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4 Tips to Master Telecommuting

With more and more Americans adopting work-from-home schedules, today’s professionals clearly crave the flexibility of telecommuting.

Five years ago, the 2010 U.S. Census noted a 35 percent increase in home-based telecommuting among the American workforce from 1997. When examining the 2012 American Community Survey, San Diego research firm Global Workplace Analytics found that 2.6 percent of the American workforce—that’s 3.3 million workers—considered home their primary workplace. And that number just keeps getting higher.

Of course, the lure of telecommuting is obvious: The flexibility allows workers freedom from the classic nine-to-five routine so they can customize their days to fit their personal work styles and schedules.

But there’s more to telecommuting than blue jeans, a nearby fridge and the freedom to come and go. In reality, transitioning into a home office requires self-management and discipline, which for many is easier said than done. Make the most out of your home office with a careful strategy with these tips:

Create a functional workspace

Whether you designate a room as a home office or cordon off part of your dining room, make sure you invest in the right office equipment, supplies and resources.

For starters, make sure you’re tech-ready and able to communicate. Business Insider recommends securing both a fast internet connection and a reliable phone service, to minimize the risk of derailing critical meetings or projects because of spotty communications. And, of course, don’t forget for these essentials:

  • A good laptop or desktop
  • Printer/copy machine
  • An ergonomic chair
  • Adequate lighting
  • Desk
  • Easily accessed electrical outlets

Remember: In a work-from-home arrangement, the corporate supply closet is no longer within arm’s reach. Find out if your employer will cover supply and equipment costs, and prepare to stock up on things like paper, notebooks, pens, staplers, paper clips and any other supplies you need day-to-day. You don't have to spend a fortune, but if you're serious about working from home, invest accordingly.

Eliminate distractions

Among the toughest parts of telecommuting are the potential distractions. At home, TV, video games, pets and other diversions are just down the hall or across the room. Managing and avoiding disruptions is critical to successfully working from home.

Even if you don't have the space for a totally separate home office, maintaining a well-defined work space includes keeping it distraction-free. Even if it's a simple desk setup at your kitchen table, make sure that it's outfitted only with what's necessary for work.

Don’t be a stranger

When you work from home, you risk sacrificing strong bonds with coworkers and managers and the opportunity to participate in the kinds of social interactions that are critical to professional camaraderie. Your coworker interactions—not to mention the real-time feedback and face-time—are critical for career growth and satisfaction.

Fortunately, modern technology makes it that much easier for you to stay in the loop. Virtual conferencing software and instant messengers can enable strong connections with the rest of your team. And, by communicating frequently, you'll stay on your superiors' minds when they dole out new responsibilities or a promotion.

Follow a set schedule

For most professionals, the most appealing aspect of telecommuting is freedom from the typical nine-to-five routine. They can set their schedules to make the most of high-productivity hours and take a break during down periods. Still, don't underestimate the power of habits and routines. Regardless of how you like to work, be sure to set a schedule and stick to it to avoid procrastination. For example, if you're most productive in the morning, be sure to tackle most of your workload before lunch.

Also important: Remember that working from home isn’t just about your convenience. Stay accessible and available during critical hours, so that your colleagues have the access to you that they need. If you habitually fall off the map during crunch times, your manager might decide telecommuting disrupts overall productivity. As a bonus, keeping a predictable schedule assures your managers know exactly when to reach out, catch up and make sure everything goes smoothly.