Many people trapped in cubicles daydream about working remotely from home in order to avoid distracting colleagues, spend more time with family or just be more comfortable while on the job (bunny slippers tend to not go over well in a corporate office building). But telecommuting presents a number of challenges, including a different set of distractions and the potential to feel isolated. There are several environmental and personal factors to consider when determining whether to work from home.

The tradeoffs

In a 2012 survey conducted by FlexJobs, the leading job site for telecommuting and other flexible jobs, the number one reason why respondents prefer to work from home is fewer interruptions from colleagues. However, a home office can present a number of other issues to contend with.

Fast fact: According to a recent study, the number one reason why respondents prefer to work from home is fewer interruptions from colleagues.

“Your home becomes one big water cooler and the distractions, like laundry, dishes and personal phone calls can keep you from your work,” explains Diane Brennan, a master certified coach and former (2008) president of the International Coach Federation. “You’ll want to manage your work time at home as if you were in an office. The initial flexibility without some structure can result in frustration and overworking,” she adds.

Self-discipline and structure are crucial to being successful in a telecommuting job. Kathy Peel, founder and CEO of Family Manager Coaching and author of more than 20 books, advises breaking up your schedule into small, manageable blocks. “I love timers.  Plan blocks of time like you would at an office,” she says.  For example, Peel suggests that parents working from home schedule blocks of time to work while the kids are out of the house. “You’ve got to be disciplined,” she adds. “You can end up accomplishing a lot in little chunks of time.”

“Don’t work all hours just because you have access to your office 24/7,” adds Brennan. “Make sure to schedule lunch, include walks or exercise time and family time.”

For people working from home with kids or other people in the house, communication is essential to maintaining a peaceful working environment. Peel suggests creating a system to communicate with children, such as a sign to indicate when it is okay to interrupt or not.

Creating your home office environment

Part of the fun people have when working from home is customizing their work space. “The cubicle feel is not inspiring to me,” says Sara Sutton Fell, CEO and founder of FlexJobs. “I love windows, and believe in having a green office,” she adds.

Sutton Fell understands that telecommuting appeals to people who like having a little extra control and freedom in their work schedule and environment. Something as simple as being able to control the temperature can affect a person’s productivity. But figuring out the best environment isn’t always easy.

“I learned by trial and error,” explains Sutton Fell. “I had a newborn baby and didn’t have an office behind a closed door. As he got bigger, it became important to have my own space and to bring on a babysitter so that I could really separate work hours and family time.” Sutton Fell’s family was able build a separate add-on space to serve as her office. It’s important to make a home office an enjoyable place to be. “Invest in it,” and get creative, advises Sutton Fell “You’ll be more productive as a result.”

“You’ll want to manage your work time at home as if you were in an office. The initial flexibility without some structure can result in frustration and overworking.”

For people splitting their time between telecommuting and working part-time in an office, less of an investment may be needed. Maureen Kingsley works three days a week as an associate editor for UBM Canon in addition to doing freelance editing work. The mom of two young kids takes a relaxed approach to working from home: “I just do my freelance editing on my couch with my laptop. No home office needed!”

Web tools for your remote office

Social media has quickly become an essential part of Internet-based telecommuting work. Online networking platforms help people stay in touch with their industries and professional connections, which is particularly important for women if they want to take a break from work to have and raise children, according to Susan Wenner Jackson, founder of Working Moms Against Guilt. They also help working people stay connected to colleagues or customers while traveling and enable people to multitask. “I've certainly done a few conference calls with a sick kid in my lap or responded to a work-related email while watching my children at the playground,” she says.

LinkedIn is one such platform that is specifically geared toward the working professional. In addition to networking through LinkedIn, Kingsley manages a Twitter account and uses sites like Indeed.com to stay abreast of what part-time positions are available in her field. Sutton Fell’s FlexJobs similarly focuses on providing flexible, telecommuting job listings. Jackson recommends Mom Corps, a national network of local franchises that bring employers and professional women together for flexible work opportunities. “I also love sites with helpful advice for working moms and women, such as WorkingMother.com, The Grindstone, The Glass Hammer, and Cali Yost,” adds Jackson.

Because people, especially parents, who telecommute have so much to juggle, including maintaining a presence in social media, Peel suggests people take advantage of the free tools on the Family Manager site.  Brennan cautions telecommuters, however, to not get so engrossed in social media and networking that it becomes a distraction from work, or worse, a second job. “You need to be smart about postings and participations to manage your professional profile and presence,” she says. “You don’t want it to take over your life.”