I recently got a new work-from-home job, as did an acquaintance of mine. I didn’t know her very well, but we decided to co-work to keep each other company and to have more of a routine than working alone at our own homes. Plus, she has a much bigger house than I do, and part of the arrangement is that I’m contributing to her Wi-Fi. In exchange, I can keep my work things there.
After the first couple of weeks, though, I’ve discovered that she’s a talker. She wants to tell me all about her co-workers as well as other personal stories that I both don’t care about and are distracting me from my work. How can I tell her to stop oversharing? Otherwise, the arrangement is great, and I really don’t want to spend all day at home alone.
Not Remotely Quiet
Back in the days when I worked in coffee shops for hours at a time, I often encountered loud talkers, oversharers and boundary-pushers of all kinds, and I developed different strategies for dealing with them. Underlying every strategy, though, was the knowledge that these were public spaces, and I could go home if I wanted to. I understand the motivation for your arrangement, but you’ve locked yourself into the loudest Starbucks in the world with nowhere else to go.
In a traditional office setting, people don’t typically choose their office-mates, so in a sense, you’re recreating a bit of that experience. But you do (or did) have a choice, and just like with a potential roommate, there are a number of ground rules you should have explored before you started sharing a Wi-Fi account. It may not be too late to turn things around, but you are going to need to take the lead on all things boundary-related.
Make some proactive moves now to get things moving in the right direction. Get yourself some excellent sound-canceling headphones. Practice saying, “I can’t talk right now,” “Now is not a good time,” “Sorry, but I don’t feel like that story is my business” and “I need to concentrate, can we talk during lunch?” Hopefully, she’ll take your barely concealed hints and cut back on the stories.
If things don’t start to improve, find a time to talk to her outside of work hours, maybe planning to arrive 15 minutes early one day. Bring coffee or some similar peace offering, and then get down to business. Tell her directly what is and is not working for you in this arrangement. Ask if she feels like your requests for more quiet are possible. Also ask if there may be separate spaces in her home where you could work with more distance between you.
After some trial period with a different structure in place, if you can’t get your work done and/or you still feel annoyed all the time, you need to admit this arrangement isn’t worth the storage and mediocre company it provides. Give excuses for your difficulty adjusting to the new job or how particular you are about background noise if that helps you feel better about backing out, and offer to pay an extra month’s share of Wi-Fi if that’s doable for you financially. Then get yourself a new desk and a cute mug and set yourself up at home for your own success on your own terms.