Avoiding interruptions is easy if you cut all forms of communication. Unplug the phone, quit your email and IM clients, and remove any other way your team can contact you. You will work in a blissfully uninterrupted black box. You will also prevent communication and collaboration with the rest of your team. Nobody wants to work with a black box. Shut yourself off like this and you will confirm everyone’s worst fears about working with remote engineers.
Make it clear to your team that you will be more interactive during some parts of the day. Use your schedule and keep it consistent. Setting aside one part of the day for questions and the other part for more focused work is a good model. When you are in a more focused working mode set your status so the team can tell what is going on.
The schedule won’t stop everyone from interrupting your focused work time. Stand up to the people interrupting you. Tell them they will have to wait, but be polite. Make it clear that you are busy right now and tell them when you will get back to them. If you can give a quick description of what you are doing that is even better.
If all else fails
If you have set up your schedule, set your IM status to busy, and politely told people you need time to work, and they are still bothering you, you have my permission to disconnect. When you are running up against a deadline, it is OK to unplug the phone and turn off the IM so you can get your work done. In the rare cases that you do unplug to get your work done, remember:
Set expectations. Tell people that you are going to be away and tell them when you will be back online.
Leave one way to contact you. Even if your time is really scarce, you can’t disconnect completely. Give your team one way to contact you. Letting them know you will check email a couple of times a day is fine.
Don’t stay away too long. Disconnecting to finish an important project is OK, but don’t make it a habit. Don’t stay away any longer than you absolutely have to.