How does remote PC access work?

Remote PC access unlocks your files and folders across the internet, for offsite working and tech support alike

Monday, 10 April, 2023

When you consider that everything a computer does can be broken down into a string of zeroes and ones, modern hardware is remarkably reliable.

Computers only understand binary instructions – on or off – and it takes colossal quantities of program code to translate software packages and complex games into binary formats.

In isolation, modern software tends to work well. Yet in combination, programs could clash, resulting in unexpected errors and failures that may be shocking on first occurrence.

Then there’s the hardware side of things. We’ve previously outlined the main components inside a computer, including the differences between CPUs and GPUs.

Any individual component may wear out, corrupt or corrode. If it does, your computer might start to misbehave, overheat or report error messages.

Discerning the root cause of hardware malfunctions or software errors is often beyond domestic users, but taking a computer into a repair centre isn’t always practical.

Fortunately, there is another way…

Pass the remote

Thanks to the wonders of your broadband connection, it’s possible for IT experts and software providers to remotely access your computer.

This can be done on any computer – on an Apple Mac, it’s often as simple as enabling Sharing from the System Settings > General sidebar menu.

In this guide, we’ll focus on PCs, which retained 70 per cent of the UK desktop operating market in 2022 despite competition from Apple, Linux and ChromeOS-powered devices.

An IT technician will typically send a link to your computer, either through private messaging or via email. Clicking on it and approving their request grants them unfettered access to your device.

On modern versions of Windows, you can proactively enable remote PC access by pressing CTRL + Windows + Q on your keyboard.

A Quick Assist window will pop up, where a separately generated security code is entered to confirm the other party has your blessing to access the device.

Once permission is granted, the remote party assumes control over your device using their peripherals.

Their mouse will move your cursor, their keys will make text appear on-screen, and they’ll be able to add or remove programs, explore system diagnostics and even perform a full reboot.

This is clearly only for trusted third parties. Granting remote PC access to someone with bad intentions could see them steal your data or permanently lock you out of your own device.

It’s also worth noting that if your broadband connection isn’t totally secure, data could be viewed in transit. It’s not something to do over public WiFi, for instance.

A slow network connection (such as a FTTC line) could further bog down the process.

Remote access certainly isn’t a system you’d want to use on a daily basis. Regardless of connection speeds, it tends to result in host systems running more slowly than usual.

However, remote technical support is generally cheaper and faster than physically handing over your device, incurring less disruption as well.

An IT professional can repair more devices each day, reducing costs at both ends and ensuring less customer time is lost to software conflicts or hardware problems.

Friends with benefits

There are other benefits to enabling remote PC access, beyond the ability to instantly outsource tech support.

You could access locally stored data from anywhere in the world, which is ideal if you’re away from your desk and not in the habit of backing up documents in the cloud.

You can grant trusted colleagues and contractors access to C: drive files without them creating duplicate copies – especially important when it comes to databases.

An entire genre of software has evolved to exploit this, with packages like RemotePC and Zoho Assist using web-based dashboards to link computers in offsite locations.

Remote access averts embarrassing situations, such as arriving at a conference only to find your laptop or tablet doesn’t have a key document saved on it.

Simply log onto the local network, remotely access your PC at home or in the office, and the day has officially been saved…

Neil Cumins author picture


Neil is our resident tech expert. He's written guides on loads of broadband head-scratchers and is determined to solve all your technology problems!