How to Run an IT Service Desk in a Hybrid or Remote World

September 20, 2021

Contributor: Meghan Rimol

Infrastructure and operations leaders must adapt how they provide IT support to enable both business consumers and IT service desk analysts to work outside of the office.

The IT service desk is an essential component of the digital workplace but one that was rarely seen operating remotely pre-pandemic. When COVID-19 forced many workers to remain at home, both IT service desk analysts and the business consumers they serve were forced to adapt traditional support channels with little preparation.

“The pandemic presents an opportunity for infrastructure and operations (I&O) leaders to accelerate the IT service desk evolution,” says Chris Matchett, Senior Director Analyst, Gartner. “Even as some workers return to offices, new IT service models will enable enterprises to embrace the hybrid workplace of the future.”

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Here are four ways that you can ensure vital IT support channels remain open, and the service desk evolves to meet the changing needs of your enterprise, both during the pandemic and after the eventual “return to normal.”

1. Enable remote service tool access

During periods of lockdown, IT support staff cannot be physically onsite, which means IT service desks need to be staffed differently. Make it your goal to re-create a remote version of the IT service desk analyst’s workstation to limit any disruption of service.

IT service desk analysts working remotely require:

  • Access to the ITSM tool. Most IT service management (ITSM) tools are SaaS-hosted and can be accessed from anywhere via an internet connection or through a VPN. Organizations running older ITSM tools that are on-premises must provide analysts with client software and open up remote access.
  • Business consumer communications. This should include a phone linked to the IT service desk contact center call queuing system, as well as access to all collaboration and communication tools used in the office.
  • Access to remote control and endpoint management tools. Depending on the analyst’s expertise, this should include secure remote control tools, diagnostic tools, identity access control tools and access to VPN and ZTNA tools to support connectivity issues.

2. Manage service expectations

Most service-level agreements (SLAs) that cover IT support are inflexible — they usually outline target response and resolve times of one, four and eight hours for high, medium and standard priority requests, respectively. 

Business consumers who use remote services and home-based equipment require more support, even though the supply is limited. The increase in demand, potential unavailability of staff and the need to support unfamiliar applications and devices means that SLA targets are often not met.

Rather than focusing on target resolution times, offer a new, temporary SLA describing how the I&O support organization will respond at this time. Take the opportunity to identify or reconfirm which business functions are critical, which IT services they use and which business consumers will be using them. Make sure that the IT service desk staff (working from home or office) understands this information and is ready to use it to correctly prioritize incidents and requests. 

Read more: 4 Ways for CIOs to Implement Hybrid Working in 2021

3. Reduce IT service desk demand

As a result of the introduction of new services and technology, many I&O leaders are seeing a spike in demand for support. While this demand peaked at the onset of the pandemic, it’s expected to remain generally elevated, especially as some workers return to offices. 

You can quickly reduce demand on Level 1 phone-based contact channels by providing asynchronous Level 1 contact methods, such as live chat or email for low-priority issues. These are easier than contact center telephone queues to access remotely and can keep phone lines clear for urgent issues. This can also reduce phone costs for remote employees when VoIP is not available.

Relieve further pressure on the IT service desk by starting or accelerating Level 0 contact channel programs, such as peer support and self-service. One of the benefits of peer support via collaborative platforms is that everyone in the organization can see the question, responses and, ultimately, the answer. This effectively turns the collaborative platform into a crowdsourced knowledge base written in business language. This can help deflect similar questions from Level 1 support, easing demand on IT support teams and bringing the solution closer to the business consumer for faster resolution.

4. Prepare for longer-term changes

It's imperative you anticipate the long-term changes brought about by the pandemic. Eventually, IT service desks will be dealing with the backlog of lower-priority incidents, requests and problems, putting longer-term pressure on their capacity to address the constant intake of issues. Bring your own device (BYOD) will also be prevalent, and more business consumers will work remotely full or part-time even after their offices reopen.

This presents an opportunity for you, presuming you are prepared to manage out of the turns. Business consumers will come to rely on alternative support channels after employees return to the office. They may also learn to be more self-sufficient in resolving their IT issues when working from home and/or waiting longer for IT support. This opens the door to getting buy-in and engagement on peer support initiatives.

Peer support channels, including asking co-workers and performing a simple Google search, have been the most popular support channels for business consumers for several years. I&O leaders have been slow to recognize this trend, yet those who have launched initiatives in collaborative support channels are already better positioned to deal with the current crisis. I&O leaders should prepare for such shifts in how business consumers work with and access IT support, and embrace these trends through investment in collaboration features for ITSM.

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