Unless you’ve miraculously avoided any kind of media for the last week or so, you might have heard about the now-famous BBC News television interview that was interrupted when the working-at-home interviewee’s adorable children burst through the door to his home office, followed in short order by his wife who tried to stealthily remove them from the room.
It was the kind of situation any remote worker can empathize with, and it got many of us thinking about how to handle all sorts of interruptions when working remotely.
First, if you haven’t seen the video, take 44 seconds to watch it here. It will make you smile, I promise.
In the days since the video first went viral, the BBC interviewee, Professor Robert E. Kelly, and his wife Jung-A have been gracious enough to do a follow-up interview, published first with BBC News and then written about in the Wall Street Journal. The couple talked about all the fanfare they’ve experienced, and how even they’ve watched the original video a few times because it’s, as the BBC broadcaster describes, “a perfect piece of physical comedy.”
The reaction to the video online has been mostly positive, with parents and remote workers immediately empathizing with the Kelly family. Interruptions happen all the time in a remote office—mail carriers, landscapers, children home from school, door-to-door salespeople, dogs barking—the list goes on.
But how can you either avoid or handle remote work interruptions? Here are some ideas.
Lock the door.
Professor Kelly admitted in the follow-up interview that this entire situation is ultimately his fault for forgetting to lock the door. (Although, he noted that he does like that his daughter feels comfortable coming into his home office.) What’s the lesson for remote workers here? Like a surgeon, if you’ve got an important meeting or interview, go through a checklist of the things you need to do before beginning it.
Things like locking the door, putting your phone on vibrate, and turning off IM or email notifications should all be on the checklist. Also on my list? Taking off my dog’s very jingly collar.
Put a note on your front door.
I wish I could remember who gave me this gem of an idea, but years ago, someone told me that they put a note on their front door whenever they are about to go into a remote meeting, webinar, or video call, that asks visitors not to ring the doorbell.
This eliminates so many potential issues with one easy step! Nosy neighbors, mail deliveries, salespeople—they’ll all be able to leave you in peace and quiet after they read your note. A simple, “Work meeting in progress, please do not knock or ring the bell. Thanks!” should suffice. (Bonus tip for new parents: this also works wonderfully when you have a sleeping baby in the house.)
Keep books and toys in your office, in case the kids (or the pets!) come in.
During the follow-up interview with BBC News, Professor Kelly pointed out the lovely stack of books and toys he keeps behind his desk for when his kids visit him while he’s working. And while they didn’t exactly work this one time, the idea is a solid one.
Keep a few highly-coveted toys and books that you know will keep your kids’ attention if they decide to visit your home office in a moment when you can’t give them your full attention. Likewise, for your pets, keep a few of their favorite toys or treats handy to keep them quiet and occupied (but no squeaky toys!).
Enjoy it and laugh about it.
If the Professor Kelly and his wife have taught remote workers anything, it’s that despite your best efforts, remote work interruptions will happen, and being able to laugh about them afterward is important.
Kim Jung-A actually said, during the BBC News follow-up interview, that she hopes people stop arguing about the video (there’s been some online bickering about whether she’s the nanny or the mother, or whether they were kind enough to their children when trying to get them out of the office) and just enjoy it for what it is–a silly, human moment that we can all relate to.