Is working from home an efficient alternative to the traditional office job or a productivity killer? That depends on whom you ask.

Here’s what we do know: According to a new survey on telecommuting, 32 percent of Canadians who telecommute at least part of the time spend one hour or less per day on work. That would tend to suggest that virtual office workers are more productive.

Other survey data reveals 13 percent of surveyed virtual office workers in Canada work eight or more hours. And 45 percent of telecommuters work between four and seven hours per day. This latter group may be part-timers or self-employed virtual office users.

"With mass adoption of smart phones and advanced network technologies, telecommuters are connected to their offices like never before. As a result, we're seeing more companies embrace the work-from-home option and more workers putting in full-time hours while at home," says Rosemary Haefner, vice president of human resources at CareerBuilder.

"However, to avoid situations where telecommuters aren't putting in the necessary time, managers need to be clear about expectations and establish daily objectives. The autonomy of working from home can be very rewarding so long as it doesn't diminish productivity."

When CareerBuilder actually asked virtual office users their opinions, these telecommuters were split as to whether time spent at home or at the office is more conducive to high-quality work. Thirty-seven percent say they are more productive at the office, while 26 percent report they are more productive at home. Thirty-seven percent do not see a difference. In all, that bodes well for the virtual office productivity gain argument, because even those who don’t see a difference are gaining time by eliminating travel.

Haefner recommends the following tips to help telecommuters work as efficiently as possible:

  • Keep a normal morning routine. The survey found that 25 percent of telecommuters tend to work in pajamas. The truth is you'll probably work better if you treat your mornings as if you were going to the office. If there's one good thing about a commute, it's that you get a mental transition between home and work life. Get out of bed, dress up, grab breakfast—do anything that will get your mind in the right place.

  • Find the best spot to work. Even if you don't have a dedicated home office, it's important that you find the least distracting place in your home. Don't be tempted by the entertainment system or the recliner.

  • Stay connected to colleagues. It's easier to slack off when you know your colleagues or managers aren't watching. If you're struggling to stay motivated at home, schedule an update meeting or call and talk shop with an office peer to get your mind back on work.

  • Plan your breaks. You should never feel like a prisoner in your own home. Plan short breaks to take care of chores, play with pets, exercise, or run a brief errand. You'll be less likely to succumb to quitting work early if you structure the perks of being at home appropriately into your schedule.

  • Take your work to a coffee shop. A lot of workers don't like telecommuting because they're accustomed to working around others. Working at home can be lonely. If your job allows it, try spending an afternoon in a coffee shop or library. At many spots, you'll likely find contract workers or other telecommuters toiling away, as well.