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30 May 2019

5 Ways to Stay Productive and Professional When Working Remotely

How to Maintain Productivity and Professionalism Despite At-Home Distractions

There’s no point beating around the bush: Working from home has its fair share of distractions. Whether you have children, pets, or an annoying neighbor who seems to only mow his lawn when you’re on an important call, it can be really difficult to balance at-home life with work life  — and not sacrifice your productivity.

Take this BBC News interview, for example. A professor’s live newscast went viral when his children crashed the interview. First, an older child came wandering into the room while Professor Rob Kelly was giving an interview over Skype; then a toddler in a walker came in tow.

While Kelly obviously tried to maintain his composure during the interruption, seconds later a woman came rushing in after the kids and Kelly apologized for the distraction. The whole ordeal lasted about 40 seconds, but that didn’t stop the clip from circulating around the Internet.

Does this look and sound familiar? If you’re a freelancer or remote worker you likely understand the struggle. Do your kids tend to interrupt your important work calls? Does your dog love to bark only when you’re in a Google Hangouts with everyone at your company?

Yeah, same here. So what’s a remote worker to do? Keep reading for 5 tips on how to maintain productivity and professionalism even when you experience at-home distractions!

Be upfront

Honesty goes a long way, especially when you’re working with other people who might be affected by your work-from-home situation.

Do you have kids who like to barge in your office? An office door without a lock? A dog who howls unexpectedly? Regardless of the potential distraction, sometimes the best policy is being upfront with the people on your call or in your Hangout.

It’s a surprisingly easy conversation to have. Just keep your employer or co-workers informed. It’s as easy as: “Hey, just a heads-up my dog is here” or “I don’t have a babysitter today so my child might make an appearance.”

One of the most enticing parts of working remotely is the amount of freedom it gives us as workers. Because of that freedom, I’ve found the remote workspace to be a pretty forgiving (and empathetic!) one. We understand what it’s like to balance work life with home life, so when a child pops their head in and demands an ice pop or complains about her sister being mean, we totally get it.

Know how to mitigate circumstances

It’s important to be realistic, which entails knowing what works for your personal situation.

If you have a child, don’t randomly expect a coloring book and crayons to keep your kids occupied if that’s never worked before. Incentives can work wonders during business hours. Whether it’s designating movie time or alloting your child an hour of screen time, a realistic strategy that works for your kid will go a long way.

If you have a dog, a Kong toy filled with peanut butter works wonders. Treat-tricks like this one keep your dog occupied, keep you distraction-free while you’re working, and promote positive behaviors in dogs rather than boredom behaviors. (Nobody wants to leave the home office to discover a chewed-up couch!)

If you have a roommate, honesty is generally the best policy. Use a group chat — whether on text or another online messaging platform like GChat — to let suitemates and roommates know when you’re on an important phone call (or hitting your work-stride!). Just a simple, “Hey, I’m on an important call; Can you please keep it down?” message can be a total game changer.

clock on a desk next to a computer and pen holder.

Take scheduled breaks

When you don’t work certain things into your schedule, that’s when you run out of time. But if you plan your day, taking into consideration breaks with your children (say, 11 am, lunch, and 3 pm if you start at 9 am and wrap up around 5 or 6 pm) or walking/playing breaks for your pet’s sake, then you’ll stay on task and on time.

I recommend scheduling out your breaks and tasks by the hour. For example:

9 am Answer emails/catch-up tasks

10 am Half-hour phone call with the team

11 am Break to walk the dog

12 pm Schedule social media posts

1:30 pm Lunch break with kids

Personally, what works for me is the aforementioned method. But there’s another time-management technique — called the Pomodoro Technique — that’s becoming more and more popular amongst remote workers and students alike.

Working in tandem with the Pomodoro Technique entails working with a timer set for 25 minutes. You focus on a work task for 25 minutes, then when the timer goes off, you take a short break — say, five or 10 minutes. Then, you start working again, the timer on again for another 25. A short break follows that 25-minute burst of working again. Every four Pomodoro intervals, you take a longer break — say, 20 or 30 minutes.

It doesn’t matter which of these time-management techniques works for you; it only matters that you figure out which time-management technique increases your productivity and lowers your stress.

blank weekly planner with a pen poised over the page. A coffee mug is next to it.

Plan ahead

Unfortunately, planning ahead comes with the territory of working from home (especially with kids or pets or any other distractions). If you know you have a super big project coming up that needs all of your attention — sans distractions — then it might be in your best interest to either wake up earlier than usual or stay up later.

If you wake up before the kids, you can probably get a good amount of work in without any tots asking you for a snack or to accompany them to their bathroom. If it’s crunch time, you really can’t afford to let that kind of opportunity go.

Apologize and be understanding

When it happens to you, a la Professor Rob Kelly, apologize. It’s likely your team will understand. After all, we’ve all been there. And more importantly, when it happens to someone else, be understanding. Again, we’ve all been there.

Kindness, honesty, and empathy go a long way while trying to maintain productivity and professionalism when working from home. Kids, pets, even the neighbors or unforeseen construction next door can all cause a rift in your workday; take everything in stride and realize that a dog barking or a child interrupting a meeting, it’s not the end of the world.

Need more tips on how to stay productive while working from home? Check out AmDee’s guide to at-home productivity!

Steph O.

Steph headshot

Steph Osmanski is a freelance writer and social media consultant who specializes in health and wellness content. Her words have appeared on Seventeen, Life & Style, Darling Magazine, and more. She is currently pursuing an MFA in Creative Writing at Stony Brook Southampton and writing a memoir.