Category Archives: HelpDesk

Depression Stigma in IT?

Closeup fireI’ve been struggling with writing this for a couple of weeks now, but ever since I saw the article over on TechCrunch entitled We Need To Talk About Depression it has been on my mind.

The article talks about some of the stigma associated with depression and mental health in a startup company.

Building a startup is like climbing a mountain and being told you’ll only get the gear you need–harnesses, helmets, bottled oxygen–as you struggle toward the peak. Long hours away from family, responsibility to investors and users, and the fear of failure are extremely stressful and they sometimes coalesce into something more severe.
I’m not a startup founder, but as a TechCrunch writer I’ve gotten to know many, some quite well, and I’ve seen how entrepreneurship can put even the most optimistic people at risk for depression.

It got me thinking about the tech world in general. There are certain stereotypes about tech workers; we work long hours, have no social life, deal with highly stressful situations putting out all of the technical fires that happen within our organizations, etc. Those stereotypes, unfortunately, also turn into expectations. I have always thought that was one of the bigger problems with attracting females to an IT career, this sense that they would be expected to work long hours, be on call for emergencies, and non-emergencies, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year, etc. (Granted, there are many other reasons why there are a lack of females in the tech world, but this is not an article about that)

Those expectations would make it difficult for someone dealing with depression as well. As John Grohol stated in response to the above article:

 Indeed. When you’re young and feel like you have endless energy, working 80 hours a week (and getting paid for 40) seems like a good idea. But it’s not. It eventually catches up to you, stresses you out, and throws your entire life out of balance.

Some of the articles written around this topic sound like thinly-veiled excuses for the discrimination and prejudice that many have experienced in startup cultures. That because these environments are stressful and demanding, it somehow excuses discrimination and stigma of mental illness.

Here’s where it gets personal to me. I’ve struggled with depression. I’ve attempted suicide before. Sure it’s been years, but this is something that I know I have to be on the lookout for every single day of my life. It’s also something that, while I freely discuss it on my other site, I don’t often discuss professionally. Continue reading

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Thoughts From Vacation – Some Customers Will Never be Happy

Another random thought I had on vacation back in November.
Watching our fellow cruise passengers on group excursions or at
meals was an interesting experience. Most, like us, were simply
excited to have some time away and saw the whole thing as a big
adventure, but there were a few who simply seemed to find something
to complain about at every turn. Some of the time it was something
that one of the crew could fix for them, but they typically only
complained to themselves instead of asking for help, or refused
offers to make it better, and sometimes they would complain to the
staff and expect them to fix things that were well beyond their
control.

Fog
- Sure it’d be
great if every time to you took a trip to photograph nature the
weather cooperated, but sometimes you have to make do, and
complaining about it won’t make the sun shine
.

Continue reading

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Thoughts from Vacation – Everyone is in Customer Service

As part of the on going series of things I took the time to notice while away from work and computers for a couple of weeks, I want to talk about cruise ships. Namely, I want to talk about the people who work on cruise ships, because no matter what your job title might be on a cruise ship, your number one priority is making sure your passengers have everything they need. That means that, even if you’re “just” doing laundry or stocking one of the bars, or any number of other behind the scenes types of duties, you should always be aware of what passengers are around you, and make sure you greet them in a friendly manner, and are responsive to any requests that they have.

I found this to be an interesting dynamic. Cruising in a highly competitive industry. I mean if you want to take a cruise in the Caribbean or Mediterranean, for example, there are a ton of options for you.  It’s not like only one cruise line can take you there, and it’s not like you don’t have a ton of different options for your itinerary. There’s a high probability that aside from schedule and ports, the deciding factor for which cruise line you choose is going to be which one you trust to give you a good experience. And, once you do have a good experience on one cruise line, you’re very likely to stick with them. So, there is a lot of pressure to make sure passengers are having a good experience, and the responsibility for that goes all the way through to every member of the crew.

I’m not sure that other industries quite understand that they are, as well, in the business of making sure their customers come away with a good experience. Far too often I’ve heard people who work behind the scenes in law firms, or technology companies, who really don’t have any idea who their customers are, or what kind of experience they are getting. That’s someone else’s responsibility. I’m here to fix the computers, deliver the mail, write the code, I’m not responsible for customer service.

Yet, you are. If you write code that doesn’t work the way a customer expects it to, you’ve just failed at providing customer service. If you are unorganized about getting the mail to the proper person who can get your mail and handle it correctly, or you’re lax in keeping technology running, thus preventing your attorney from responding to an email you are responsible for a lack of customer service.

Heck, if you just aren’t providing a friendly greeting to customers in the hallways or meeting rooms of your office, you’re missing out on the chance to improve their customer experience. Your organization exists to give your customers an experience that makes them want to pay you. If you don’t see providing customer service something that every single person is responsible for, someone else will be giving them a better experience very soon.

 

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Internal Networking Matters

I’ve talked frequently about the need to network and build relationships within your own organization. I’ve posited that it will make your life easier if the people you support see you as one of “us”, as opposed to one of “them”, and the best way to do that is be friendly with the people you work with. Now, a study by CNN Money shows it also increases the likelihood of getting a promotion.

Of course, now that I work remotely, this takes even more effort! ;-)

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Is IT Burnout Limited to IT?

A post at Lockergnome about IT burnout got me thinking today. The author listed some of the reasons we see a high rate of burnout in IT, and I couldn’t help but think of the seemingly large number of people I know who have left legal IT specifically, in recent months, citing burnout as a major cause.

I am pretty sure I’d agree with all of the reasons laid out in the post, and that they combine to create burnout, but in legal I’d add even one more, unrealistic expectations. Attorneys are not exactly known for their understanding of things like maintenance downtime, or getting that some technical processes take time. (“Why do I have to wait for you to make a copy of that drive the client pulled from their PC?”)

Anyway, since I don’t work in a truly “IT” job any longer, I also started to wonder about whether we should be worried about burnout in Litigation Support. It’s a relatively new job niche, so it may be that we simply haven’t seen many folks in it long enough to have a burnout epidemic the way IT seems to be having. On the other hand, do the same causes add up here too?

Long hours? – Check!

Little recognition? -Check! (Though I think Lit Support folks who do trial presentation do get some recognition, it’s not as behind the scenes as other functions.)

Lack of respect? – Check! (Think of the number of times attorneys write your work off a client’s bill, because it’s not “real” legal work.)

Unrealistic Expectations? – Double Check!

Of course, like IT, some firms are better than others at creating a good environment for their Litigation Support folks, but I think there’s certainly enough similarities to IT that if you’re seeing burnout there, eventually you will see it in Lit Support too.

What do you think? Have you seen signs of burnout in this industry?

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Texting Bans, and Measuring the Correct Things

So, statistics show that, despite the increasing number of bans on cell phone use, or texting while driving, the number of traffic accidents hasn’t gone down. I’m not at all surprised.

Now, mind you, it’s probably too early to really tell whether there will be any long-term drop as a result of these bans, and I’m not about to argue that anyone should be texting and driving, it’s actually a pretty stupid thing to do, but I do believe all of the bans in the world won’t actually change the traffic statistics much. The reason for that is actually very simple, and it applies in many situations we’ve talked about here.

One of the common misconceptions about any statistic, is just because there is a relationship between two things, does not mean there is causation. Yes, there are far more traffic accidents involving drivers on cell phones (talking or texting) than there used to be. There are far more cell phones than there used to be. That is a causal relationship. But, there hasn’t been a large uptick in the overall number of accidents, which we can assume to mean that the increase in the number of cell phones did not make more for an increase in the number of bad drivers, thus the number of accidents didn’t really change. What changed was the likelihood that one of those bad drivers was using a cell phone as the tool of distraction. That increased, however banning these drivers from using a cell phone won’t make them good drivers suddenly, any more than having a cell phone made them bad drivers. The total number of crashes has remained pretty steady, thus we can say pretty safely that the amount of dangerous driving going on out on the streets has remained pretty steady as well. It just happens that more of those dangerous driving occurrences, involve a cell phone. Banning cell phones while driving will result in a drop in the number of crashes involving a cell phone eventually, but bad drivers will still be bad drivers. They’ll still cause accidents, apparently in similar numbers as they do now.

It actually reminds me of the argument I’ve made here many times against blocking social networking sites in the workplace. Wasting time in the workplace did not start with the invention of Facebook. There’s always been a certain number of unproductive workers, they just happen to be spending more time on Facebook than they used to. If you remove Facebook, it will not suddenly make them productive workers. Those are not the only two choices, Facebook users, or productive workers.

If your goal is to increase the productivity of your workers, simply measuring the time they spend on Facebook won’t tell you anything. We can all agree on that, right? If you measure the amount of time spent on Facebook, you’ll get people who don’t go to Facebook, not productivity.  Yet, I see examples of this all the time. We measure the effectiveness of tech support folks by the number of tickets they close, or we measure sales and customer service reps by the number of calls they take during a day. That assures us that we’ll have people who close tickets, or end phone calls quickly, not people who are solving real problems. You’ll get what you measure, and if you’re measuring something that actually does not have a causal relationship to your bottom line, you won’t impact that bottom line.

In the Litigation Support world, if you measure the number of documents reviewed, you will get fast reviews, but you might not get any accuracy. If you want accuracy, you have to measure it.

Of course, I believe cell phone and texting while driving bans actually do accomplish what they set out to do. Politicians saw a problem with accidents involving people on their cell phones, and being politicians, set out to “do something” about it. In the long run, the bans will decrease the number of accidents involving cell phone use, but it won’t make better drivers. So, it will do something about the immediate problem, but it doesn’t make driving any safer. If the goal was to make driving safer, then we’re measuring the wrong thing. We would be measuring the number of bad drivers being educated and turned into good, safe, drivers if our goal is to make driving safer.

So, what are we measuring now that we shouldn’t be? What should we be measuring that we don’t?

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What’s Your Retention Plan?

According to the AJC, Small perks carry weight around the office. That got me thinking about what I hear from friends and acquaintances about their workplace, and how they’ve handled the current economic recession. In the midst of budget cuts, it’s important to find ways to show your employees that you value them.

It seems like everywhere I turn companies are cutting out benefits, dropping perks, freezing salaries, and maybe even laying off some of their people. And in the midst of all of that they are going back to their best performers, the people they rely on to keep things running, and telling them they should feel lucky to have a job.

Now, don’t get me wrong, with this economy we are all lucky, to some degree, to have jobs, I admit that. And budget cuts are certainly needed. On the other hand, if you really expect your best people to simply sit and accept that while you continue to offer them nothing, you’re crazy. These people know they are good at what they do, and they know they have a job not because of luck and your generosity. You’re running a business, not a halfway house. They have a job because they bring value to your business. If you don’t offer them any incentive to stay, don’t engage them, and don’t show them some loyalty, someone else will. Granted, the opportunities open to folks in a recession are limited, but it only takes one for them to be gone. Can you really afford for your best folks to go to work for your competitors?

Maybe you should do more that tell them how lucky they are. They’re not lucky, they’re good, and you need to find some way to appreciate that.

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How do you Cover for Specialists?

Some of you who follow me on Twitter may have seen that I worked late a couple of days last week as some sort of epidemic has swept the help desk area of our firm, leaving them quite short-handed. In fact, they were left with no one available between the regular folks who work there, and the couple of usual backups to cover the phones until 6PM each evening, which is the customary procedure. Not having any immediate plans after work, I stepped in and covered them.

While I was down there, another one of our IS folks and I were discussing how much tech support has changed. Time was when he, and everyone in the IT department where he worked, had the help desk line on their phones and we expected to answer it when the regular folks were tied up, but that was when all you had to support was PC hardware and maybe MS Office apps. Now, there are dozens of apps in use, in a variety of specialties, that he doesn’t even know how to use, much less support.

As we talked, I realized how much that is true. The folks who were brought in as specialists, like for Networking, Telecommunications, and DBA, simply don’t have the knowledge to do general end-user support. Our firm is a little luckier than most, because some of the other IT specialist positions are folks who started out working at the help desk, like myself, and can step in. On the other hand, it’s only been a bit more than 2 years since I worked there fulltime, and there have been some applications added that I don’t use, and couldn’t possibly support. (Luckily no one called with a question about those while I was flying solo down there!) The others who’ve been away for even longer, have even more apps where that is the case.

We came to realize, not just that we really only had a limited number of people who could effective backup the help desk folks, but that we had very limited backup for any of our positions. When our telecomunications guy is on vacation, there is an official “backup” person, but what can be handled in his absence is very limited. A major telephone system meltdown during his vacation is going to result in a serious problem. Now with our Litigation Support Department consisting of me, and one other person working remotely 4 days a week, on that 5th day, if I get sick, and there’s someone needing trial prep work done, there’s no one to do it. Same goes for our one web developer. If something needs done, and she’s not there to do it, what happens?

As more and more firms try to “do more with less” in this economy, how many IT people are having to be “on call” even when they’re on vacation, or over weekends, or when they’re sick, because they’re the only one’s who can handle some tasks? What does your organization do to try and prevent this, or do you simply require them to live with this expectation? Are your IT people expected to always be reachable? Are they therefore limited in where they can go on vacation, because of this expectation that they will always be able to log in remotely and work on something at a moment’s notice? Is that really fair?

Personally, I don’t think it is. More importantly, if there’s only one person at your firm who can fix certain issues, what do you do when that person gets hit by a bus? Or leaves? Aren’t you asking for trouble if you simply ignore the fact that skills and knowledge haven’t been shared among the whole team and you’ve simply laid these expectations at the feet of your folks as your “solution”?

So as technology gets more specialized, and budgets get tighter, what do you do to have a backup plan?

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Failure to Communicate

This is a bit of a follow up to a post a few days ago about whether having an open ticketing system would help with the communications between techs and the users they support.

As I mentioned there, and talked more about in the comments, when you have systemic failure to communicate, it’s much more than a technical problem. It’s a people problem, and in many cases, it a culture problem. If your organization sees their IT department as “those” people down in the basement, you are going to continue to have these issues with people not giving the techs enough information. Conversely, if your IT folks see the people they support as (l)users, you are going to continue to have issues with your techs no following up appropriately.

Worse yet, when these attitudes are displayed by the CEO, or the IT manager, there is no hope of it getting better, no matter what technology you put in place! If your IT department is in its own silo, you’re going to have problems. If all the other departments are in their own silos, you’re going to have problems that go well beyond tech support. From what I hear, this is actually pretty common in larger law firms, as each practice area tends to be in their own silo, not to mention staff departments, like IT, which exist even outside of those practice area silos!

As I’ve written elsewhere recently, there are some things you can do, even if you’re not in management, that will help. First and foremost, do some internal networking. Get to know people in other areas, develop relationships outside of the silo. Learn about what is happening in other areas of the firm and try to find ways in which your talents, or technology, can assist them in accomplishing things that are important to them.

Don’t wait for management to develop a plan to get rid of silos, do it yourself on whatever level you can. Go to lunch with someone in another area of the firm, offer to show them how to use some bit of technology during a brown bag lunch. I’ve had some success offering to show people how to setup an RSS reader, for example. It’s not official firm-approved technology training, it’s taking my own time to help teach someone how to use a technology that could help them, with their job, or with other interests.

One other area where I’ve only recently begun to consider is in the use of social networking tools. As I’ve been on Facebook for a little while now, I’m realizing just how much it’s growing in use, even among the non-techie people I know. In some cases, they are joining up to keep an eye on their teenaged kids, and finding plenty of old friends/classmates on the service, or are using it to connect with family members who are far away, possibly as a way to share photos, an then finding plenty of other groups and activities they enjoy, etc. Lots of these folks are also listing their work information, including employer.

I can’t help but wonder if “friending” some of these folks would help me to learn about their interests, and find common ground, or maybe increase the level of interaction with folks who I don’t normally get to see on a regular basis. At this point I’ve only connected with a handful of folks that I work with on Facebook, and none on Twitter, but I’m wondering if I should spend some time tracking down more of them, and using the technology to develop better relationships across silos. (Doing so without coming across as creepy stalker guy from Lit Support might be a little difficult though..*L*)

To me, a lack of communication in any business is a sign of a lack of relationships within that organization. People who know each other, are familiar with each other, and heck maybe even like each other, are more likely to share important information. People who don’t know each other, or who couldn’t even tell you the name of the IT person who helped them, aren’t.

Of course, since I met my wife at work 9 years ago, maybe my perspective on building relationships at work is a bit biased. I tend to think the better you know the people you work with, the better you are going to communicate with them, and they with you. It’s worked that way for me with plenty of folks that I didn’t wind up married to as well. :)

What do you guys think? Do you regularly connect with folks from within your organization outside of work? If you work in a law firm, what chance do you think an internal networking goal has of getting any sort of momentum with people who are ruled by billable hours? I will say, it’s been easier to build relationships with other staff members than it has been with lawyers. That is one silo that is going to be difficult to reach across, it takes time, and that’s time that isn’t being billed! Share your own thoughts in the comments…

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Does Open Ticketing Solve Communication Problems?

That’s one of the recommendations Doug Cornelius makes in various discussions around the blogosphere about poor communication between “geeks” and “users”. (Start here at 3 geeks and a Law Blog, which links to Jenn Steele’s original post and read the comments on both for the background.)

Doug’s claim that the problem with help desk tickets is that no one ever knows what happens and where they go, so opening it up so that he, as a user can log in and see what has been happening to resolve his issues, would solve the communication problem. I’m going to disagree.

Not because Doug’s idea is a bad one, in fact I think that should be a requirement of any ticketing system. It certainly would help ease some of that black hole feeling, but I don’t think it would put much of a dent in the real communication problem.

That’s because, in my view, the lack of communication has little to do with users not being able to follow up for themselves, and everything to do with the fact that geeks are not given any reason to really communicate with users. Think about it, IT heads and organization’s management teams demand those automated systems that allow a help desk tech to either fix the problem, or assign it to someone to fix, without ever leaving their desk. They connect remotely to a user’s machine, make a small change, disconnect and call the ticket closed. There’s no time spend building relationships with users, learning about what work they are trying to accomplish, talking to them about how they are working, looking for teachable moments where the tech could maybe help a user find a simpler way to do something etc. Those are the kinds of things that increase communication back and forth, not yet another piece of technology.

If you work at a help desk though, why woud you spend the time to do this? On one hand, you’re probably working short staffed due to cutbacks, supporting a couple of hundred users with 1 or 2 front line techs, and what are you being evaluated on? The quality of relationships you’ve built, the follow up calls/visits to a user to make sure a fix is working, or how much you understand what your users are trying to do and how they could use technology to be more efficient? No, you’re being evaluated on how many tickets you close.

Managers, remember you get the behavior you measure. If you measure closing tickets quickly and in large numbers, you’ll get tickets closed quickly and in great quantity. When that results in poor communication between techs and users who don’t know each other at all, I guess you better find a way to measure, and reward, behavior that improves those relationships. If you continue to only look at the bottom line expense of tech support, you’ll get the bottom of tech support.

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