|Home Networking Tutorial - The Benefits of Networking|
Some of the most exciting benefits of home networking have yet to materialize. Besides the well-known file sharing and gaming uses, a home network can serve other worthwhile purposes. Whether because of cost, short-term technical limitations, or cultural acceptance issues, these alternative uses have not yet emerged in the mainstream of home networking, but you can expect they will soon. A few lucky people enjoy the benefits of these applications today.
Telecommuting, also known as telework, refers to the ability of company employees to work outside of their office. The widespread acceptance of telecommuting has been predicted for years, but the practice has not come close to realizing its potential. Modern home networking technology can change this situation... or can it?
Telecommuting With and Without Networks
Telecommuting was technically feasible before the Internet and home networking became popular. Remote workers could use stand-alone personal computers to write documents and software, relying on the telephone and postal mail to communicate with the office.
Internet access in the home makes possible better "live" or real-time telecommuting. In addition to live audio, Internet telecommuters can often exchange email with co-workers and sometimes participate in real-time video connections with the office.
Home Networks for Telecommuters
Most network telecommuters today rely on the Internet for access to the office; alternatives such as leased lines exist but are expensive for companies to install.
A single computer with Net access may be temporarily sufficient for telecommuting, but a full-featured home network supports multiple family members. Two adults may both telecommute from the same home, and kids wanting to use the Net for education and games can share the network too, without interfering with telework.
One often does not require high-speed Internet access for effective telework. Many remote workers communicate through small email messages that travel over networks very quickly. Workers can also write and edit documents and software programs on their local computer, using the network only for sending final results to the office. However, high-speed Net access will be necessary if many family members need simultaneous access or if videoconferencing systems must be used as part of the remote work.
Telecommuters often handle a company's proprietary information that must be kept hidden from competitors. Telecommuting over the public Internet can create security "holes" if the telework system is implemented improperly. A remote worker without a home firewall, for example, runs the risk of having their local files read and "stolen" by outsiders.
Companies concerned about the security of remote work over the Internet can implement a Virtual Private Network (VPN). With its support for authentication and data encryption, a VPN provides a private connection between home and office on the public Internet. To set up a VPN, a company installs VPN servers at the office and remote workers install VPN clients. Companies may choose to provide standard dial-up networking servers, VPN servers, or both. VPNs can actually save companies money if, for example, their workers often make long distance phone calls to gain remote access.
Telecommuting at Cisco
The benchmark of successful network telecommuting on a large scale has been set by Cisco Systems. According to a study in June, 2000, approximately 70% of Cisco's employees, more than 15,000 people, telecommuted at least part-time.
The study claims that Cisco provides high-speed DSL service to many employees in the region of their Silicon Valley headquarters. They also provide an informative corporate intranet and an IP-based videoconferencing system. They even accomodate a few full-time telecommuters working long-distance over traditional modem connections. Most importantly, Cisco fosters a work environment of mutual trust by approving employees for telecommuting status with a minimum of bureaucracy, basing the remote workers' performance on results and not on a time clock.
Cisco's position at a high-tech networking company gives it natural advantages over some other firms when it comes to telework. Most Cisco employees are tech-savvy and require little or no home network training. As the study points out, Cisco's telecommuting policy grew in large part out of necessity during the time of the company's extremely rapid growth and overcrowed facilities. Nevertheless, Cisco remains a shining example of the potential of home network-based telecommuting.
The Real Problem with Telecommuting
Cisco's success demonstrates the ability of today's technology to usher in a new age of telecommuting. Instead of being trapped in rush hour traffic, polluting the environment and wasting valuable time, employees can almost certainly increase their productivity and job satisfaction through Internet- and home network-based telework.
The most significant limitations to telecommuting are non-technical (and arguably irrational) in nature. Despite the capabability of home networks, VPNs, and application software, many company managers remain opposed to telecommuting. Some managers apparently do not trust the ability of their employees to remain focused on their job while at home. They may believe the jobs require face-to-face contact at the workplace every single day, or that the power and status of their position will be somehow dimished if their employees work remotely. Perhaps they don't understand how to evaluate the performance of remote workers. Perhaps they do not appropriately value their employees' family and personal time. None of these concerns can be blamed on technology.
Apparently more success stories like Cisco's must emerge before telecommuting via the home network reaches its full potential.
Graphic from Microsoft Office Clip Art library
We regularly discuss home networking on our message board called the Computer Networking Forum. Consider writing your comments and questions there.