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Your Definitive Guide to Understanding Remote Access vs. Remote Support

Chuck Leddy

September 11, 2020


COVID-19 has ushered in a new normal, accelerating existing trends around remote working and digital transformation. Internal IT teams can no longer rely primarily on in-person support or a centralized, on-site team, since nearly everyone (including users and the IT pros who support them) are working from home. It looks like remote work will be the norm for now and into the foreseeable future.

Today’s users are sitting in complex home environments (many with kids and pets roaming around) and often logging in from personal devices that can create new security concerns. The role of supporting these users remotely is both challenging and absolutely necessary for employee productivity and ongoing business continuity. Support teams are dealing with more demand and more complicated demand for their services. As their employee base struggles to deal with home office setups - non-standard hardware and disparate networks - support teams need to resolve these complex issues.

In this New Normal, Remote Support Must Be 24/7

As the lines blur between work time and personal time, complex support requests may come in at all hours. To address and meet user needs during these uncertain times, IT teams need easy-to-use tools that can be customized to meet their unique needs. Most of all, they’ll need remote solutions that improve resolution rates 24/7 regardless of device, network or operating system, maximizing productivity and ensuring security for users and help desks alike.

What is Remote Access?

The term “remote access” is defined as the capacity for an authorized person to access a computer or a network from a geographical distance through a network connection. Remote access is essential to enabling nearly everyone working from home, because it allows users/workers to securely connect to the work-related systems they need when they are physically away from the office. Remote access basically brings traditional enterprise computing into people’s homes, and it typically occurs through a Virtual Private Network or VPN (enabling remote users to connect to the corporate network from any location). Data transmitted through remote-access VPNs is encrypted, which means remote users can take advantage of public Wi-Fi connections or other places where traffic isn't generally secured.

There are two sides to remote access, the user/employee side and the support team side:

  • Users/Employees use remote access to connect to their work computers or files when working from home (or anywhere outside the office) and to receive support from IT when they need help with their computer/device.
  • Support teams use remote access to remotely support their customers or employees’ computers, mobile devices, or other equipment. Since IT people can no longer walk down to a user’s office, they need remote access to deliver support when both users and support staff are away from the office. The more common term for the support side of remote access is “remote support,” which we’ll explore shortly.

Remote access capabilities keep everyone productive and keep the overall business running. If users from home couldn’t access company systems remotely, they simply couldn’t be productive, serve their external customers, and the overall business would be disrupted. Users/employees are on the receiving end of remote access when they’re getting help from the IT support team, who remotely accesses their computer or mobile device for troubleshooting and resolving issues. A great customer and employee experience (CX and EX) in this remote context means a frictionless, convenient support experience for both users and IT support staff.

What is Remote Support? What is Remote Computer Support?

Remote support is simply remote access for the purposes of technical support. Remote support for different devices may take the form of “remote computer support” for PCs and Macs, or “remote mobile support” for iOS, Android, and Windows smartphones and tablets. Obviously, support outcomes are better and faster when support staff can access any user device directly, rather than having the user try to explain the problem via phone, email or chat. There’s frustration on both sides when users seek to put into words an IT issue they don’t understand, while support people struggle to interpret what the user is saying.

Frustration only increases as users struggle to understand the IT support person’s proposed “fix” and then execute IT’s step-by-step instructions. This scenario is like a clumsy dance where both partners feel like their toes are being stepped on. Remote access software stops this frustrating dance and lets customers give permission for technicians to set up a remote connection to their device, making issue resolution frustration-free. Technicians can control and run diagnostics on the device themselves. They can transfer files, configure devices, troubleshoot issues and resolve problems on their own, enabling the support person to work more quickly and productively.

More Terms: Remote Desktop Access, Remote Assistance, Unattended Access

As we’ve seen above, many terms come under the umbrella of remote access and remote support (which, as you recall, is simply remote access for the specific purpose of providing IT support). Often, the true difference between these terms relates to exactly “what” an IT team is attempting to solve: for instance, “remote desktop access” and “mobile device remote access” both relate to remote support for the specific device (desktop or mobile) being supported. Similarly, “remote assistance” is a catch-all term describing remote support services, which can be offered by IT people or through remote support tools such as remote camera sharing and co-browsing. These tools allow the help desk to connect to and interact with the user’s hardware and software to resolve support issues remotely and quickly, whether the user is present (i.e., “attended access” to a user device) or not (“unattended access” enables a support person to connect to a user’s device when the user isn’t present).

As we’ve seen, remote work and remote support go hand-in-glove and they’ve never been more essential for worker productivity and business continuity than today. Both users and support teams need remote access to do their mission-critical work. IT support needs an agile, flexible toolkit to perform their (remote) work of remote support. We’ve described some of those tools, and the terminology related to them, in this guide.

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