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Best Practices For Supporting Home Users

The home user is now just as much a part of the network as the accounting department, thanks to the emergence of broadband Internet services and VPNs, and businesses looking

1. Get Buy-In From Upper Management

If corporate management doesn't accept telecommuting as an extension of the corporate operations and network, a home-user program won't fly. Managers, from the CEO to the IT manager, need to understand the advantages and challenges of working with remote users and must be willing to support them. That means putting aside any concerns about home users being unsupervised. In fact, users who work at home typically have high morale and are productive. Much of that has to do with the flexibility of working at home--there's no commute time and you can go to the gym, post office and bank during business hours, making up work time later.

But telecommuting is not for everyone. Home users have to be self-motivated and able to handle distractions at home, and have some technical abilities to solve small problems with their computers and telephone equipment.

Most organizations don't officially start a home user program; it just evolves. That's what happened at Network Computing's parent company, CMP Media. In the early 1990s, some employees were allowed to work from home on a limited basis--a few days a week, for instance. Over time, the home-user population increased dramatically, and in the IT industry boom of the mid- to late 1990s, more employees were permitted to work from home full time. There were more than 300 at-home users at that time, then about 10 percent of the company.

So CMP created a new IT support team, called Home Support, for managing home users on a day-to-day basis. Centralizing support for this group gave the remote-access environment more credibility within the company, and we were able to monitor the users' laptops, desktops and remote access, and address their support problems more quickly. One of our main tools is our call-tracking system, a custom Lotus Notes database that lets us track all support calls. Helpdesk technicians input details on the problem, comments and resolution information, so that data can be recycled for future calls. CMP also runs a technology-support discussion database for sharing ideas among the support team. This program came about because CMP's management made it a priority. Without management buy-in, it doesn't make sense to let your employees work from home.

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