Having operated their Largo, Florida, desktop publishing business, The TomCat Connection Inc., together for nine years, neither Tom, 58, nor Cat Volkmann, 53, can think of a downside. Their homebased company is flourishing and so is their marriage. Business Start-Ups asked the Volkmanns what it takes to work together successfully from their home office.
1. Identify Your Roles. The Volkmanns recommend identifying roles and allowing each other to do his or her job without interference. "We each have our strengths and our own areas of responsibility," explains Tom. "Cat is the outgoing, up-front person, and I'm the behind-the-scenes person. We don't compete with each other."
2. Set Common Goals. Spend time setting mutually-agreeable goals for your business. "You can't haphazardly fumble your way through, day after day," says Cat. "We set out goals and work together to accomplish those goals."
3. Separate Your Offices. Although the Volkmanns began with a shared office, they soon discovered a need for separate work areas. "I'd be doing data entry for the newsletter and Tom would be thinking about how to do a layout and design for an advertiser," says Cat. "I would be typing and he'd be staring into space, and we would wonder if the other person was working. So we separated our offices."
4. Communicate Skillfully. Sometimes, one partner is having a bad day and needs to be left alone. The Volkmanns have learned to communicate their needs and respect each other's emotions. When problems arise, they talk about them. "Working together entails using the communications skills you would in any job," says Cat. "If there is a problem, you have to talk about it."
5. Act Professionally. The Volkmanns advise that a couple run their office as professionally as possible. "A person in an office setting isn't going to argue and fight with his co-workers, because they're professionals," explains Tom. "You have to treat your spouse the same way. They're an individual and a professional. Just because you have a personal relationship doesn't mean you can yell and scream at each other."
6. Take Time Off. Don't spend all your time working. "A lot of people get so involved in their work they forget to have fun together," observes Cat. "Sundays we spend our own time together. We play Scrabble, go for walks and go to the beach. You have to set your time limits and define when it is work time and when it is not."