Remote work has drastically changed the way associations use technology, creating new challenges for IT departments. Association tech experts offer some recommendations for boosting tech support for your remote team.
At the beginning of the COVID-19 crisis, a lot of organizations experienced a technology stress test, with cloud infrastructure helping to keep workplaces afloat. Now, months into the pandemic, the dynamic of remote work—and how associations support employees from a technical perspective—is evolving.
“The biggest area of struggle I see in my work with associations is related to communication and the coordination of remote work,” says Tom Jelen, a strategic consultant at the association technology solutions firm DelCor. “When staff can no longer rely on in-person interactions to receive quick answers or hear the latest updates from leadership, collaboration can quickly degrade.”
Members of DelCor’s team, working across a variety of disciplines, offered insights on how associations can continue to provide essential tech support to remote staff over time.
Many workplaces were able to shift quickly to remote work when shutdowns began last spring because their employees already had laptops. But work-from-home has lasted a lot longer than anyone expected, and what worked in March might not work in December.
In a recent blog post, Jelen noted that infrastructure costs decrease when organizations go virtual, and those costs should be invested in better laptops, docking stations, and monitor setups, along with high-speed internet access, if possible.
Of course, it’s also important that IT teams can access and manage the technology offsite, says Chris Ecker, DelCor’s chief technical officer. “The ability to remotely connect to and manage the devices for troubleshooting purposes and helpdesk support is critical,” he says.
Another issue: asset management. DelCor Senior Consultant Dan Brandt Lautman says organizations need a strategy for managing, repairing, and replacing equipment on the fly. “Make sure you have spare devices to ship to users, and that devices have next-day onsite warranty support from the manufacturer—at least for VIP devices,” Lautman says.
Of course, equipment maintenance can be a challenge if your organization has limited resources. “Have clear documentation of business needs and align IT with those,” he says.
Training and Documentation
Cloud-based tools have been critical to enable collaboration among remote teams. To get the most out of them, Jelen says, organizations have to take the time to train employees to use them properly.
“While we live in a world where an amazing range of cloud-based tools are available to bridge distances, those tools are only so useful without appropriate governance and training,” he says. He recommends creating standards for file storage, communication, and employee collaboration.
It may make sense to build a discipline around documentation to help ensure clear communication. For tech support, Lautman notes that vague descriptions of users’ technology problems won’t cut it anymore.
“You can no longer ask the helpdesk to ‘come look at this for me.’ Submit a good support ticket with as many details as possible,” he says.
Security and Maintenance
With employees working at home, it can be harder to track what’s happening from a systems perspective. For example, network security can be more difficult to maintain because home networks are more difficult to harden up than those at the office. Lautman notes that strong security is imperative with remote logins.
“The absolute most important thing is to require multifactor authentication for all remote access, no exceptions,” he says. He recommends updating acceptable-use policies or providing guidelines for end-user access to the organization’s network.
He also says it’s important for IT workers to monitor security alerts, with a stronger reliance on software-as-a-service (SaaS) tools. “Ensure you are staffed appropriately, or use a managed services provider, so you can react in a timely fashion,” Lautman says.
Ecker, DelCor’s CTO, adds that there should be a patching system that allows devices managed by an association to be patched without needing to be on the office network.
“Not only are operating system [Windows and OS X] patches critical, but also third-party applications,” he says.