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5 telecommuting pitfalls to avoid

Working from home? Or just thinking about getting permission from your boss? Be prepared for a completely different experience than what you'll get in a cubicle. There's more freedom and flexibility, to be sure. But working from home -- even just one or two days a week -- has its own dangers and pitfalls.

Here are five tips to keep your sanity -- and your job -- when working from home:

Establish an in-office back-up. Some things just don't work well remotely, and if a fire drill happens on one of your telework days, you might find it difficult to manage the problem remotely. That's when it can be helpful to have a back-up relationship in place with a coworker. Your buddy can be your in-office backup on your at-home days, and you can serve as hers when she works at home. Bonus points: Management will be impressed that you've thought through your work-at-home strategy so thoroughly.

Take regular breaks. You probably have a regular rhythm for breaks in the office -- lunch, meetings and interaction with coworkers helps apply a system of breaks and interruptions to your day. At home, it might just be you and the cat. Use a timer if necessary to keep from working nonstop until you lose focus and stop being productive. This is an excellent opportunity to try out the Pomodoro productivity system.

Know when to stop. In the old days, managers worried that their employees would be unproductive when out of eyesight. The bigger problem is that teleworkers have trouble not working, often continuing past the dinner bell and into the evening. Set firm stopping points to keep from burning out.

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Stay in touch via IM. Does your team or company have a standard instant messaging tool? Be sure to keep it running, and use it to stay in communication with colleagues throughout the day. It lets everyone else know that you're working even when you're not in the office, and it gives you the human connection you need to stay focused and motivated.

Don't be dogmatic about your days at home. A telecommuting policy is a privilege, not a right. If you work at home on a particular day each week, don't fall into the trap of asking other people to move meetings or otherwise accommodate your telecommuting time. If an important meeting pops up on your designated day, come into the office anyway. It'll show you're a team player and reassure management that they made the right decision in trusting you with a work at home policy.

Photo courtesy of Flickr user Bob Cotter

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