By Anetta Nowosielska
True story: for years a young, married couple lived a blissful life with a smidgen of controlled professional interaction. Meaning, Dick worked and Jane made weekly appearances at his office for lunch dates. The purpose of those early afternoon visits was to demonstrate support for his endeavors in addition to carving out time in their otherwise socially-packed lives for some “shop talk” (Jane felt business chats had no place in their downtown loft.) Rarely have her opinions funnel into Dick’s professional judgments, but breaking up his usual lunches with aggressive sales execs or incompetent project managers with an hour’s-worth of musings and pleasantries over salads with the missus was a major upgrade. The easy-on-the-eye Jane not only helped him disconnect; she didn’t require his signature on a contracts at the end of the meal.
Sporadically they flirted with the idea of combining their individual strengths (his ability to sell ice to an Eskimo and her bewitching charm) to form a coalition to be reckoned with, much like Sonny and Cher or Donald and Ivana circa the 80’s. On two occasions they even started the collaboration; but unlike their domestic bliss, where she ruled the domain, the office was Strictly Dickly, which drove Jane bananas. Both times she quit their enterprise within its first week and they returned to the regularly schedule business lunch programming.
There are roughly 4 million family-owned businesses in the U.S., with more than 1.4 million of those being run by a husband-and-wife team, according to recent data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Still, many couples struggle with the notion of professional collaboration. Apart from egos and feelings, finding a happy middle where boundaries are not crossed and the job gets done is no small feat.
For those able to fruitfully compartmentalize, the spousal co-working set up is genius. According to relationship experts Gene and Julie Gates of the Working Couple Network, there is no greater joy than putting in the hours side-by-side with your soul mate.
“Sure, there are days we step on each other’s last nerve. But when you find the formula that works for your situation, it’s just as good as it gets,” explains Julie.
So what’s in that magic potion? For Gene and Julie it is actually bringing some of their business acumen to their ‘after five’ life.
“We have an annual meeting. We sit down every year around New Year’s and actually do goal-setting together,” says Gene. “One of the crazy things we learned is that we were having arguments in our personal lives all the time back in the beginning — just dumb stuff, like when to leave home for a meeting. But we realized that, at work, we never fought at all, and we really worked great as a team. So we started using our corporate strategies at home.”
Cardinal rule of happy coworking #2: ownership over areas of expertise. Things get murky when there are too many chiefs in the tent or when one chief become THE boss. Cindy and David Ceva, the co-owners of Sole East in Montauk, work as a team with distinct responsibilities that reflect their personal strengths. David sees to the needs of the property while Cindy masterminds the marketing. Together they make for a might duo that rarely, if ever, fails to see the upside of going at it in tandem.
Finally, “if you can laugh together, you can work together,” according to writer Robert Orben. So make it fun. Keep the serious stuff in the boardroom and try to laugh about it in the bedroom. Perhaps the business of love is the best business after all.