I continue to be fascinated by the conversation about the decision by Yahoo! to enact a ban on employees from working from home. Say what you want about CEO Marissa Mayer's decision, and the direction she is taking the company, but it seems she was relying on data - and not her gut - when it came to analyzing the productivity of the home workers. And maybe you are - or should be - using the same technology.

Like a lot of companies, Yahoo! utilizes something called a Virtual Private Network or VPN. This post explains it in more detail, but put simply, it's a group of computers networked together over a public network. Remote workers at Yahoo! use it to log into the company network, and they can access network resources even when they're not physically on the same LAN (local area network). It is also used as a method for securing and encrypting when using a public wi-fi hotspot.

Anyway, as Kara Swisher originally reported in this post, Mayer consulted Yahoo's! VPN logs to see if remote employees were checking in enough. Her conclusion? They were not. And the decision to reel in the home workers was made.

Mayer consulted Yahoo's! VPN logs to see if remote employees were checking in enough. Her conclusion? They were not.

According to one Yahoo! insider, even though Mayer is fascinated with data and metrics, her VPN search came after the company parking lots in Sunnyvale didn't pass the eyeball test. She thought they seemed kind of empty relative to the number of corporate employees the company has, and began to do some digging.

I recently had a client, a marketing firm I was writing whitepapers and creating content for, and they use a VPN for all of their consultants. When you log in/connect to a VPN, the remote computer exchanges "trusted keys" with a far away server. Once both computers have verified each other as authentic, the idea is that the subsequent internet communication is encrypted and secured from eavesdropping.

In my case, we were passing proprietary client data back and forth with the assumption it was secure from prying eyes.

I told this to an IT friend of mine though and he says this is not true at all.

"VPN service providers mislead you a little bit into thinking that people can't see the transfer of information between you and a site. Your information is only secure between you and the VPN server, but not between the VPN server and whatever you're connecting to."

"VPN service providers mislead you a little bit into thinking that people can't see the transfer of information between you and a site. Your information is only secure between you and the VPN server, but not between the VPN server and whatever you're connecting to. Its usefulness is primarily if you are only connecting to things inside the VPN network (ie, work computers) or you don't want to be tracked."

Hmmm. That's a little different, and might give pause to companies such as my client who are passing information they think is secure.

So my question is twofold. Do you think when Mayer thought Yahoo! home workers were abusing their privileges and freedom, that she was on firm ground when going to the  VPN logs? And secondly, do you have any experience using VPNs at your company? Why? Why not? Do you have any concerns about their safety?

Tags: News, Yahoo, Marissa Mayer, Remote workers, Home office productivity, Home office workers, Remote workforce, Virtual Private Network, VPN