Remote desk vs access

More and more companies are offering their employees the option of working remotely, particularly since the pandemic years showed them what was possible and that productivity didn’t suffer when employees worked away from the office. There are two main ways that employees work remotely, which are by using remote desktop software or through remote access. Even though these two terms sound the same, they have some significant differences.

Remote Desktop

A remote desktop arrangement uses software to capture the user’s work desktop and transmit it to another computer, where the user controls the desktop remotely. They are essentially logging onto their computer from a different location. They can only access what is currently on their computer’s hard drive and nothing else.

They can often use a remote desktop setup to print documents to an office printer if one is connected to the work computer, but they are not able to print documents to a remote printer. This can be a complication if an employee needs a hard copy of a document at their physical location. But, it’s a convenience if someone in the office needs a document off of the employee’s computer and the employee is not physically in the office to give it to them.

IT personnel can also log into an employee’s desktop remotely using this software, allowing them to troubleshoot issues with the actual hard drive or other software. The IT person takes control of the mouse and keyboard from a remote location to determine how to fix the problem. This is a major advantage that remote desktop solutions have over remote access, although there are third-party remote control apps that can allow IT personnel to fix computer problems on remote access computers as well.

Remote Access

On the other hand, employees with remote access to their employer’s network can access any resource (documents, files, etc.) that’s also located on the network and that they have permission to access. Restrictions placed on files and other network resources remain in place for the employee who is logging in remotely. They are not restricted to only the hard drive of a single computer and can print documents on any remote printer.

Remote access is facilitated through a Virtual Private Network (VPN) that belongs to the company and only allows employees with the proper credentials to access that network. The VPN ensures that all data transmitted from the office network to the employee’s computer is encrypted to prevent data theft or other nefarious actions. Most of the time, remote access is conducted via WiFi, although there are hardwired remote access options as well.

With remote access, employees are able to print documents at their remote location because the connection is local. But, this means they cannot print from the office printers because they can’t connect to those through the network. A document would have to be sent by email to someone physically in the office to be printed there. This is really the only drawback to this type of remote setup.

Which Remote Option is Best?

Both remote desktops and remote access have their benefits and drawbacks, so it depends on your end goal as to which option will work best for your employees. If they have a physical desk in an office and just need to work remotely occasionally, a remote desktop is a great choice. If they don’t ever come into the office and all their equipment is at a remote location, remote access might be the better option. It also depends on what you want your employees to have access to when they’re working remotely.

In terms of security, both options are secure from outside hackers as long as you use a private VPN for remote access. But, if you only want your employees to be able to access what’s on their work desktops, then a remote desktop setup is more secure for your purposes. While you can take steps to secure network files and make sure they’re only shared with the people who need to access them, it does take more effort than just allowing employees access to their own desktops.

In general, a remote desktop setup will be a bit more expensive than remote access because of the additional hardware involved. But, the cost has come down significantly in recent years with the rise in remote access solutions. You aren’t restricted to just the remote desktop software that comes on Windows computers, so be sure to research your options for remote desktop software providers to find the one that works for you at a price that fits your budget.


Remote work is the wave of the future and an excellent benefit you can offer to employees as an additional perk. But before you set up a remote working policy, be sure you know how your employees are going to connect to your office by choosing between remote access and remote desktop software.

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Steve Ballmer
With over 7 years of experience in the IT industry, I have experience in IT support, helpdesk, sysadmin, network admin, and cloud computing. Certified in Microsoft Technologies (MCTS and MCSA) and also Cisco Certified Professional in Routing and Switching.