The Right Way to Work From Home

NEW YORK ( MainStreet) -- Some employees would do almost anything for the opportunity to work from home -- even divorcing their significant other, according to a recent survey -- but telecommuting full time or part time poses several unique challenges workers may not anticipate until they actually go through with it.

To find out more about the secrets of succeeding as a telecommuter, we spoke with Heather Huhman, a career counselor and founder of Come Recommended, a public relations firm for recruiters. Aside from being a career expert, Huhman has worked from home full time for the past two years and has telecommuted on and off ever since 2002. Here are her tips on how to do it right.
Telecommuting poses several unique challenges workers may not anticipate until they actually go through with it.

Set the ground rules early on.
As with any job, it's important for telecommuters to consult their managers to set expectations at the start about schedules.

"Just because you are working from home doesn't mean you can work from midnight to 5 a.m.," Huhman says. "You need to set ground rules pretty early on. If the company doesn't set them you should bring it forward as an employee."

At her company, Huhman says employees usually have pre-determined "core hours" they must work, but beyond that, employees can customize their schedules to pick up kids from school or go to the gym as long as they tell the team in advance and still get their work done.

Stay in constant contact with your co-workers.
One risk when working from home is that you might miss out on the casual check-ins with your boss and watercooler conversations with your co-workers that help build confidence and camaraderie in the office.

"Whether you are the one running the team or just a part of it, the most important thing is communication. Just like you check in a lot at work, you should check in a lot at home," Huhman says. In particular, she recommends taking advantage of options such as Skype, instant messenger systems, Facebook messages and, of course, email to stay in touch with your co-workers throughout the day. This way, you have a chance to build relationships and everyone knows you are busy working when you're supposed to be.

After all, you may be out of sight at home, but that doesn't mean you should be out of mind at work.

Keep your work life and home life separate.
Part of the reason some employees are eager to work from home is to cut down on the commute and have more time for their personal life, but part of the danger of working from home is that you can end up completely erasing the thin line that divides your work life from your personal life. Suddenly, your home is your office and vice versa. That's why it's so important to keep the two separate.

"I work in an actual home office with a door and when I leave, I shut the door and leave all the devices in there. That separates the two," Huhman says. "If your work area is the corner of your couch, then it's really difficult to separate things."

For those who aren't lucky enough to have an office space in their home, Huhman recommends trying a coffee shop or renting a co-working space nearby. This way, you can avoid taking your work home with you.

Know your distractions.
If there's one thing working from home and working in an office have in common, it's that both inevitably come with a set of distractions. As Huhman points out, telecommuters might have to contend with barking dogs or crying babies, while office workers must deal with chatty co-workers and constant meetings.

"You can get just as distracted in an office as you can at home, it's just a different kind of distraction," she says. For that reason, Huhman says it's incredibly important to lean on deadlines at home just as you would at work to keep you focused on what needs to get done and when.

Try telecommuting temporarily before you commit to it full time.
As tempting as the idea of telecommuting may be, it's certainly not for everyone. So rather than dive head first into it full time, it might be better to ask your employer to let you try it one or two days a week at first and see how it goes.

"You should definitely try it out for a few we eks and then report back to make sure it's working for everybody. Just because it's working for one person doesn't mean it's working for all," Huhman says. Agreeing to a trial period first can help convince your employers to let you telecommute full time.

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