This poor guy made headlines on Friday when his kids interrupted a video interview with the BBC. Remote workers, you can probably relate. Whether it's curious kids, rowdy pets, or just outside street noise, it's hard to stay professional when distractions derail your meeting.
Source: BBC (Youtube)
Set Some Boundaries
The easiest way to deal with distractions is to keep them from happening in the first place. Set some boundaries with your family and let them know the specific times you need a "no interruption zone."
I also used to put a "meeting progress" sign on my front door. I had a neighbour who liked to knock and say hi during the day. I enjoyed her company, but it was distracting when I had meetings, so I let her know I would put a sign up if I couldn't be bothered. It works well for couriers, too.
It also helps to schedule your meetings strategically. If you have a BBC interview, OK, there's probably no getting around the time. However, clients, coworkers and employers are probably a bit more flexible. If possible, schedule your meetings around any potential distractions: package deliveries, kids getting home from school and so on.
Consider a Coworking Space
Judging from the frantic woman who showed up to wrangle the kids at the end of the video, the professor probably tried to set clear boundaries, but kids have this annoying habit of not always listening. Even when you set boundaries, sometimes stuff just happens. Maybe your neighbour starts blaring Metallica or your dog sees a squirrel outside and wants to give it a piece of his mind.
If you have an extra important meeting and really want to ensure there are no distractions, consider moving your video or phone meeting to another location. Many coworking spaces allow you to rent out their rooms just for meetings, even if you don't have a contract with them. Similarly, some libraries have private study rooms and you can request to reserve them in advance.
Reduce Your Background Noise
If you're going to have a phone or video meeting, keep a decent headset on hand and make sure it has an attached microphone. This helps drown out any background noise and feedback from your video call. (Here are some of your favourite headsets.)
Beyond that, you can reduce the background noise coming from your computer. Head to your computer's sound settings, and under input or microphone, you should see an option to reduce background noise or ambient noise.
Talk to Your Landlord
One year, my apartment manager decided to renovate the units on either side of my apartment. For an entire year, I battled banging, drilling and yelling, which made it hard to schedule meetings with clients. I emailed my landlord, told her the situation and we worked out a schedule where I could hold meetings without worrying about construction going on.
Your landlord might not be as receptive. Mine wasn't at first, then I pointed out this was how I earned a living to pay my rent and she seemed a bit more cooperative. In fact, if you work from home, it's probably a good idea to let your landlord know about your remote situation, anyway. This way, they're a bit more mindful of your schedule when it's time for inspections and other visits.
Acknowledge It and Move on
My cat once jumped up in front of my computer camera during a meeting with a new client. It was kind of cute, but it also scared the crap out of the person interviewing me, so I was embarrassed as hell. I apologised for the distraction, made a dumb joke about "the perks of working from home", then we had a laugh and continued the meeting.
If you find yourself in the same situation, you're probably better off recognising the derailment. Otherwise, it just makes the situation more awkward and distracting. Here are three steps our own Patrick Allan suggests when you embarrass yourself:
1. Take responsibility for what happened. Don't pawn it off on other people. 2. Explain why it happened as gracefully as you can. People find comfort in the "why" of things. 3. Don't make it a bigger deal than it is. Your reaction can make it more embarrassing than it already is.
Another tip: instead of incessantly apologising, which can be just as distracting, thank the other person instead then move on. This might look something like, "I'm not used to working from home. Thank for being patient."
Don't be too hard on yourself -- mistakes happen. If they didn't, we wouldn't have this glorious video. With a little preparation, though, you can make sure your remote meetings stay as professional and distraction-free as possible.