Controlling the cost of remote support

When Sprint Corp.’s 1,000 teleworkers head home to work for the first time, they’re given a computer preloaded with applications, multiple access methods to the corporate network – and ample instructions on how to troubleshoot problems. They’re also provided online training and downloadable PDF files on telework tips and procedures.

Try as he might, Zach Lawrence, a Sprint systems integrator and telework specialist, can’t stop trouble from finding its way to the help desk.

“[Some] users create their own problems by either loading software themselves or cowboying their own solution,” Lawrence says.

While technology has made telework easier than ever, most home workers aren’t technicians. Unless trained to handle simple problems, teleworkers can put a big strain on the IT help desk, decrease their own productivity and cost their individual departments plenty in IT support charges.

While a help desk can guide home workers through sticky situations, it should serve as the second line of defense, advises Joshua Feinberg, a small business technology expert in Delray Beach, Fla. Feinberg should know: He spent two years as a PC support specialist with Merrill Lynch in New York, helping 500 local and teleworking financial analysts.

“Telecommuters are exploring the frontier. They can’t be afraid to get their hands dirty,” says Feinberg, now the editor of, a business IT support Web site. “They need to become self-sufficient.”

That means teaching teleworkers when not to pick up the phone and to follow some simple rules: If the monitor appears fried, switch it with another in the home. If you break the mouse or spill a drink on the keyboard, buy a new one and expense it. If your company lacks a remote data back-up regimen, create your own, and update anti-virus software regularly.

“These things even non-tech people can handle,” Feinberg says. “IT people don’t like grunt work and dealing with what they consider computer-literacy training.”

If your teleworkers must call the help desk, ask them to avoid peak periods – such as Monday mornings, lunchtime or late Friday. “It’s extremely important to help them know when to draw the line and say, ‘I’m beyond what I know and I’ve got to stop before I make the problem worse,'” Feinberg says. “But often the best call teleworkers place to tech support is the one they didn’t end up needing to make.”

Last, it’s important for teleworkers to foster a relationship with the help desk. “It’s really a partnership,” Feinberg says. “You have to take care of your IT folks and have a good rapport. It’s very important to have a friend on the inside.”

Jeff Zbar is an author and speaker on telework, free agency, and small or home office (SOHO) issues. His books include Safe@Home: Seven Keys to Home Office Security (FirstPublish, 2001) and Your Profitable Home Business Made E-Z (Made E-Z Products, 2000). Jeff works from home in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla. Questions or comments? Write him at