The following article introduces some of the technologies that can be used to help us improve our work-life balance by being more efficient and flexible in what work we do and where we do it from. Many of the technologies help us to work from dynamic locations and make communications and the sharing of information speedier and more versatile – thus providing benefits to both employers and their employees with higher staff morale and higher productivity.
The term VPN, or Virtual Private Network, is used to describe scenarios and technologies that allow two disparate local computer networks (LANs) to be securely connected across public networks such as the internet. The exact technologies and protocols can vary with some VPNs using software programs and/or network configurations, but the basic principle is that the data that is transmitted between the two endpoints on each network or device is contained within encrypted packets, whilst each endpoint itself requires authentication to restrict access to authorised users. As the encrypted packets can only be decoded at these endpoints, the data cannot be intercepted as it travels across the public networks.
This secure system can be used, not to only connect two distinct LANs regardless of geographical location, but also to connect individual machines/devices to LANs. For businesses it can therefore be a valuable technology for connecting separate office sites or allowing employees to connect with centralised LANs when travelling or working from other locations. However, for individual employees looking to improve their work-life balance it can be a vital tool allowing them to work from home and still access all of the secure files and data stored on their office’s servers, as well as running programs, such as email clients as if they were sat at their usual desk. The flexibility that this offers can, where the employer is obliging, massively ease time and travel pressures, preventing work from encroaching excessively on personal time. Moreover, employers using VPN are more likely to be obliging when it comes to changing working locations due to the security VPN offers, as well as the continuity, with employees able to contribute and work at the same capacity as if they were on-site.
BYOD, which stands for Bring Your Own Device, represents a fast growing trend in the workplace whereby employees are permitted, and sometimes encouraged, to use their own personal devices in place of those provided by their company. A BYOD policy has to tackle security concerns as ‘untrusted’ devices (with varying malware vulnerabilities and the potential to take private data off the network) are introduced to otherwise restricted workplace LANs. On the other hand, adoption can reduce a business’s IT spend, introduce more IT functionality to the workplace and make individual employees more productive – as they work on devices with which they are more familiar. The adoption of BYOD and its benefits therefore relies on technologies such as VPN (above) to provide secure connections between devices and LANs (without necessarily bringing the device directly onto the LAN behind the firewall).
BYOD helps to improve the work-life balance because it blurs further the boundary between working from the office, on the road or at home so that there is a seamless transition between each; reducing the need to travel/commute in many cases. It can also increase the period and efficiency of output which, in turn, can mean that the working day eats less into personal time. All of which means more personal time spent at home. Furthermore, it can’t be underestimated how a sense of morale at work affects the work-life dynamic and so using devices with which one is familiar, experienced and comfortable can be important.