I’ve been a remote worker since I started at IFS in 2019. For the first 15 months of my remote employment, I felt like a member of an exclusive club. No commute, the ability to play 90’s hip hop as loud as I want, and the daily company of no one other than my dog, French Fry, who did not complain when I microwaved fish for lunch.

In March of last year, though, my wife joined me in my fortress of solitude. Then, in the weeks to come, so did everybody else who worked in an office.

There were a lot of learnings over this last year, but certainly chief among them, for many folks, was that remote work can be done. For many of us, we’re more productive, more focused, and while the adjustment to new communication strategies can be a hurdle, many businesses have found great success through videoconferencing.

I am certain that, today, many people are tripping over themselves to get back into an office. In Boston especially, startup culture centers around Friday afternoon happy hours and ping pong tournaments, and there are undoubtedly a lot of foosball tables out there regrettably collecting dust. That’s never been of interest to me, and I am certain that many of my compatriots will agree, and, with the infrastructure that we’ve built over the last year to support home work, would prefer to keep this arrangement.

Businesses are looking at ways to solidify this process in an effort to reinvent how they use their office space. Whether through communal desks, hybrid workers, or simply not renewing leases, we’re figuring out what office culture will look like post-pandemic.

From a personnel perspective, this is coming together. From an IT perspective, we’ve been duct-taping solutions together in an attempt to make these systems and processes work, essentially building the track as we’ve been traveling on it. That is not to say that some organizations were unprepared, of course. But on the whole, we’ve been thinking on our feet, for better or worse.

So what do we do now that we know that the traditional office environment has been fundamentally changed forever? How do we organize, operationalize, and service our enterprise equipment as it is dispersed across regions, nations, and the world?

As is always the case, there are as many considerations as there are businesses managing those considerations, but here’s a few high-level ones to get you thinking about the right mix for your business:

Device Management
I come from the world of business hardware sales, and within that space, proper device management was (at least in 2015) the most overlooked element of proper IT management. I’ve written about this in the context of COVID before, but the stakes and expectations have shifted. One of my biggest clients, whose workforce had 75% annual turnover and were exclusively field-based operatives (a real churn-and-burn sales house…I’m not here to endorse that type of business model but I have to acknowledge it exists) had device management, location services, and remote access installed at the manufacturer, shipped the device directly to the sales folks. It never physically touched the hands of an IT person in the organization, but IT had full oversight into what apps were installed on it, how it was used, and, when the employee quit, was able to remotely shut it off, providing a helpful screen with exact directions on how to remit the device.

Now that “field operatives” can mean “all employees”, IT managers need to think carefully about how much money they’re wasting on packing tape and shipping boxes, prepping machines by hand and slapping on postage. A better way exists, and by streamlining this process, you can save time for some of the more complex challenges that we have listed below.

My wife’s work computer turns on about 25% of the time. The fan whirs wildly, the keyboard lights up, but there’s no image on the screen. I’m not in IT any more but my educated guess is that it’s a RAM issue. My wife has called her IT manager several times, and they’ve remotely accesser her machine and reset her firmware I don’t know how many times.

I should note that I have no idea how my wife is describing the problem that she is having, but the solution does not address it, and regardless of the number of times that they go through this song and dance, the issue is not resolved. Simple issues like this can often be resolved through remote access, yes, but when you’re dealing with a hardware issue, it’s much smarter to diagnose this from outside of the computer screen. This is not rocket science, but a simple remote assistance array, and some smart diagnostics could save a lot of time, here. This is a step beyond telestration—true remote assistance with on-screen prompts. If you can’t get your machine back to an office to be looked at, thinking about this differently will be a saving grace.

Ok, let’s think about the above example again. Assume the RAM is the culprit. Common IT practice would be to send out a whole new computer, remit the broken one, and have IT fix it on-prem. That is fine, but it’s kind of a waste of time and resources. Assuming remote assistance is working correctly, you could just ship new RAM to the user, and walk them through the repair process. On most PCs, RAM’s an easy fix…I just lifted many machine and it has a small plate with the appropriate expansion slots right there.

From a logistics perspective, this changes things marginally. You could ship product direct (as discussed before), but what about remittance? Perhaps you have the end user just throw away the defective product (but please do not throw computer parts in the trash). What if, instead, you worked out a refurbishment plan with the manufacturer? If so, ticket creation for an issue, when diagnosed, could trigger the appropriate logistics materials without any sort of manual work being applied. Imagine time saved not having to coordinate with a vendor, but simply to know that a product would ship out, along with a return box, and that this was not just saving time, but saving money, too. This feeds into what I was saying about the circular economy last week.

That’s one example, and like any other, requires smart software solutions, a connected infrastructure, and pre-planning to ensure frictionless management of any challenge. To do that, it’s not just about the technology, it’s about understanding what goes wrong with end user’s products, and how to fix them. End-to-end automation of remote IT service requires end-to-end understanding of the business. There’s a lot of legwork that goes into that, but the benefits outweigh the challenges.

Tom Paquin

Contributor, Future of Field Service