Supporting the teleworkers: Redux

‘At Home, No One Can Tell If You Have Your Pants On’

Broken CD with wrench

Workshop The issue of providing IT support to home-based users always attracts a lot of responses from the IT pro readership on El Reg, as illustrated by Jon Collins’ recent article.

The bottom line is that most of you who expressed an opinion think that supporting teleworkers is not actually that big of a deal, as long as some sensible precautions are taken.

The first issue that always comes up whenever teleworkers are mentioned is the fact that they may or may not actually spend all their ‘office’ time working. It’s quite clear that those tasked with supporting them place less trust in them than the management which lets them do it in the first place. However, whether or not teleworkers do spend their days hard at it or watching daytime TV doesn’t change the number of obvious differences between them and their office based brethren to overcome, when providing IT support. The good news is, however, according to Reg readers, the issues are not insurmountable.

Providing effective support boils down to taking advantage of a few similarities between home and office workers, and minimising the risks between the differences. Similarities that can, or should be exploited include using common hardware and software configurations so that IT knows everyone is looking at the same thing on a support call. This principle can be extended to printers and routers too. The downside, as Simon points out is that people ignore policies and go off-piste from the standard configurations.

However, it is important to establish and maintain a limit to the amount of additional ‘work’ a teleworker creates. It could be argued that the least a teleworker can do is keep to standard kit configurations, so as to remain supportable by IT. It shouldn’t be down to IT to act as enforcer however: that’s a line management issue, which could be brought sharply into focus if IT made management aware of the additional financial burden the less co-operative teleworkers could have on their departmental budget. Adding a section on ‘compliance’ to a teleworker’s annual appraisal goals could be an effective measure indeed.

It’s not just about getting the users to behave either. There are some tricks that can be used in the IT department too. Sending a tech round to oversee a home worker's set-up and rotating help desk staff where possible between in-house and phone-based support are common sense undertakings.

The latter is to make sure that everyone in the department has some relevant experience, as well as helping to avoid burn out. The biggie, however, according to The Other Steve is:

‘And most important of all, never, ever, farm someone out for home working if their ADSL connection is like a wet piece of string, check their connectivity first, because this is the one thing that a) you cannot fix or even control, and b) will give you the most headaches’

Needless to say, beyond insisting on a standard set of devices, having the right kit in place in the IT department can help too: the appropriate remote support tools, OS X screen sharing, Windows Remote Desktop/Assistance, VNC etc – the list of alternatives for gaining access to remote users PC’s is endless. Assuming they’re online, that is.

Ultimately there may be little value in expecting much from end users. That sentiment doesn’t have to be negative, more a case of making life as easy as possible for both the user, and IT. The more devices, options, ways of storing, transporting and manipulating data there are, the higher the risk of a user getting themselves/IT/the company into a situation they didn’t intend. The answer to all this is nicely summed up by the aforementioned Steve:

‘Who in their right mind is going to let a remote worker use their machine as anything other than a dumb terminal? That way there is no data/backup issue, and precious little security issue’

OK, we all know it’s not quite that simple across the board, but as a starting point, why not? All requests for non-standard kit, access to different services and so on, should be taken on merit within the constraints of a Common Sense Agreement made between the employee, their line manager and IT. It’s a Happy Days recipe for IT and the teleworker. At least until they get home and plug their Mac in.

Thanks to everyone for the constructive feedback. If anyone else would like to offer up practical advice or tales of comedy/woe, you know what to do. ®

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