iStockphoto.com | Alex Slobodkin

One way to connect to your work computer when you’re away from your office is through a virtual private network. But a VPN doesn’t add any features or capability to a network; it merely adds a layer of security onto the public Internet.

VPNs have an ugly downside as well, for instance, not allowing someone connected to your network via a VPN to check their e-mail, or allowing a user to waste time working on a failed connection with no notice that their work isn’t being saved. The consumer-grade equipment you find at the big-box office supply store is often terrible at recovering if anything disrupts the connection.

Most remodelers I’ve worked with don’t need the hassle of a full-blown VPN. Luckily, there’s a great option in the Web-based Hamachi service (now owned by the LogMeIn company) at www.hamachi.cc (yes, that’s .cc not .com).

Once the computers on both ends of the connection are set up with Hamachi, you can use Windows Remote Desktop to control the remote computer, or you can browse shared files and folders and use shared printers as if they were on your local network. Because Hamachi sets up a “virtual network adapter” using software, all the hassles of a conventional VPN connection are eliminated.

There’s little downside to Hamachi except that you will need to have a basic understanding of IP networking and shared network resources. The price is certainly right — free for personal use. A commercial “pro” version is available for $5 per month or $39 per year.

Other Solutions

If Hamachi still sounds too complicated, your next option is a good commercial remote-access solution such as LogMeIn or GoToMyPC. LogMeIn ( www.logmein.com) gives you basic remote control for free — check e-mail or surf the Web from your office PC. But if you want to transfer files or print remotely, you’ll need a commercial account, which costs around $6 per month for one PC (billed $70 annually).

GoToMyPC ( www.gotomypc.com) is made by the same folks who produce GoToMeeting.com. At $20 per month for one connection, it’s more expensive, but it’s also the gold standard in usability and reliability. Try them both and see. Each offers a free 30-day trial.

—­Joe Stoddard provides technology and process-improvement consulting to the building industry. Now you can follow him on Twitter here.