Often it seems we've come to take access to the internet for granted, but with the rise of remote work in 2020, staying connected for work and school has brought new challenges. Remote work was already on the rise in 2019, according to a survey released by FlexJobs before the pandemic hit full force. Now, many people are working remotely and are likely to do so for some time - and many experts posit that the switch to more mobile work may be permanent.

“We’re all connected,” was the lyric of choice for the commercials that New York Telephone ran in the '80s. Back then, connecting through a phone line sufficed, but now we expect our connections to extend to the internet, and that calls for more sophisticated networks.

Here we take a look at different networks.

Getting to Know the Four Kinds of Area Networks

Local Area Network (LAN)

LAN stands for local area network. The local area typically is an office, but it can also be found in homes due to the rise of Wi-Fi. Whether wired or wireless, odds are that the LAN at your office works off Ethernet. Ethernet can work over twisted-pair cables that plug into switches that can be connected to gateways through RJ-45 connectors, similar to the phone jacks of a bygone era. These connections can link the LAN to another LANs or the internet.

Ethernet can also connect wirelessly over Wi-Fi under the IEEE 802.11 standard. Almost all new routers can use the b/g/n standards. IEEE 802.11b. (Read also: 802. What? Making Sense of the 802.11 Family)

Wide Area Network (WAN)

As indicated by the "w," WAN covers a wider area than a LAN. A wide area network can be used to connect a number of buildings, whether they are relatively close together, as in the case of campus, or work off satellite links to connect across counties.

As in the case of LAN, it can work off wired or wireless connection. If wired, it likely will use fiber-optic cable. Microwave or infrared (IR) transmission technology, or satellite can serve for wireless connections.

Personal Area Network (PAN)

Personal area networks (PAN) cover a smaller area than LAN, usually a small room. The best known wireless PAN network technology is Bluetooth, and the most popular wired PAN is USB. Wi-Fi also serves as a PAN technology.

Metropolitan Area Network (MAN)

Metropolitan Area Network (MAN) connects nodes located in the same metro area. While it’s possible to make those connection with fiber-optic cable, it is more cost-effective to connect buildings that may be blocks or miles apart wirelessly. Consequently, most will rely on microwave transmission technology.

Another Important Acronym

Virtual Private Network (VPN)

While this acronym does refer to a network, it doesn’t rhyme with the others. The reason for that is that it’s not about bridging area networks but creating privacy through virtualization.

VPN redirects internet traffic through a remote server specifically configured for that purpose. The effect of that is that both your IP address and your online behavior are obscured from your ISP, as all data sent and received via the VPN is encrypted.

In an interview with Techopedia, Daniel Markuson, digital privacy expert at NordVPN, explained that you can visualize the VPN as creating a tunnel for the data to pass through: “This tunnel is created by first authenticating your client — a computer, smartphone, or tablet — with a VPN server. The server then applies an encryption protocol to all data going back and forth between you and your online destination.”

Markuson observed that while VPNs used to only be set up for businesses concerned about maintaining security or tech-savvy people who wanted to maintain their privacy, usage has risen tremendously in 2020. Much of it “correlates with self-isolation, the quarantine, and social distancing happening around the world due to the coronavirus.”

Now some people were using the VPN simply for a better streaming experience, as people logged far more hours using online entertainment under lockdown than usual. But for some, it really was about setting themselves up to work from home as efficiently as possible. (Read also: Considering a VPN? Make the Right Choice for Your Needs.)

Preparing to Meet the Remote Challenge

It’s become fairly common to work from home or some other remote location on occasion due to weather or travel when logging in through a laptop suffices. But when that occasion stretches into weeks and months on end with other people in the household also logging into their work and school, you have additional challenges.

One of those challenges is bandwidth. Aside from the issue of whether your network and gateways can support the increased traffic generated when a majority of users start connecting remotely, workers also need to be aware of the constraints of their home bandwidth.

After the shift to working from home under lockdown, many people were forced to contact their ISP to ask for a service upgrade. "My PC is running slow" may be a lack of network resources rather than an issue with the PC itself.

Equipment and Support

When it became clear that state lockdowns were going to last much longer than two weeks and there would be no return to normal in the near future, IT shops were inundated with requests for desktops, laptops, docking stations, monitors, cables, Wi-Fi adapters, webcams, headsets, and other equipment.

When everyone is scrambling for the same things at the same time, a shortage of necessary equipment is inevitable. On the other hand, trying to be proactive about maintaining a supply of hardware means laying out large sums of money for equipment that loses value as it grows obsolete and may never be used at all.

IT shops have the challenge of finding the right balance between having sufficient equipment on hand to ensure the needs of key players are met while without overstocking.

IT shops also need to define clear policies in advance outlining the scope of what they can support and be responsible for. An end-user running an old PC at home with an outdated OS and a slow network may experience issues that support cannot solve.

For that reason, it is necessary to establish policies for the IT team. A policy document that the support team can point to that clarifies what the end-user is responsible for with respect to their own equipment, whether it’s the computer used at home or a mobile device brought into the office under BYOD terms. (Read also: Implementing a Successful Remote Work Strategy.)

Security for the Remote Worker

In addition to the usual challenges of securing any network connection from outside the office to the internal network, the work-from-home scenario poses the additional risk of confidential and proprietary information being transferred outside the secure office network to home PCs or being printed at home.

Employees may not understand on their own that sending messages from their work email account which is secured, tracked, and backed up is not the same as and using a personal account or why confidential documents should not be printed on their home printer. That’s why it's essential to educate them on protocols in place to retain security, particularly for industries that are highly regulated.

Another cause for concern is the security of physical equipment. The greater the amount of hardware such as desktops and laptops/tablets allowed outside the office, the greater the risk of such devices being lost or stolen and compromised.

A third vulnerability to keep in mind and prepare for is the security of software solutions used for meetings and file transfer. When many turned to Zoom to connect virtually from home, some had the unpleasant experience of having their meetings hacked. That drove home the additional cybersecurity concerns that arise in remote environments and the need for security protocols in place that direct which solutions may be used and which safeguards must be applied. (Read also: Smart Data Management for a Post-Pandemic World.)

Conclusion

What most of us had in place in our homes may have come up short when home became the location of a household’s work and school. That’s why remote setups require some planning to assure adequate bandwidth and security.