home office can signal that a spouse is already on a phone call, or otherwise preoccupied—perhaps working on a project. But sometimes you need to ask a quick question, like when you’ve got a client on the line asking about a product feature that you’re not sure of. In these kinds of situations, Dodson often uses instant messaging on Skype to reach Bodrozic. “It’s my live tech support when time is of the essence,” she says. “By having that space, we get work done.”

Play off your work styles. You know the saying: Opposites attract. But that can be hugely disrupting when couples with divergent styles end up working together. Discussing your respective workflow preferences, and coming to terms with certain differences, can ease tensions when it seems like one person has other priorities than work.

Sarah Plasky, the chief executive of wife-and-husband run Aquavation, tends to finish projects completely before she’ll ever consider tackling household chores. She says she’s the “Steve Jobs type where everything has to be perfect.” Her husband Marc Sachdev, meanwhile, is Aquavation’s chief financial officer and often cleans the dishes, vacuums or handles other domestic tasks as they arise. And, as a cycling enthusiast, he’ll sometimes take advantage of nice weather—even if that means going for a ride in the middle of a workday “because that’s his priority,” says Plasky.

Know when to switch off. Bodrozic and Dodson, who’ve been married for 14 years, tend to return to husband-and-wife mode to take care of household finances, repairs or laundry, for example, in the evening or weekends—once work is officially over. But that didn’t come naturally: “I would have these thoughts of building a product this way or that way, and whenever they’d come to me—when we were cooking dinner or relaxing—I’d want to bounce them off Elizabeth,” says Bodrozic. “She’d say, ‘when are you going to turn off your brain? I need a break.’”