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The new tech support challenge – keeping a flexible workforce running efficiently

The pandemic has caused many organisations to break free from the office and rely much more on remote working. Now, the challenge for IT teams is how to optimise the productivity of these dispersed teams.

At the end of November 2020, the government reported that only half of the working population were using their ‘normal place of work’ . This shows the dramatic impact the pandemic has had on the way we work, even after nine months of living with COVID-19.

From an IT perspective, in the early days the challenge was all about racing to get things working at short notice, as swathes of businesses across the country were forced to fully embrace remote working, many of them for the first time.

However, as these companies have settled into their new ways of working, the goal has shifted. Now, with colleagues due to return to return to workplaces once restrictions allow, it’s about optimising productivity within the new hybrid structures, rather than trying to regain the status quo.

The right IT support to keep everyone’s tech working smoothly is an essential first step on that journey.

How are IT teams delivering effective remote tech support?

As the workforce departed from the office at the beginning of lockdown, most IT managers realised that they needed a way to access employee devices remotely.

Thankfully, any IT professional investigating this for the first time would have discovered a range of tools to draw on that deliver a wide range of functionality, from simple screen-sharing to much more advanced diagnostic and support capabilities.

At the basic end of the scale, the MacOS and Windows operating systems already have built-in remote desktop clients that tech support staff can use to manage remote assistance. The downside to these is that the level of remote control available is rudimentary, the user must be in front of the screen in order to establish a remote connection and they have to stop working on the device for as long as the intervention takes.

To address this issue, a wide range of third-party applications exist that allow much more advanced remote support that can work in the background without interrupting productivity.

These include packages such as AnyDesk, all of which give IT pros access to any device running the app, whether it’s MacOS, Windows, Linux, Android or iOS, as well as features including unattended access and camera sharing.

According to Carol Zichi, digital workplace services, strategy and offering development at IBM, “To maintain productivity, remote workers need 24/7 access to global end user support that offers multiple service options for any user and device, no matter their location.

“Analytics will be the key to gaining a deep understanding of the current user experience, and cognitive/AI and automation will enable IT to deliver a proactive, personalised and continuously optimised user experience. For example, AI-powered service desks can field thousands of calls per month with virtual agents; bots, virtual assistants and virtual services can automate routine and administrative tasks.”

Why has 24/7 support become more important?

In a world where productivity depends on connectivity – something that is increasingly the case for office-based employees, but certainly true for remote workers – availability of tech support outside of standard office hours is increasingly necessary.

A host of subscription services have emerged in recent years to make this an achievable goal for businesses whose internal IT teams may not have the capability to deliver round-the-clock support.

These include services such as RescueAssist, SolarWinds TakeControl and Zoho Assist, which all offer remote IT support for users’ devices any time of day without having to wake up the in-house IT manager.

Ensuring remote workers’ data is secure

With many more people now operating away from the office, the potential for security breaches can expand significantly unless the right measures are put in place.

A survey by Make UK, for example, found half of Britain’s manufacturers were victims of cyber-crime during the last 12 months, after thousands of moved their staff to remote working.

This is especially the case for workers logging on through public Wi-Fi connections. Where the security of the internet connections being used by staff can’t be guaranteed, companies should look at using virtual private networks (VPNs) or website screening to avoid potential data thefts and malware attacks.

Is remote support available for a bigger ecosystem of devices?

Clearly, it’s crucial to keep users’ main devices optimised at all times, but what about other tech that many home, remote and hybrid workers will depend on – printers and scanners for example?

As these devices become ever smarter, manufacturers are increasingly building tools into firmware that allows IT managers to carry out diagnostics, fixes, and updates remotely.

For example, Brother offers a remote panel [link to upgrades page] tool that allows IT managers to investigate and solve technical issues for users without ever needing to touch the machine itself. What’s more, the IT manager needn’t be in the office themselves in order to remotely support their users.

The growing importance of ‘customer satisfaction’

As IT teams are progressively being tasked with supporting companies’ productivity, they are increasingly being assessed based on the level of satisfaction they deliver to company employees.

With this in mind, the explosion in remote working represents a key challenge for IT departments, and tackling it means adopting a process of gathering feedback from users and acting on it to implement improvements.

Wherever friction or frustrations exist in the process, whether it’s reliability of devices or systems, availability of specific apps or functionality, or speed and quality of reactive tech support, all of these areas must be addressed if the IT function is truly going to align with what the business needs.

In a lot of cases, especially where larger business are concerned, analytics will be key in delivering this constant improvement, and we’re already seeing companies implement AI-powered IT service desks that are able to automate routine calls and queries while continuously analysing employees’ evolving needs.

How can IT managers help businesses get more competitive?

As many businesses adapt to more of their people working remotely long-term – adopting hybrid working models -  IT departments will have a key role in optimising the systems they use to maximise productivity. This means going beyond reactive firefighting to proactively working with teams to identify the tech solutions they need to operate with less friction.

Businesses are now going beyond traditional email-based file sharing and collaboration approaches to implement cloud-based solutions that make processes faster. Packages like Slack, Trello and Asana have become commonplace.

IT teams have a fundamental role to play in identifying where the need for these innovations exists, making the case to leadership teams and taking the lead in implementing them successfully.

Looking ahead

The last 12 months alone have witnessed a huge acceleration in the digital transformation process, with technology increasingly underpinning every part of a businesses’ operations and the role of IT teams becoming even more critical to business performance than they were before.

Ultimately, digital innovations will only get more important when it comes to unlocking productivity gains and helping businesses to operate efficiently and resiliently in response to the challenges they may face. It is up to those responsible for IT infrastructure to stay on top of the changing technologies and alert to their own organisation’s effectiveness.

Read more about the role of IT in transforming business.

 

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