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Smart Ways to Work From Home

It may seem like the perfect way to balance job and family. Working from home one or two days a week not only eliminates a commute, but without colleagues popping in to your office, you have uninterrupted blocks of time to get your work done. Productivity soars and everybody wins, right?

In many cases, yes. About 15.7 million workers now telecommute at least one day a month. But before you pitch your boss on the glories of working from home, there are a few things to consider.

First, it isn't for everyone. Even if your job allows for it  -- you can use your home computer, for instance  -- your work habits may not be suited to the arrangement. "If you're distracted by having the television or the refrigerator nearby, or can't motivate yourself to get started in the morning, working from home isn't the best choice," says Gil Gordon, editor of the Telecommuting Review newsletter.

In fact, some experts estimate that one out of every five telecommuting setups fails. "People don't realize the amount of cooperation it takes to make it work successfully," says Christena Nippert-Eng, Ph.D., author of Home and Work. "If coworkers think you're home playing with the kids, say, they could easily sabotage the arrangement by not filling you in on the details of a meeting you missed."

If you're telecommuting, or think you'd like to, here's how to make it go smoothly:

GIVE THE DETAILS UP FRONT
That's what one New York City advertising executive and mother of a 2- and 1-year-old, neglected to do when she began working at home one day a week. "I didn't mind if coworkers called me," she says, "except once someone called at 11 P.M." Be aware that when colleagues have your home number, they may not think twice before using it, regardless of the hour. Put in writing for your boss, colleagues, and clients the specific hours that your workday begins and ends, says Gordon.

SPELL IT OUT AT HOME
Make sure your spouse understands that you still have the same job responsibilities. Go over household chores and errands beforehand, and figure out who can handle what. "Don't fall into the trap of thinking, 'I'm home, so it's easier for me to take the car in for an oil change,'" says Nippert-Eng. "Your work time is just as valuable as your partner's."

TAKE TIME TO SHIFT GEARS
When you live and work in the same place, it can be hard to leave your responsibilities at the office and decompress at the end of the day. Nippert-Eng suggests taking a five- or ten-minute walk to help make the job-to-home transition. "That way, you avoid going full-steam for eight hours only to head into the kitchen and hear, 'What's for dinner?'" she says. After all, working at home is supposed to make your life easier, not harder.

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