How can I prevent neighbors from dropping by when I’m working from home? These interruptions are usually brief, but they do interfere with my workflow.

Elaine Varelas advises on how to politely set boundaries when it comes to neighbors stopping by during your workday.

Q. I work from home and my neighbors are aware of this. I find it frustrating that so many of them stop by at random times during the day when I’m working and interrupt my workflow. How can I delicately let them know that while I work from home, I really need to focus on my job and getting my work done?  While working from home certainly offers more flexibility, I am a head-down kind of person and need to concentrate.

A. We are way past the days of dropping in on people, especially since so many people today are working from home. Even if you're related to people, most people would prefer that you not ever drop in unannounced. If you're working from home, I think having a sign on your door that says, "At work, please leave a message”, and leave a pad and pen, is entirely within the realm of polite society. You might mention your work hours in conversation with neighbors and just mention how you are solely focused on work during those hours. I would not encourage people to drop by, unless outside of your working hours, and many people need more than a “delicate” message.

If you live in a neighborhood where perhaps people don't work and it's considered a neighborly thing to do, then you need to draw your own boundaries. If you live in an apartment complex where people often drop by, you might consider putting a note on your door that says, "Audio taping in progress, please do not disturb." Or you could just let them know that the responsibilities of your job really demand a dedicated focus on the work that you're doing. If someone does stop by, you could let them know you are in the middle of work and perhaps suggest an alternative time to catch up. Interruptions are not easy to recover from so it’s important to be firm, but polite. There are also advanced doorbells, where the message says Thanks for stopping by, but we aren’t available. Just like in the office a closed door means “Not now” you can be neighborly and communicate the same not now message.

It's important to understand and communicate the boundaries you need. Today, there are so many easy ways to communicate, and you could encourage communication through other channels. Someone might text you and ask, "Okay, if I stop by?" And if you don't respond quickly, the answer is no. And if someone wants to call you on the phone and you don't pick up, clearly the answer is no. Taking responsibility for how people treat you and treat the value of your time is something you need to  control and manage. Your employer will appreciate that. If you're on a video call  with your employer and you are disturbed multiple times, your employer will absolutely wonder what goes on when you're not on the call.

Take control of your front door and post a note that says, "Another time please”, “Please do not disturb”, “Active work going on", or any message you like that delivers the message. Unless you have food, come back later is a favorite! These visual cues can signal that you're occupied and discourage unexpected visits. You can change people's behaviors through communication that can be direct, but not rude. Or you could just get a loud, barking dog (real or virtual) to keep visitors away!