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Establishing and Managing a Remote Technical Team

In our recent articles, we have discussed the benefits of engaging remote workers for companies that don’t require full-time, office based staff to fill certain business functions.  One of the areas that lends itself to remote work is the use of technical teams who can resolve computer hardware and software problems for customers.

Almost anyone who has had a technical issue knows how important it is to have on-call support person, who can often remedy issues over the phone or online regardless of the day or time.  There is a significant customer relations advantage for companies that can offer high-quality technical support without delays, and using a remote team is one way to accomplish this goal.

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What Is a Remote Technical Team and Why Is It Useful?

A remote technical team can fill most support functions, without the constraints of typical business hours, or on-site visits.  These services may include interpreting “difficult computer problems and provide technical support for hardware, software and systems.”

  • Software troubleshooting
  • Fulfilling service and maintenance agreements
  • Fixing hardware issues
  • Data restoration and backup
  • Remote training
  • Issues with network connections, wi-fi and firewalls

Because many technical issues are repetitive and can be resolved with trained guidance, a technical support worker can usually walk a customer through the required steps, or may even be able to manually correct the problem by accessing the customer’s computer.  There are many benefits to using a remote technical team for this function, rather than staff based in a central office.

Cost savings

The obvious cost saving is eliminating the need for office space and admin support for technical workers.  Most technical issues don’t require personnel to be physically present, and using screen sharing technology and standardized solutions, a remote technical worker can work with a customer directly from any location. This may also save the cost of paying for unnecessary on-site visits, or sending in equipment for repair or replacement.

Time Saving and Flexibility

A remote technical solution can usually be offered instantaneously as long as staff members are available, and if remote workers are in different geographical locations then round the clock support may be possible.  In this way the customer does not have to wait for the start of the business day in the company location, and workers can have the option of working flexible hours depending on preference and company needs.  Even if a remote team all work in the same country, some members may elect to work night shifts or split shifts to provide 24 hour customer service.

Skill and Expertise

By using a remote technical team, a company can recruit based on a worker’s area of expertise, rather than proximity to the home office.  This allows the business to build a technical team that has the range of skills and experience to match customer needs.

Setting Up a Remote Technical Support Team

When recruiting members of a remote technical team, there are other considerations in addition to their skill set and experience.

Nature of the Work

Unlike salespeople, technical workers typically spend their time at a desk and in front of a monitor, allowing them to handle customer requests as they arise.  At times, they may be required to make a visit on-site, but most work is performed from a home office or other shared work space.  The only travel may be to the company headquarters for initial or ongoing training.

Type of Worker

Remote technical team members require many of the same attributes as other remote workers, such as independence, communication skills, ability to prioritize and self-discipline as described in this overview. 

Also, because of the nature of the work, a certain creative troubleshooting ability is required, since not every situation will follow the norm.  So in addition to technical knowledge, a remote worker must have the ability to transfer knowledge to novel problems, and think of new ways to resolve an unforeseen issue.

Reliability

A business has to be able to rely on the capacity of remote technical team member to handle customer requests, be available and respond appropriately at all times.  Otherwise, the company loses the benefit of their role, if the worker needs constant support or are difficult to engage at critical times.

Managing the Remote Technical Team

Infrastructure

Technical workers must have access to state of the art equipment and a steady high speed internet connection to fulfill their role.  While these are readily available in many locations, workers located in countries with weak infrastructure will be challenged respond to the most basic customer service requests, and alternatives will need to be in place as a back-up measure.

Compliance Issues in Home and Host Countries

If a remote team member is located in another country, there may be compliance issues with local immigration, employment and payroll laws.  These items should not be overlooked simply because there is no formal office in the host country, since any non-compliance penalties will fall to the company.  If payroll is run from the home country, those employment and tax rules must also be followed by the employer.  This includes the common practice of using contractors to fulfill tech positions, but then treating them like employees, leading to a risk of misclassification.

Communication, Message Board and Apps

All of the same methods and tools mentioned in previous articles apply equally to technical workers.  Because they spend more time at their desk, they may spend more time communicating through message boards such as Trello and Slack as a means to connect with other workers, request assistance or share their own successes.

Challenges

Despite the obvious advantages of a remote technical team, there are several areas of challenge that will need to be addressed by the company.

Training

Technical staff members have a need for ongoing training sessions to account for revisions in software programs and upgrades to equipment.  Offering these trainings to remote staff can be achieved via webinars or other online modules, but it may be necessary to bring staff to a central location for more in depth training.  This step gives staff the chance to interact, ask questions and share their own methods with other team members, but does add a cost element to the remote technical team.

Data Security

Data security is a paramount concern for many tech oriented companies, and remote staff need to be monitored for potential data breaches or misuse of information.  Sensitive customer data, encryption methods and proprietary computer programs can all be accessed by technical staff with the correct authentication codes and passwords, which must be guarded against intrusion or theft. 

For this reason, it is essential that new remote team members be fully informed of data security protocols as well as the consequences for any inappropriate use of confidential data or intellectual property.

The Need For On-site Support

Even the most talented remote technical staff cannot resolve every potential issue by phone or internet, and at time there will be a need for on-site customer service.  Problems with hardware, servers, firewalls and other network issues can inhibit the effectiveness of the remote technician.  Even a lack of a reliable internet connection on the customer end can require an on-site visit to remedy any technical hardware or software issues.

Summary

The use of a remote technical team can be a real asset for some types of businesses with regular customer technical needs and support issues.  Computer hardware companies, software developers, mobile phone vendors and other tech related companies all rely on their technical team members to remedy customer problems without any delay.  There are challenges with using remote workers for this function, but those items can be overcome with sound management and communication methods to keep the remote technical workers engaged and performing at a high level.

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