How to Work Remotely, by Pam Olson
Set yourself free and work remotely
By Pam Olson
I know what you're thinking. Humboldt County is remote, ergo I am already working remotely, right? In a word, no. Working remotely means you are in Maui, or maybe Lake Tahoe, or it's Sunday and you're at home. It means you are working on your office network, not just working on files you've copied to your laptop. It means freedom, and once you've figured out how to gain that freedom, your working world just got a lot better.
Working remotely on your office network gives you access to all your office files; that means your QuickBooks files, your customer contact list, all the workstations in your office, in other words, all the files you have on your office server.
Working remotely used to be limited to really large businesses and major corporations. The immense costs of both the hardware and software involved and the IT (Information Technology) staff one needed to keep all the hardware and software happy made it impossible for the small business.
But today's small business is very capable of installing the necessary ingredients to a remotely accessed network, with little IT staff needed. All that's needed is:
1. A networked server, which is a computer running software storing all your office files;
2. The appropriate Virtual Private Network (VPN) software installed in your office and on your laptop; and,
3. An Internet connection on both ends
With these three items, you have just extended your desktop by as many miles as you care to travel.
VPNs are also referred to as secure tunnels. When you want to access your office network, your VPN software allows you to login with a login name and password. The information you pass is encrypted, which means it is scrambled in such a way no one can decode it. When it gets back to you, it is decoded so you can read it.
There are two parts to a VPN, the client side, which would be the VPN software on your laptop or home computer, and the server side, which would be the VPN server software on the computer in your office you are connecting to. This software is available for both Windows XP and 98 machines and for Macs. VPN client software comes preconfigured on Windows XP and Windows 98.
If you have more than one workstation in your office, it's a good idea to have a networked server, and an economical solution to this is called a "server appliance." This is an important tool when you want to work remotely. If your files are scattered all over the workstations in your office, how will you find which one you need? It's enough to make you just stay in the office and forget going to the lake for that four-day weekend.
When you connect to your server appliance with your VPN, you now have the ability to communicate with all the workstations in your office, plus you have all the office files on that server.
A good practice when working remotely is to connect to your network server and run a remote desktop program from the server. This program allows you to control a computer in your office from your laptop. The computer in your office appears in the screen on your remote laptop just as if you were sitting in front of it.
Having a remote desktop program running will help for many reasons. For example, say you aren't using one, and you're working while on vacation in Tahoe. You take your laptop and open up your QuickBooks program, so it accesses the QuickBooks file on your office network server. The data begins going back and forth over your remote connection from your office to your current location. A snowstorm hits, and your internet connection goes down. When you lost your connection, the data in that file you were working on probably got mangled.
But, if you had been running a remote desktop program, you were really just opening up the QuickBooks program and data on the office computer, not on your laptop. When your Internet connection went down, you only lost your connection to that office computer. The file data wasn't corrupted, because the office computer was running the QuickBooks program, not your laptop. Your office computer kept the fine connection between the program and the data on the server. You experienced no data loss, which means happiness in the computer world.
Try it and you will be hooked on working remotely, guaranteed.
Pam Olson is the CEO of Office Appliance (www.officeapplicance.com), manufacturer of the Helm server and custom software, providing network consulting and computer repair solutions for any business. For the past 10 years Pam has also been CEO of Humboldt Internet, the largest and oldest locally owned ISP in Humboldt Country. She is also a business member of the Redwood Technology Consortium.