Most of my career I have worked virtually with colleagues and teams around the world. Globalization has made this way of working necessary and technology has made this way of work possible. When people learn most of my work is done virtually there are two questions I am asked. Isn’t working from home distracting? And, Don’t you feel disconnected from your team?

The distractions of working virtually, sure, laundry, dishes, television, etc can all be distractors when working from home. However, there are similar distractors when working in an office, co-workers stopping by, coffee runs, and regardless of your work location, we are all guilty of being distracted by internet searches and social media. Regardless, of where you work, it is impossible to eliminate distraction, so what we have to do is learn to manage them. Here are my strategies for managing distractions when working from home:

  • Establish work hours: This rule applies whether you are one of those people that don’t know when to end the workday or you are one of those people that tend to get distracted easily. Work hours are work hours regardless of where you are working. So, decide what hours you will work and stick to the schedule. Hold yourself accountable for working during these hours and these hours only. Now, I know there will be exceptions. Let’s face it, we all have to work extra hours sometimes and we all goof off during work hours sometimes. However, when you work virtually it is really important to hold yourself accountable to a set schedule as much as possible.
  • Designate a workspace: If you work from home this is really important because it is really easy for your work to take over the house and then it seems like you just work all the time. This doesn’t have to be an entire room, a desk in the corner of a room will suffice if space is an issue. Just claim a space and declare it “work zone” and keep all work-related items in this space.
  • Establish ground rules and boundaries: If your virtual work arrangement involves working out of your home, it is essential to establish ground rules and boundaries with those whom you share your living space with. Let them know your work hours and where your designated workspace is located. Establish rules about when they can and cannot come into your workspace. In my home the rule is, if the door is closed I am not to be disturbed. These may seem obvious but without clearly communicating what you need to be productive, it is very easy to get distracted.
  • Transition Routine: For most people, their commute serves as the transition between home at work and the start of the day and home and work at the end of the day. When you work from home there is no commute and it is easy to use what would be your commute time to get a bit of extra work done. This often leads to jumping right from work tasks, blurring the line between work and home. So, you need to be deliberate about creating a transition routine. Take a walk around the block, catch an episode of a TV show, perhaps a quick workout, or a drive to the local market for some dinner supplies… it doesn’t really matter what the routine is just as long as it is consistent and you are deliberate about engaging in the routine.
  • Have a contingency plan: Every now and then unplanned distractions will pop up that will disrupt your normal work routine. A power outage in your neighborhood, internet service being down, loud construction in the area, family visiting, just to name a few. Things events have a tendency of popping up last minute so plan ahead. Consider alternate work locations, backup generators, a MiFi device. The nature of your work will determine the contingencies you will have to plan for so consider the nature of your work and create a plan.

Feeling disconnected, sure, working virtually often means that you are not face-to-face with your colleagues and this can make you feel like you are off on an island on your own. Given that many organizations today have multiple locations being in “the office” doesn’t necessarily mean you will be in the same physical space as your coworkers. But, this doesn’t mean that you have to feel disconnected from your team and it doesn’t mean you have to be unsocial. Here are a few strategies for building relationships when working virtually:

  • Virtual Coffee: Yes, you read that right. The same way you would “grab coffee” with teammates in person, you can schedule to do the same virtually. Make sure you take this meeting away from your desk where you won’t be distracted by emails and other work-related tasks. Make it a point to talk about non-work related topics, ask them about their family, what they did over the weekend, the same conversations you have with people in person can be had virtually. My rule of thumb is to have at least one virtual coffee meeting a week.
  • Virtual Face-to-Face: Yes, again, you read that right. Sometimes, you need to put a name with a face or see the face of the people you are speaking with. Technology has made this possible with video chatting services. Popular online collaborative tool (like WebEx) have video functions built in, so why not leverage this technology to better connect with your colleagues? This tool can also be effective for team meetings or work sessions.
  • Connect with Messenger: Many companies today have some sort of instant messenger application. This is a very effective way to stay connected to your workmates. Use this technology throughout the day from a quick “hello, good morning” to asking a work-related question. If you are focused on a task and wish to not be disturbed use the “do not disturb function” or simply log off.
  • Planned outings: When working virtually it is really easy to become a recluse. Don’t fall into this trap. Schedule at least one outing for yourself per week. This can be anything from lunch with a friend, volunteering, taking a fitness class, something that gets you to interact in person with other human beings.

Globalization and technology are changing where and how we work. Flexible work arrangements are becoming the norm requiring us to develop new strategies for staying focused and connected. Do you have a non-traditional work situation? What strategies do you use to stay focused?

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