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10 Tips for Telecommuting Success

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Appropriately enough, Sara Sutton Fell runs FlexJobs, a website that matches people with telecommuter-friendly jobs, from her home in Boulder, Colorado. In fact, all 43 employees of FlexJobs work from their homes in places like Mission Viejo, California, and Virginia Beach, Virginia. In the traditional brick-and-mortar sense, FlexJobs doesn't have a headquarters.

The virtual workforce at FlexJobs is part of a growing trend in the U.S. About 13.4 million Americans worked at least one day at home each week in 2010, a 35 percent increase in just one decade, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. It turns out that Fell's hometown, Boulder, is home to the highest percentage (10.9 percent) of telecommuters in any U.S. city.

Whether you're in Boulder or Boston, technology is allowing more people to work from home, according to Fell.

"Access to high-speed Internet, the rise in 'knowledge workers' who do most of their work over computers and phones, and the ability for teams to stay constantly connected even when they work thousands of miles away from each other are just a few examples of how technology is enabling this trend," Fell said.

As appealing as telecommuting can be, it's not for everyone, however. But for those who are suited to telecommuting, experts offer these 10 tips for making it work.

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1. Separate work life from home life.

"Believe it or not, a common mistake at-home workers make is working too much," Fell said. "Without that commute to and from work, it can be hard to break away from your home office and call it a day."

That's why it's critical to set boundaries, experts say. For instance, Fell said, you should arrange for childcare if you're kids aren't in school during the day. "Trying to pay attention to your kids and your job at the same time is never a good idea, and both will suffer as a result," she said.

Angelo Kinicki, a professor of management at Arizona State University's W.P. Carey School of Business, said it's essential to impose rules for you and your family members if you're working from home.

"Establish 'do not disturb' guidelines, work hours, break times, and a policy on handling personal matters. For example, no doing dishes or laundry or taking out the trash during work hours," Kinicki said. "My best advice is to treat your home office as if it were a 'real' office located somewhere else."

2. Get "ready" for work.

Although it may be tempting to lounge around in your pajamas, experts highly recommend showering and getting dressed as if you were heading to a workplace. As far as attire goes, you probably can get away with shorts and a T-shirt in warmer weather or heavier clothes in colder weather.

Business-casual attire isn't for every telecommuter, though. Matthew Reischer, CEO of Legal Marketing Pages Corp., finds that wearing a dress shirt and tie enhances his performance when he's working from home. Reischer said his telework wardrobe sends a message during videoconferences with other remote workers that he's serious about getting down to business.

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3. Establish "office" hours.

While telecommuting offers lots of flexibility, you've still got to stick to a schedule. Debby Carreau, founder and CEO of HR outsourcing firm Inspired HR, said that if you don't create a window of time for your job, you'll either work around the clock or put off your work.

4. Divide up your day.

Giancarolo Massaro, co-founder of contest software company ViralSweep, said he breaks up his workday into chunks. He'll wake up around 6:30 a.m., eat breakfast, and then work from 7:30-10:30 a.m. After that, he'll hit the gym, grab lunch and work from 1:30-6 p.m. He'll then eat dinner, take a shower and perhaps squeeze in an hour or two of work before heading to bed around 11 p.m. With this sort of schedule, Massaro said he's "not stuck behind the desk for long periods of time" at home.

5. Set up the proper environment.

Carve out a space in your home that's your dedicated workspace. Ideally, the space should have a door so that you can shut out noise or interruptions. Your workspace shouldn't be at your kitchen table or in your bedroom, experts say.

"If you work from a messy bedroom or a dirty kitchen, you'll get distracted," said Cathy Caldeira Atkins, who co-owns a PR and marketing agency in Boston but works from her home in Raleigh, North Carolina.

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6. Keep the lines of communication open.

If you're an off-site worker, be sure to check in at least once a day by email, online chat, phone or videoconferencing with your on-site managers and coworkers, Fell said.

You also should set up regular face-to-face meetings with managers and coworkers who may or may not be telecommuting. "Like it or not, relationships develop more quickly in person, and remote workers can be forgotten or overlooked for promotions or career development if they are not top of mind," Carreau said.

7. Don't constantly monitor your cellphone.

Kyle Ayling, the work-at-home owner of apparel company Cloud 9 Griptape, recommends setting your phone to silent or turning it off altogether when work demands most or all of our attention. "Time can be wasted by frequently checking it for no apparent reason," he warned.

The same advice can apply to checking Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and other social media networks throughout the day, unless that's a key part of your job.

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8. Get out of the house.

Work remotely from Starbucks. Attend a networking luncheon. Go to a business happy hour. Whatever the activity, make sure you're around other people at least some of the time.

"We are social creatures meant to interact with one another," said Felena Hanson, founder of Hera Hub, a chain of coworking spaces for female entrepreneurs. "It's important to get plugged into an organization or network of like-minded individuals who can support you when needed."

9. Skip work when you're not productive.

Hanson said we've been led to believe that we must be productive during traditional business hours. We sometimes feel guilty when we aren't chained to our desks, she said.

"If you aren't focused and don't feel productive, don't force it. Take some time, go for a walk, get some space, and then go back to the drawing board. But don't force it -- your work will suffer from this," Hanson said.

10. Reward yourself.

Michael Bremmer, president and CEO of TelecomQuotes.com, recommends paying yourself the money that you'd normally budget for commuting expenses.

"Use it to pay off bills or, better yet, put it toward your house payment. This small amount will add up quickly over time," Bremmer said.

Photos via Thinkstock

John Egan is editor in chief at SpareFoot, an Austin, Texas-based startup that operates the country's largest online marketplace for self-storage units.