Just before the Industrial Revolution, the manufacture of goods took place in the homes of workers all over the United States. Workers were paid per unit, and goods were transported every few days to be distributed. Eventually someone realized that they could reduce the per unit cost by having all of those workers commute to a single location, and thus improve productivity. The hourly wage was introduced, and a new model of working was born.
Fast forward several decades, and our economy is increasingly being built on products that are digital, rather than physical. As a result of this, and the ability to securely transmit digital information over the internet anywhere in the world, the tools that employees need to complete their tasks are no longer bound to a physical location. This represents a profound shift in how employment is viewed, just as it did decades ago when things were moving the other direction.
With that shift, a large number of companies, technologies, and solutions have emerged for accommodating businesses who wish to telecommute. Below is an overview of the different models and approaches to this practice, along with some recommendations.
PC to PC:
One of the more common scenarios involves an employee who has a dedicated physical workstation in the office, and access to corporate data is restricted to that workstation. When the employee is traveling or at home, they connect to that workstation, viewing its desktop, and work as though they were sitting at that machine. No data is actually transferred outside of the office network, but merely viewed remotely.
This setup usually involves either a VPN tunnel between the home PC and the office network, an open port in the firewall for a direct connection, or 3rd party software, such as LogMeIn or PCAnywhere. This is a recommended method due to the restriction of data to the office network, reducing the risk of security breaches.
PC to Terminal Server:
Similar to the scenario above, PC to Terminal Server involves the employee connecting from their home PC or laptop to a server which allows multiple people to remote in at one time, accessing the same software programs and data. This is often used when employees may not have a dedicated workstation in the office, or perhaps use a laptop primarily, rather than a desktop.
This setup usually involves a VPN tunnel between the employee’s home PC or laptop and the office network, or an open port in the firewall for a direct connection to the terminal server.
This is a recommended method due to the time and cost savings of purchasing a single physical terminal server that can service the telecommuting needs of multiple employees. In addition, software need only been installed, updated, or upgraded once on the server, and all users benefit.
PC to Firewall/Network:
In this scenario, a company laptop is configured with software that allows it to connect directly to the office network via a VPN tunnel, and data is also accessed directly from the servers. Rather than viewing a desktop or server in the office, any data is actually copied over the tunnel to the remote laptop.