The Help Desk and Remote Work: 5 Tech Support Tips

When the workforce goes remote, the help desk needs to adapt to keep things running smoothly. Use these tips to prepare your help desk.

A help desk technician works from home with his dog in his lapToday’s tech is great—that is, until it doesn’t work. Tech tools have so many benefits and help make our lives easier as a matter of daily course. But, when systems don’t work, things can quickly come unglued, leaving end users scrambling for a resolution. This is where the help desk comes in. A subset of the technical support job role, the help desk has become our constant friend.

The help desk worker is the everyday technical superhero. When things are down or not functioning properly, help desk technicians come to the rescue. The job of a superhero is never done, especially with a large-scale remote workforce. From a help desk perspective, there is much to be done when your entire end-user population shifts from onsite to working remote.

There’s a whole new set of challenges to contend with and, as the first line of defense, the help desk needs to be prepared. How can help desk superheroes stay on top of remote-working challenges? Try these tips.

1. Establish Clear Help Desk Processes

As the first line of defense, the help desk hears all the problems. These can range from user access problems and password resets to issues with cybersecurity and malware. The problems that circulate through the help desk run the gamut. To keep efficiency up and attend to all user issues, it’s important to have clearly defined processes.

In discussions with IT pros from around the world, CompTIA chief technology evangelist James Stanger often sees the bottlenecks that occur at the help desk.

“One of the major things we’re seeing at the help desk is a need for better processes,” he said. Similar to implementing new software or systems, it’s good to develop firm procedures and disseminate them as required reading among all help desk employees and end users.

Stanger also recommends adding self-help resources to your processes. As a first step, this can enable end users to solve some of their own tech issues so the help desk can focus their efforts on more complex problems.

2. Implement a Good Ticketing System

Your help desk ticketing system largely determines your efficiency. If you don’t have one, get one. If you have one, break it down and see how you can make it work harder for you. As entire workforces went remote with COVID-19, many help desks discovered they were woefully unprepared.

“Companies that didn’t have a good ticking system discovered they needed a good ticketing system,” Stanger said.

A good help desk ticketing system can do the following:

  • Allows end users to enter ticket details and submit problems
  • Enables grouping of tickets by issue
  • Automates notifications, including updates and resolution status
  • Includes an easily searchable knowledge base
  • Features an announcement feature to notify users when a large-scale problem is already being addressed
  • Devises a strong communication system for help desk workers

A common obstacle when it comes to remote working is communication. From a help desk perspective, it’s especially important to have an open line between IT support technicians.

Stanger noted that a common pitfall for help desk technicians is to attempt to solve complex problems alone, the lone gunslinger syndrome.

“Help desk workers need to be able to work decisively, and there are times where you really have to work collaboratively,” he said. “A lot of help desk folks are lacking that camaraderie.” Implement a dedicated space—for example, a Slack channel—where help desk employees can collaborate about problems and find creative solutions for end-user problems.

3. Practice Communication and Problem-solving Skills

The help desk is responsible for interfacing with users and this requires a certain attention to soft skills. IT support employees can benefit from a personable approach to help reach successful conclusions. Because end users often approach the help desk with a frustrating problem that never seems to occur at the right moment, communications can escalate beyond the friendly point rather quickly.

“If possible, try radiating a sense of positivity as you go about handling issues,” Stanger said. Approaching the problem calmly and with a sense of understanding can help keep the situation within manageable constraints.

Additionally, Stanger recommended that IT support technicians can benefit from basic problem-solving skills. Once you’ve established a rapport through positive communication, much can be solved by asking the right questions and knowing how to whittle a problem down to get to the cause. Stanger recommended role playing as a valuable tool for helping to develop these soft skills in help desk employees.

4. Prepare Users for Social Engineering Hacks

With all users working remote, communication methods shift, leaving an opening for social engineering attacks. As texting and phone communications become more prevalent in remote-working situations, social engineers see prime opportunities and seek to exploit them.

“We’re seeing a lot of social engineering attacks with remote work,” Stanger said.

Stanger recommended training your workforce to identify social engineering tactics. Also, if you’ve implemented documented processes for handling escalations, end users can more easily identify social engineering when requests do not adhere to those guidelines.

5. Shift from Tiered System to Full-stack Help Desk Employees

Traditionally, help desks have been structured in a tiered system, with complex problems moving up an escalation chain. Even smaller companies have tiered help desk systems. But things have changed for a couple of reasons, and increasingly, the world is asking help desk workers to address the full stack of customer support responsibilities.

Today, more remote workers need support. Cybersecurity issues, including blended ransomware attacks that include distributed denial of service (DDoS), require help desk workers to become not only more vigilant, but also more capable.

With a large-scale remote workforce, help desk technicians with wide-ranging skills can enable more efficient resolution of tickets. Stanger warned that supporting a remote workforce requires skills and problem-solving abilities beyond what we’ve traditionally expected of help desk employees.

“Help desk employees are going to have to improve a lot more to deal with remote-working issues,” he said. Stanger uses the full-stack developer role as an example. Similar to how full-stack developers must understand all elements of software design and development, a full-stack help desk worker needs to understand how endpoints work, as well as how they behave in a distributed, networked environment.

This means that today’s help desk worker needs more situational awareness. Part of that is the ability to understand networking, cybersecurity and how an organization’s privacy and security policies are implemented.

Today’s help desk workers are also being asked to step outside of the typical technical mindset and contribute to non-technical efforts. For example, they have increasingly found themselves invited to meetings about things like business continuity and company morale in the face of COVID-19.

In one case, help desk employees were asked to provide insights to senior management on how remote sales teams can better work with customers. After all, both sales teams and help desk workers specialize in communicating effectively in high-stress, high-stakes situations. Why shouldn’t the help desk be asked to contribute in more sophisticated, seemingly unusual ways today? This type of creativity is what makes a help desk worker a true super hero.

Ultimately, shifts in workplace conditions require creative solutions. The more adaptable you can make your help desk, the better.

CompTIA A+ covers the skills demanded by today’s tech support and help desk workers. Download the exam objectives for free to see what’s covered.

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