As Idealware’s “accidental techie,” I’m the go-to guy whenever a new staff member needs to be trained on a database, has a problem printing, or can’t find something on the file server. Usually, this isn’t too bad—we can sit down together at their computer and I can work them through it. However, it’s not so easy to troubleshoot or conduct training when almost half of the organization works full-time from home. I’m by no means an IT expert, but I have had to figure out a system for dealing with these issues on a shoestring budget while juggling my other responsibilities. I’m sure many of you can relate.
Let’s start with the trickiest issue. If I need to look at a problem on the computer of a coworker who is 3,000 miles away, I can’t just walk into his or her office. I need some other way to view their desktop and either tell them what to do or take control of their screen and show them what to do, depending on how tech-savvy they are or how complicated the problem is.
If I know that the person can follow my instructions, or if we have the same operating system, we can just meet on Google Hangouts or Skype (depending on their preference) and share screens. This option works well for most issues, but sometimes the shared screen can be hard to see.
If I’m dealing with a particularly complicated issue (or I’m helping my mother), I need to have control of the desktop, which requires a more feature-rich tool (as in, one that actually costs money). I’ve used Idealware’s ReadyTalk account, which needs both users to be presenters and depends on the other person being familiar with the system or fairly tech-savvy (so, not my mother). With a paid tool like this, which is intended to be used for webinars and meetings with more than 100 participants, you tend to get better video quality and less lag time than Google Hangouts or Skype and you can take control of the other presenter’s screen. However, it costs too much to be used just for internal communications. I only use it because Idealware already has the service.
We cover a few cheaper and easier-to-use tools, such as TeamViewer and Join.me, in this article (http://www.idealware.org/articles/few-good-online-conferencing-tools-1). These sorts of tools usually require you to pay for an account, but a free trial can get the job done for those rare, one-off issues.
This brings us to training someone on a system or process. Personally, I find this problem a lot easier to deal with. If a coworker simply needs help completing certain tasks in a particular system, check the vendor website first for instructions or how-to videos. Any vendor worth its salt will provide free materials that cover basic information or common issues. But for internal processes, or those that require different systems for different steps, you’ll likely have to create your own documentation.
Initial training is going to be easier if you do it live because you can answer questions as they come up. When we have a new remote staff member, I do the initial training in Hangouts or Skype, just sharing my screen. If I go slowly, they can usually follow along, but again, the screen might not be easy to read.
Live trainings can take a lot of my time, though. That’s why I prefer to make my own documentation that I can just share with everyone. This way, I only need to do it once, and no one needs to bother me for help again (in a perfect world).
The easiest and cheapest way to document a process for future reference is with screenshots. There are plenty of free tools to take and edit screenshots. The built-in Snipping Tool that comes with Windows and third-party tools such as PicPick are good free options. There are also paid solutions that tend to be fairly inexpensive, especially if you get one as a donation through TechSoup. Once you have the screenshots, using an image editor, you can mark them up with circles, boxes, highlights, or arrows to show where to go for each step. Then all you have to do is throw it all in a Word document or PowerPoint deck, include some instructional text, and share it throughout your organization.
If it’s REALLY complicated, or your coworkers learn better in a more hands-on setting, you can make your own how-to videos. At Idealware, I use Camtasia to record the screen, complete with my mouse movements, as I go through the process. I can also record audio to narrate people through the steps—either as I record the screen, or separately afterwards. This method costs more, as screen-capture video tools are usually not cheap. Also, you’ll need to be at least a little familiar with both the tool itself and with video editing techniques.
All in all, the hardest part of creating your own documentation isn’t creating it—it’s getting your coworkers to actually use it rather than coming to you with their questions. Unfortunately, that’s not a problem software can solve…yet.
This is by no means a comprehensive recommendation, and I am not a trained IT professional, so I’d love to hear your suggestions and tips about how you train your remote staff.