The Best Way to Work Remotely
Let's say you need to work on your office computer when you're away from the office. There are a number of reasons you may choose to work remotely:
- You want to spend more time at home, or away from the office
- You have work that needs to be done now, while you are away
- You work from a satellite office, and you need access to your business systems
Many of us have heard about programs that let you work remotely. You may have even tried these programs yourself, only to be frustrated by the experience. Here are some things that can make the remote experience annoying:
- The screen is fuzzy
- The image is the wrong size for the remote computer
- The performance is slow
- You can't print easily to the office or your local computer
- The remote software might not be running when you need it
- You need to secure your office screen while you're working remotely
- You have to remember yet another password
- You need to download and install special software to get connected
All these problems and more can be addressed without spending much, or any, additional money. In fact, most business computers have remote access software built right in! Included in the business versions of Windows is a program called Remote Desktop. It's free, but it's better than anything else I've tried. In fact, it's not just better: it's way, way better than other options.
Now, you might be thinking, what's this about a "business version of Windows"? Windows comes in a variety of flavors. Generally, there are Home varieties, and Business varieties. The computer at your office generally needs to be running a business version of Windows so you can "remote in". This computer that you'll remote into is also called the host computer. If you're on a network, or you have a business computer from a major manufacturer, you likely already have a business version of Windows. It's often call Windows Professional, or Windows Pro.
Here's how to check which version of Windows you have. Note that some versions of Windows may vary from the instructions I give here. If that's the case on your computer, you may need to get help with these specific steps. Generally, though, you can check which version of Windows you have by right-clicking on your Start, or Windows Menu button. This button is usually located at the bottom-left of your screen. When you right-click the button, a menu will appear. When the menu appears, look for an item called System. Click the word System. A window should appear that contains various information about your computer. At the top of that window, you should see the specific version of Windows you have. If you see Pro, or Professional, you're good! If not, don't worry. Keep reading.
If your host computer is not running the Pro version of Windows, it may say Windows Home, or just Windows. In that case, if you want to remote into this computer, you can upgrade it from Windows Home to Pro. The price is typically one hundred dollars, and you can upgrade from right inside Windows. I won't go into the details here, but it's usually a smooth process. Even if you have to pay to upgrade, the remote capability is likely worth your hard-earned cash. Again, you'll be getting the best remote software money can buy, and it will give you flexibility that can make your life easier. As a bonus, there is no monthly fee like there is with most commercially available remote software.
That brings us to one hurdle of using Windows Remote Desktop: initial setup. When you pay a monthly fee for remote software, part of that money is used to avoid having to set up your router. With Windows Remote Desktop, you do need to set up your router initially. It's easy, but not intuitive. There are some up-sides, though: it only takes a short time to setup, and you only have to set up your router once.
Most people reading this will want to get their computer guru to do this next step. In the interest of full disclosure, my company can also provide this service. I'm not here to promote my company, though. I genuinely want you to get the best remote solution possible. This is powerful stuff. If you don't want to monkey with this step, skip the following paragraph. Have your tech guru read it instead. As a bonus: with most commercial remote solutions, you need to pay for each computer you want to remote into. With Windows Remote Desktop, you set up all the remote computers in the router at once. It takes virtually no extra time. That means, even if you do hire someone to complete this setup, there should be no additional charge to set up a few additional remote machines at the same time.
Here's what you -- or your guru -- need to do to set up your router or firewall: forward port 3389 to your host computer. To be thorough, I'll mention that you can use a different port number, but 3389 is the default. If you're going to set up remote desktop for multiple computers, you'll use a different port number in the router for each machine. You'll also set each machine's "listening port" to its corresponding number in the router. You will need to enable remote desktop on the host computer(s). Each Windows user will need a password in order to connect. What if you don't want a password? That's dangerous, so by default, Microsoft will not let anyone on the Internet remote into a computer if it doesn't have a password set for the user. Finally, you will need an address to direct the remote machine to the office router. This will often be your static IP address, provided by your Internet provider. If you don't have a static IP address, you will use a dynamic DNS service. Some of these services are available for free. Some of the most popular dynamic DNS services charge a very small fee. On a personal note, we provide this service for free to our customers.
OK, that was a deep, dark paragraph, but we're done! You -- or your guru -- spent a few minutes setting everything up. Now you can remote to your work computer from almost any other computer! You don't need to pay a big monthly fee, and multiple machines don't require more money for remote service.
Yes, almost any other computer will work as the remote machine. You don't need to have a Pro version of Windows. A home version will do. You don't even need Windows at all! You can use a Mac, a Linux computer, a tablet, your phone, or any device that has an RDP client. Note that using remote desktop on a tablet or phone can be a challenge without a pointer and a keyboard. Also, most mobile devices like phones and tablets require that you download an app to connect. You'll want to find a remote app that includes RDP connections. To be clear, for ease of use, I recommend "remoting in" with a computer, a laptop, or a hybrid tablet that includes a keyboard and touch-pad.
When you connect to your office PC, your screen should look crystal clear. There should be hardly any noticeable delay, or lag. You can print to your office printer. You can even print to your local, remote printer! You can use a friend's laptop to connect, because there's usually nothing to install. Just start the Remote Desktop program on your remote computer, put in your host computer's info, and you'll be prompted for the password on your local machine.
Or heck, make it even easier! If your guru sets this up for you, ask them to put an icon on your laptop or remote computer. That way, you connect by clicking the icon, and putting in your password. About a second or two after you enter your password you'll be ready to work! You don't have to enter any info besides your password to connect.
Make the effort to implement Windows Remote Desktop. It's a pleasure to use. Then, the next time you're at a hotel for a business trip, your laptop will look and behave just like you're back at the office. The only difference will be room service.