Technical Support for Remote Workers


Providing technical support for remote workers can seem like a daunting task.  Maybe you don’t have time to answer every question that comes up.  Perhaps you are worried about the security of company and customer information.  To break it down for you, here are the categories to focus on.

To provide technical support for remote workers, focus on communication & collaboration, storage & security, hardware and software, training & education, and troubleshooting & improvements.

If you have a plan for these five areas, then remote work will go more smoothly at your company.  Read on to learn more – we’ll start off with communication and collaboration.

Communication & Collaboration

Even if your employees are motivated and self-directed, you will still need to communicate with them.  In addition to communication, there is often a need to share information about a task or project.  If you have the right tools for the job, communication will be much easier for employees.

Email

It is 2018 (as of the writing of this article), so your company should have a website.  Seriously, you can hire a college student to put something together quickly.  Then, you can use email addresses such as jonm@yourcompany.com, which gives a more professional appearance.

Your company can also use generic emails, such as support@yourcompany.com, and forward those emails to whoever is handling support that day.

Text Message

You can use services like Skype or Slack to communicate via text messages, or employees can use phones for texting instead.  You can also set up groups in Slack so that only the technical support team, or only the sales team, will see a message thread.  This will keep employees from becoming overwhelmed by a flood of messages.

Video Call & Conference

Skype and Slack also offer an option for audio or video calls and conferences.  This is helpful when you want to eliminate any ambiguity in communication by email or text message.  It also provides everyone the opportunity to ask clarifying questions right away, in real time.

The best way to run these meetings is to make sure everyone thinks about questions ahead of time.  The best way to prepare for these meetings is to make sure everyone knows how to use your software of choice, and that they have internet connectivity!  I will talk more about training later in the article.

File Sharing

There are many ways to share files, including via email.  However, you might want to keep email for text communication only.  In this case, you might want to use some type of cloud storage solution to maintain a list of up-do-date documents, such as technical support and troubleshooting, processes, sales call scripts and etiquette, etc.

You can also use software like Google Drive to create public copies of files that anyone can see, copy, and modify as needed.

Project Kickoffs

When one of your teams (or your entire company!) starts a new project, it is a good idea to have a kickoff call.  This ensures that each worker knows both the purpose of the project and his role in making it successful.

A project kickoff should include your goal for the project, a timeline, and a breakout into smaller group tasks, if necessary.  There are several ways that you can host the kickoff.

For a small team, you can use a Skype or Slack call (video or audio), and share your screen.  That way, you can walk through slides on your computer so that everyone can follow along.  You can also solicit questions from everyone in real-time.

Another possibility for larger teams is to record a YouTube video, or stream a video live on YouTube.  Recording ahead of time means that you won’t have to deal with technical issues.  However, you won’t be able to solicit feedback and questions right away.

With a live video stream, you can have people ask questions or make comments in real time.  This works well to ensure that everyone is on the same page for the project kickoff.

After the initial project kickoff, smaller teams can break off and have their own mini-kickoffs, using the same methods above.

Storage & Security

If you have telecommuters on staff, then your business is at least partially remote.  That means that there are lots of files lying around (and flying around) from your employees.  It helps to have these files organized and stored in one place, for the sake of convenience.

It is also a good idea to make sure that this information is secure.  First, you don’t want to reveal proprietary information to competitors, or lose information entirely to hackers.  Second, you don’t want to compromise sensitive customer information, whether it is PII (personally identifiable information) or user preferences.

Luckily, there are a few ways to solve the storage and security issues mentioned above.

Google Tools

The many tools offered by Google can help you to run your business more efficiently.  For instance, Gmail is a good email client that also has a calendar function, so that you can sync up meetings with employees and customers.

You can also connect with customers and businesses in other countries, using Google Translate.  You can even search for travel arrangements with Google Flights.

In addition, there are office productivity tools offered by Google, including:

  • Docs, which allows you to edit and format text documents (much like Microsoft Word).
  • Sheets, which allows you to edit and format spreadsheets (much like Microsoft Excel).
  • Slides, which allows you to edit and format slide shows (much like Microsoft PowerPoint).

Finally, Google has solutions for storing and sharing files and information with remote workers.  For example, Google Photos allows you and your employees to back up pictures from your phone.  Google Drive allows you to store and share files, including Google Docs, Sheets, and Slides, in addition to PDFs and other file formats.

Cloud Storage

With cloud storage, a company that owns servers (the host) stores your data and allows you access to the data on demand.  One advantage is that the data is available from anywhere.  This means that you or any member of your remote team can access your files from anywhere on Earth with an internet connection.

If you need to access a document, spreadsheet, or presentation while on a business trip, you can access the information without permanently saving it to your hard drive.  This can help to reduce the risk of your information being compromised due to computer theft.

Google Drive is one cloud storage solution.  Another is DropBox, which allows you to store and share files, much like Google Drive.  DropBox is free for up to 2GB of data storage.  Dropbox works for Windows, Mac, and Linux, so any of your employees should be able to share and edit files remotely.

You also have the option of encrypting stored files, but in any case, you will need to manage security concerns at some point.

VPN

A VPN (virtual private network) allows you and your employees to connect remotely and securely over a public network.  This security is made possible thanks to encryption technology.

Your employees will need to log in to use the VPN software you choose.  A VPN will prevent unauthorized access to company, employee, or customer information.

This is especially important if you or your employees work in places with public, unsecured Wi-Fi, such as bookstores, cafes, or coworking spaces.

Passwords

It is a good idea to make sure your employees use secure passwords.  It might sound funny, but some people use “password” as their password. Don’t do this!

Instead, come up with some type of passphrase that is easy to remember, and use the first letter from each word of the passphrase.  You can also add in a number that is meaningful to you, such as a parent or sibling’s birthday (your own birthday is too obvious).

For example, your passphrase might be “Here is a password for my Netflix account”.  The first letters of each word are HiapfmNa.  You can then add a birthday, such as 32470, to make it harder to crack.  Thus, your password would be: HiapfmNa32470.

If you discover any infiltration on your network, it is a good idea to change passwords for everyone right away.  Be careful about disgruntled former (or current!) employees, who can make business very difficult for you.

Operations Security

For your remote employees, security may be a secondary consideration to finishing work completely and on time.  However, remind them of the importance of maintaining the integrity of company information.  There are a few precautions you and your workers can take to prevent incidents.

First, don’t share passwords for accounts.  They can easily end up in the wrong hands, especially if you communicate them over a non-secure channel.

Also, don’t leave your computer alone in a public place, not even for a minute.  This is important at places like coffee shops or restaurants.  Even if someone is not interested in your information, they might be interested in selling your computer for several hundred dollars.  Don’t offer the temptation.

In addition, don’t leave a computer unattended at home.

Remember that kids can cause problems in an instant!  My younger cousin was able to order about 100 movies on-demand in the 5 minutes that my uncle was not watching him.  Luckily, the cable company understood and reversed the charges.

Finally, don’t forget to always log in to your VPN software when you need to work securely.  Communicating via Skype or Slack is ok if you are not discussing anything sensitive.  However, you should take the extra time to use VPN if you want to protect your information.

Hardware & Software

Your remote employees will need the right tools to do their jobs efficiently.  This includes hardware like a laptop, printer/scanner, phone, and other tools for communication.  However, you should also make sure that this hardware is fitted with the right software for your business needs.  This could include software for productivity, data analysis, antivirus protection, or project management.

Laptop

A big question here is whether to provide a laptop to an employee or not.  If you provide the laptop, you need to pay for it, along with any repairs, upgrades, maintenance, and software to go with it.  You also need to ship it out to the employee, and get it back if he leaves the company.

However, when you provide the laptop, you have more control over the security of your business.  Providing uniform computers and software makes it easier to provide technical support and troubleshoot problems.  If you see similar “symptoms” for two different employees, you can guess that the cause will often be the same.

In addition, you might be able to receive a discount if you buy enough of the same laptop and software from one provider.  You might even be able to negotiate a deal on technical support if your company is large enough.

Allowing your employees to “BYOD” (bring your own device) will allow them more freedom to work with the tools and in the way they like best.  However, it will make troubleshooting much more difficult when technical issues arise.

Will the new productivity software work the same way (or at all) on every laptop and operating system?  Does your company have the ability to provide technical support when something goes wrong on someone’s custom-built computer?

It’s your decision, but make sure that you consider these issues and the trade-offs that come with them before you decide.

Printer/Scanner/Copier

Whether you need this item or not will depend on the type of remote employees you have.  If they regularly create sketches, designs, and blueprints by hand, then a scanner might be a good idea.

It is true that you can always have your employee take and send a picture with a phone or camera.  However, it can be annoying to get the right lighting with this method.

As far as a printer goes, sometimes it is nice to print off a hard-copy of a document and review it while eating breakfast, sitting on the couch, or lounging outside in the nice weather.  After starting at a screen for too many hours in a row, ink on paper is a nice change of pace. Personally, I still like hard-copy books for this very reason.

If your remote worker needs to make copies and mail something out in bulk, having a copier is a good plan.  For instance, someone who does fulfillment for you by packing and mailing physical products will need to print off many address labels.

Phone

As with a computer, you can allow BYOD with phones, but this blurs the lines between work and personal life.  It is better to give your employees an allowance to buy a company phone, or send out a standard issue phone for everyone to use.

As with computers, uniform equipment will allow you to troubleshoot hardware and software issues much more easily.  In addition, if an employee leaves the company, you might be able to refurbish a phone and send it to a new hire.

Webcam

This will be important for video conferences with employees and potential customers.  Many computers come with a webcam these days, but it is usually fixed.  A standalone webcam allows an employee to customize his workstation setup at home or at a coworking space.

This might not sound important, but it is essential to have the screen at the correct height – a key part of an ergonomically sound workstation.

Headset

A good headset is important for audio and video calls on Skype or slack.  It is absolutely essential for any of your employees in a customer service role.

For one thing, a good headset has crisp sound, which allows the employee to hear easily and save time asking a customer or coworker to repeat something.  At the same time, a good microphone on the headset makes communication clearer, and gives a better impression to customers on the other end of the line.

In addition, a headset is hands-free, which prevents injuries due to repetitive overuse or static muscle loading.  Holding a phone for an extended period of time can cause problems with your hands or arms.  Craning your neck to talk on a phone while typing or researching on the computer can cause problems in your neck or back.

Finally, a good headset will help employees to get the most out of work-related online training videos and courses.

Antivirus Software

I already mentioned some security considerations above, but antivirus software is one worth mentioning separately.  If a hacker finds out that your company is doing well and has remote workers, he might take this as an invitation to target your company.

If he sends an email presenting himself as a prospective customer or vendor, then all it takes is one click by an employee to infect a company computer with a virus.  While it is worth doing some training to teach employees about these risks, you should also have antivirus software in place.

As mentioned above, if you use a standard-issue laptop for all remote employees, then you can install the software you want them to have.  This includes antivirus and firewall software, in addition to any other software you might need, including productivity and project management.

Project Management

Project management software allows you to plan your company goals, break out tasks by department, and assign actions to individual workers.  It also allows you to create timelines so that you know what is holding up production.  That way, you can reassign work to employees who finish early on another task.

You can also use this software to plan for resource allocation.  For instance, you will have limits on money, hours you can spend with a pricey consultant, or time of an on-staff subject matter expert.

You can probably set up an elaborate set of spreadsheets in Excel or Google Sheets and share them with the company.  This might be fine if your company is small and your projects are simple.  However, for larger companies and more complex projects, you should consider investing in software, such as Trello, Basecamp, Microsoft Project, or Monday.com.

If you are looking for ideas about specific equipment, you can see the tools I use if you visit my Resources page.

Training & Education

Once you have hired the right employees, you want to keep their skills up to date!  This is even more important for remote employees, since it is difficult to bring them in for on-site training.  In fact, if your company is fully remote, then on-site training is nonexistent!

It is a good idea to train remote workers on what they need to know for the hardware and software used by your company.  You should also provide security training to prevent data breaches of proprietary or customer information.

In addition, you can offer productivity training, where you share ways that employees can speed up their workflow.  Finally, you can offer training on documentation and processes, so that workers know where to go to find and update information.

Hardware & Software Training

A laptop, printer, webcam, and headset are probably pretty straightforward for most people to use.  However, it is nice to have a refresher on some of the “forgotten” functions of this equipment.

Certain software probably requires more training, especially if it is non-standard.  Most people know how to use Word, Excel, and PowerPoint, at least on a basic level.  It is less likely that they will know how to use project management or VPN software.

Providing training on all of this does not have to be done over and over for each new hire.  It is a good idea to create training videos, one for each piece of hardware and software.  Make a list of each item, along with what you think that new employees should know.

Once you have this outline, you can have someone shoot a video of you presenting this information and demonstrating the hardware and software.  Alternatively, you can have an intern do the work, or hire a freelancer who creates training videos for a living.

Either way, you have a resource that will help with training new employees, and can be updated piece by piece when you upgrade a piece of hardware or software.

Security Training

As mentioned above, it is a good idea to offer training to employees to make sure that they know how to use software, including VPN software for secure network logins.  They should also know that it is not acceptable to disable antivirus software installed on their computers.

In addition, you should make sure that employees know that opening an attachment or even clicking a link in an email can download a virus or other malware.  Finally, remember to train them on the importance of securing their devices in public (from thieves!) and in private (from children!)

Documentation & Processes

It is also helpful to train your employees on documentation and processes at your company.  Make sure that everyone knows where documentation is kept.  That way, everyone can help themselves with a repeat question about VPN software or payroll and benefits.  This also allows employees to contribute questions and answers when they find a solution to a new problem.

It is also important to keep tabs on processes, just in case a key person is sick for a few days.  You and your employees might not be able to do everything he does.  However, you can keep the ship afloat for a few days until he returns.  This information is also helpful in training new employees on the workflow at your company.

It is a good idea to keep all of this information in one location online.  Unless the information is sensitive, you can probably use Google Documents to store, share, and edit your processes and procedures.

Troubleshooting & Improvements

If your remote employees do run into trouble, you might be able to help them remotely.  If your company is large enough, you might have IT staff members who can connect remotely to help.  Either way, you should have a plan in place, just in case someone runs into trouble.  The more employees you have, the more likely it is that someone will eventually have a technical challenge!

Remote Assistance

In Windows 10, you can use Quick Assist to provide or receive assistance from someone remotely.  This allows someone to control your computer as if they were there in-person.

You may not be not comfortable with this method, either for security concerns or for other reasons.  In that case, you can hop on a Skype call with the person you are trying to help.  He can then share his screen with you, and you can walk him through the steps to troubleshoot the problem.

As an alternative, you can share your screen, show him the steps, and have him follow along as you go.

Solicit Feedback

Regardless of the systems you create and the equipment you use, it is a good idea to ask remote employees for feedback.  Ask what works well for them, and what is bothersome.

Encourage them to seek out and find alternative solutions.  If the alternative is better, you can make the change.  This will make your employees happier, and they will feel like they have a voice in the company.

Ask for feedback on everything, from remote meetings to productivity software.  Anything you learn might help you to run your company more efficiently.

Conclusion

Your remote workers may sometimes need technical support for unanticipated problems.  However, if you put the right systems in place, you can avoid many of these problems.

Focus on communication, sharing information, equipment, and training.  If you do a good job with these areas, you won’t need to do troubleshooting very often.  When you do need to troubleshoot, uniform equipment can make things much easier.

I hope this gave you some things to think about when providing technical support to remote employees.  If you have any comments, please leave them below.

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