But not just any co-workers. Lots of people live together who all work for some company. But those are situations where you can go up to your room and shut the door whenever you want. I mean people with whom you live and work toward commonly held goals employing commonly held values.
I’ve done it as part of a 1000+ member collective that had a main base in Tennessee and several satellite operations in cities around the US. My experience was at the main place, well known as The Farm, and later at urban centers in New York City and Washington DC. I lived at the main Farm for six and a half years, in DC five years and NYC less than a year.
We lived in groups. The fewest people I lived with under one roof was four and the most was more than thirty. Adults, singles, teens, kids, babies. We llived together and worked together. In many cases I worked side by side with the people I lived with, most particularly in the urban houses. A couple of things stand out as commonalities that made it workable, and I think worthwhile to share beyond just being a good story.
You have to like the people. Each one of them. And if that’s hard to do, you have to keep trying to find enough likeble things about them (and they to you) until you gather up enough to make the relationship enjoyable. And that goes for each person. Because you are going to be spending a lot of time together. It has to include plenty of fun times.
You need basic agreements about commitment. Once a choice is made to move in, it can’t be impossible to get yourself out of being there, but it needs to matter enough that you do not want to give up and leave, or on the other side try to compel someone else to leave, without a clear understanding that first everyone is going to try hard to make it work. This is a big part of what defines it as different from just living together in a house.
You need to be honest. Very honest. But also compassionate. When you live together and spend your work day together too, you start to learn a whole lot about the other person and it is inevitable that some of what you discover will irritate you. What do you do about it?
I think one of the most basic understandings has to be an agreement that it is healthy to be willing to give and receive feedback where the default is being more, rather than less, open regarding permissible subject matter. Otherwise too many things go unstated.
But, pushing someone too hard to “open up” can be counterproductive and discourage trust. Initial conversations where people say what they do and don’t feel comfortable discussing might be worthwhile. So, always with compassion and respect but not being afraid to bring something up early before it festers. Like so much in life, it’s about balance. What should you bring up and what should be tolerated? Suck it up or talk it over?
And again, it is directly related to having fun together. You can do a lot more nit picking when you know you can and will be having a good time again once the air gets cleared. And you really can clear the air if you stay with it.
Part of the art of this kind of living is being able to admit to something, and express resolve convincingly - right then and there - to do something about it.
The living arrangements might be egalitarian, but work often has hierarchies, even when trading project leader positions. It’s a challenge to be in charge of something, or at least to have some work-related decision-making authority over someone in your household, and then let go of that arrangement once you are out of work mode. And often, live/work modes switch back and forth through the day and night. It takes finesse. On both sides.
And it has to be ok to say something in the way of a personal critique to whomever is in authority. This too is something that defines live/work as far different than the usual business arrangement where you might get fired if you bring up certain things. (Even in California where there are lots of worker protections, you can be fired for insubordination. Thus you don’t bring up certain things, you just take it or leave.)
In the urban phase of group living, in New York and DC we were part of a nonprofit that had specific project goals. New York was a free ambulance service in the ghetto and DC was a kind of lobbying operation. In both cases we supported the basic economy of the household by some of us working together as a carpentry crew. It didn’t have to be carpentry, could have been something else, but some group-owned unit that makes money. That way we had more control over our own destiny. This meant that some people did more work directly tied to the project itself and some people didn’t. That was what I did - work on the money making crew. But we made sure that those of us who worked the non-project job had plenty of opportunity to be an important part of the project itself so that we felt unified. Nevertheless, it was something we had to collectively talk about from time to time to make sure everything played out fairly in all our eyes.
There is no one way to do this. And I wouldn’t want to project onto others too much of my own unique experience because it was pretty unusual and very much of its time.
But one thing I do know - do not shy away from conflict if you have to talk something over. But leave anger out of it as much as you can. Anger is polarizing and should be treated almost like a nuclear weapon. Don’t use it. Breathe evenly and keep things informational instead of emotional. Don’t make “you are” statements. Make “I think you are being” statements.
Relationships get stronger when you resolve conflict because you carry the knowledge that you can resolve it because you have already done it.
It’s good to know that over time, there can be less need to sort things out because the group arrives at a kind of equilibrium where everyone knows where they stand.