Software

IT can play a key role in getting new employees up to speed

Educating new employees goes beyond simply teaching them job-specific tasks. New recruits need to master unfamiliar equipment and software, as well as learn about things like password policies, restrictions on file sharing and software installation, data security, and procedures for getting tech assistance. Here are some ways IT can help.

These days, most new employees in a business will be reasonably PC literate--but will they know the packages in use in your company? Will they understand your company's take on system security? Is it safe to assume that they will have used the kind of IT services available in your organization?

There's nothing worse than starting work with a company where the main application is totally unfamiliar. Indeed, many companies have a bespoke package that interfaces with a customized in-house database, and there will be a lot of company jargon that ends up alienating a new colleague and making it difficult to fit in. As the provider of IT services, you can do quite a bit to ensure that new employees' assimilation into the organization is as smooth and pain-free as possible.

Leveling the skill base

One way to bring a new employee's skill levels up to par is to make a training session a part of your staff induction program. A session explaining the use of IT within the company, rules and policies, and the software in place will help new recruits understand the official line.

Rules on password security and file sharing need to be made absolutely clear, as well as the company view on personal Internet use, the downloading of dubious material, and the measures the company takes to secure client data.

In the UK, the Data Protection Act requires that any personal data that's held as electronic data must be secured and any such database must be registered. It is vital that any employee with access to such information be aware of the rules governing it and of the legal penalties for misuse or mishandling the data. As an employer, you have to satisfy yourself that all employees are aware of their responsibilities.

It's also important not to take new employees' software skills for granted. Even if your in-house package is an off-the-shelf product, the chances are that it has been heavily customised and your people use some specialized terminology that the new recruit won't be familiar with. And although it's tempting to assume a certain basic level of expertise with standard packages such as Microsoft Word and Excel, those programs have enormous range of functionality (which is seldom, if ever, fully exploited). You may encounter some Word power users who are familiar with importing data from another application, mail merge operations, sophisticated use of document layout features, and so on. But others claiming to be fully conversant with Word might know how to change fonts and insert a page break, and that's it. For most people, a word processor is used to produce letters, write the odd report, and (in my case) make quick notes when you they find a pencil.

Network usage and login rules

The login rules for your network will be unique to your organization. You'll need to explain such details as minimum and maximum password length, the required mixture of letters and numbers, whether a letter or a number is required at the beginning or the end of the password, the length of time before a change is required, and the period of time required before a password can be re-used. There's no way for new users to guess these rules, so a brief explanation is vital. Many companies turn a blind eye to some practices, such as the sharing of login IDs, and it's important for any newcomer to know the official line.

Help desk scope

The procedure for logging faults can also be covered in the training session. You could take the opportunity to introduce the members of the IT team, give out cards bearing the help desk phone number and working hours, describe the type of services offered, and so forth. It is helpful for the end users to know these details. In the past, I've been asked to replace light bulbs (no gags about how many techs it takes), fit window blinds, unblock drains, repair VCRs and even, on one memorable occasion, repair a cardiac defibrillator!

Explaining the scope of your help desk coverage and supplying information about other service providers within the organization will be of great help to your new colleagues and save you time fielding calls intended for other teams.

Help desk visibility and availability

If a new recruit meets members of the IT team, it helps them see the techs as real people, not just service droids. The converse also applies: The help desk occasionally needs to be reminded that the users are real people, too--not just interruptions in their day. I am a firm believer in help desk outreach. When the techs who deal with calls are known to the callers, communication is far easier.

There is a trend toward outsourcing and centralizing support, which may well be more cost effective but is not terribly useful from a communications point of view. It has been said that 90 percent of communication is nonverbal. So being able to see people or know what they look like is of great benefit when trying to break down communications barriers. Being just a voice on the phone is not a good way to impart information that's sometime complex and hard to digest.

Conclusion

If we help new workers understand our systems, we'll have fewer problems reported from them. It has always been my belief that the role of a help desk is to try to make itself redundant by making sure that everybody is so well educated, they no longer need to use the help desk. However, I've been trying for a great number of years and am still no nearer to fulfilling this ambition, so there are no worries about job security.

Resources for user orientation and education

Here are some basic tools and guidelines to help get your new users off on the right foot:

36 comments
onbliss
onbliss

Additionally, the new additions to the IT team itself needs more training. I have seen new employees and contractors receiving almost next to nothing to perform their jobs - creating and maintaining systems. Countless hours are lost chasing people and trying to find the lone expert of a particular feature or module.

Jaqui
Jaqui

Leveling the skill base: since I'm 100% linux in the work environment, I have it easy, most people are clueless with it. They are shown the login process and are informed that their password is automatically changed once a month. They get one chance to note the new password then they have to get IT to change it again, giving them one chance to note the new password. They get a workstation with no multimedia devices or software, no time wasters, and are not given permissions to allow them to install plugins in browsers. If they say they hve technical skills, they get the LFS boot cd and a printout of the book, and are pointed to a workstaion without even a single partition on the hard drive. This drives the point home that Technical skills mean REAL skills with the os, if they can't build their workstation os then they have no tech skills as far as the company is concerned. Help desk visibility and availability: this is simple, the same as the office hours. 24/7 Since all Techs are part of the help desk team, and programmers will work odd hours, they just do help desk work as needed, there is no dedicated help desk team other than the entire Tech staff, which is the majority of staff.

stress junkie
stress junkie

There are numerous technical support people with whom I have worked who couldn't teach a bird to fly. Most technical support people have poor people skills. They (deliberately?) talk above other peoples' heads; they have no patience when someone doesn't understand something the first time that it is explained; they have a fundamental dislike of normal people; they feel that teaching skills to business employees is beneath their dignity; and so on and so on. Most of the technical support people I've met would be a poor choice for this type of assignment. On the other hand a nontechnical person would be ideal for this type of task. Nontechnical people would speak to other nontechnical people from an equal skill level. The nontechnical person would be more likely to react in a supportive manner when the new employee asked for a given point to be explained in more detail. There is a shared commeraderie when a bunch of nontechnical people try to learn policies and procedures that are based in technical issues. These people may not even cover things that an IT person would think is critical such as how access control lists work. The nontechnical person would probably say that you need to call the help desk to be able to see or write into this or that directory; they would never mention the term "access control list". And that is the better approach!!! When computer policies and procedures are explained to nontechnical people in a nontechnical way the end user benefits. The way that IT should participate in training new employees is to write the policies and procedures and to explain them to a designated person in HR. That HR person then explains the policies and procedures to new employees. When it comes to in house custom applications there is no reason to think that the IT staff have any better idea how to do work with it than a new employee. New IT staff are trained to support applications but not to do the work that the application does. So IT people can find and replace files that the custom application uses but nobody on the IT staff could enter a transaction or look up any information in the custom application. So IT staff generally have no understanding of how to do work with in house custom applications. If you need to restore the database from backups then call IT. If you need to know how to enter a transaction then IT probably can't help you. I have to believe that new employees are better served by nontechnical people explaining how to use the computers and applications. The nontechnical people are the ones actually doing the job so they are the ones who know what is most relevant. Nontechnical people are more likely to treat the new employees with dignity and patience. Nontechnical people are more likely to forge a bond when trying to explain a procedure that seems silly or difficult to understand. Overall the nontechnical people are better at relating to other nontechnical people regarding technical issues.

JodyGilbert
JodyGilbert

How involved is your IT department in the training of new employees? Is there a formal indoctrination process or does most knowledge transfer happen on an ad hoc basis?

stress junkie
stress junkie

I spent 15 years as a contract system administrator. There were plenty of jobs where I experienced the conditions on my first day that you described. I had one job where it took three weeks for me to get a user account. Hey. I got paid. The thing was that even when the department manager told the user account people to make an account for me right away it still took another week before the acccount was created. Amazing. This was their corporate culture.

KayJay_07
KayJay_07

SJ, you make many valid points. I'd like to expand your description though, the problem is not restricted to IT technical people, it is prevalent in any area that requires specialisation. Ever tried asking a scientist to explain his latest experiment or an accountant to describe the various depreciation methods that can be used? As an IT Trainer of 20 years standing, I have learned to accept that everybody thinks they can teach but that few actually can. Your initial premise is correct - generally technical people make poor teachers (this IS a generalisation, there are always exceptions), however, just because somebody is non-technical does NOT automatically enable them to teach. The fundamental problem which the majority of people do not seem to understand is that teaching is a SKILL, and that skill is quite separate from whether that person is a 'techie' or not. (This is hardly surprising when one constantly comes across phrases such as "those who CAN, do - those who CAN'T, teach" and, believe me, I have heard just about every imaginable variation on this theme during my training career!) Your post describes several of those teaching skills (patience when someone does not understand the first time something is explained, etc) but your assumption that a 'non-techie' is automatically a better bet is flawed. In my 20 years as an IT Trainer and Training Consultant I have worked with trainers who have few technical skills as well as trainers who have highly detailed technical knowledge. On balance, those with the technical knowledge beat those who haven't hands down. The key point is that first and foremost they are teachers rather than techies. The range of skills required by a teacher goes well beyond those you have highlighted. A good teacher: 1) understands that people learn in different ways - so he/she must have different approaches which can be applied instantly to each individual's needs (and, yes, this can [MUST] be done in a class situation as well as in one-to-one training) 2) understands that most of us are challenged by change - I could talk about this one forever; learning new skills takes us out of our 'safety zone' into uncharted territory and people react to this in vastly different ways ranging from mild nervousness "I hope I'll be able to learn this quickly" to blind terror "I'm hopeless with new technology - I'll fail//I'll look stupid/I'll lose my job!" A real teacher understands these fears and knows how to calm them as well as conveying the necessary information. A professional trainer should be a key member of the Change Management Team when new systems/software are introduced. 3) understands the key technical issues from the IT departments point of view and the business implications when processes fail or correct procedures are not followed by the end-users - he/she then constructs from this a training program that approaches these issues from the end-user's perspective avoiding 'tech-speak' wherever possible and explaining techical terms in everyday language when they cannot be avoided. 4) is enthusiastic about the software/hardware system - good trainers NEVER compare the new system unfavourably with what it is replacing (whatever their personal feelings!), the new system is what the users are stuck with (a phrase we never use) so we have to emphasise the positives and minimise the negatives while providing the users with the skills necessary to navigate those tricky, less-than-perfect bits that every system suffers from. 5) understands and empathises with a wide range of personalities - in short a good trainer LIKES people, understands that they are all different, and rejoices in the challenge of assisting all of them to acquire the skills that are required. To anybody who doubts that teaching is a separate skill, I would ask you to cast your mind back to your favourite primary or high-school teacher and the way that you looked forward to his/her lessons, the way that you seemed to learn more quickly and easily in that class than in any other - this was not just because they were a 'nice' person but because they had superb teaching skills that made you WANT to learn. A good teacher can change your life - I know, I had one; thanks a million George.

KayJay_07
KayJay_07

SJ, you make many valid points. I'd like to expand your description though, the problem is not restricted to IT technical people, it is prevalent in any area that requires specialisation. Ever tried asking a scientist to explain his latest experiment or an accountant to describe the various depreciation methods that can be used? As an IT Trainer of 20 years standing, I have learned to accept that everybody thinks they can teach but that few actually can. Your initial premise is correct - generally technical people make poor teachers (this IS a generalisation, there are always exceptions), however, just because somebody is non-technical does NOT automatically enable them to teach. The fundamental problem which the majority of people do not seem to understand is that teaching is a SKILL, and that skill is quite separate from whether that person is a 'techie' or not. (This is hardly surprising when one constantly comes across phrases such as "those who CAN, do - those who CAN'T, teach" and, believe me, I have heard just about every imaginable variation on this theme during my training career!) Your post describes several of those teaching skills (patience when someone does not understand the first time something is explained, etc) but your assumption that a 'non-techie' is automatically a better bet is flawed. In my 20 years as an IT Trainer and Training Consultant I have worked with trainers who have few technical skills as well as trainers who have highly detailed technical knowledge. On balance, those with the technical knowledge beat those who haven't hands down. The key point is that first and foremost they are teachers rather than techies. The range of skills required by a teacher goes well beyond those you have highlighted. A good teacher: 1) understands that people learn in different ways - so he/she must have different approaches which can be applied instantly to each individual's needs (and, yes, this can [MUST] be done in a class situation as well as in one-to-one training) 2) most of us are challenged by change - I could talk about this one forever; learning new skills takes us out of our 'safety zone' into uncharted territory and people react to this in vastly different ways ranging from mild nervousness "I hope I'll be able to learn this quickly" to blind terror "I'm hopeless with new technology - I'll fail//I'll look stupid/I'll lose my job!" A real teacher understands these fears and knows how to calm them as well as conveying the necessary information. A professional trainer should be a key member of the Change Management Team when new systems/software are introduced. 3) understands the key technical issues from the IT departments point of view and the business implications when processes fail or correct procedures are not followed by the end-users - he/she then constructs from this a training program that approaches these issues from the end-user's perspective avoiding 'tech-speak' wherever possible and explaining techical terms in everyday language when they cannot be avoided. 4) is enthusiastic about the software/hardware system - good trainers NEVER compare the new system unfavourably with what it is replacing (whatever their personal feelings!), the new system is what the users are stuck with (a phrase we never use) so we have to emphasise the positives and minimise the negatives while providing the users with the skills necessary to navigate those tricky, less-than-perfect bits that every system suffers from. 5) understands and empathises with a wide range of personalities - in short a good trainer LIKES people, understands that they are all different, and rejoices in the challenge of assisting all of them to acquire the skills that are required. To anybody who doubts that teaching is a separate skill, I would ask you to cast your mind back to your favourite primary or high-school teacher and the way that you looked forward to his/her lessons, the way that you seemed to learn more quickly and easily in that class than in any other - this was not just because they were a 'nice' person but because they had superb teaching skills that made you WANT to learn. A good teacher can change your life - I know, I had one; thanks a million George.

edward.arnold
edward.arnold

Why do some people become "technicals"? Could it be because they feel way more comfortable dealing with hardware and software than with people? The stereotype of the 'computer geek' has a basis in fact: Just like Dilbert and his engineers, many hardware-bashers, sysadmins and programmers are notable for minimal social skills. Not Bad, just the way they are wired, and Society gives them a niche where they can function and be highly valuable. Training of new users in running their computers to perform their work is an absolute necessity. If it's necessary to bring in a contract trainer to accomplish this because of staffing constraints, then do it. The time and effort lost in having an employee flailing around trying to understand the system more than pays for the cost of training, and avoids the new person feeling that neither IT, nor the firm's management, gives a damn about them.

Jeff Dray
Jeff Dray

But wouldn't it be better to improve the people skills of the tech staffers rather than lose an opportunity like this?

No User
No User

We have a Trainer that trains every new employee for one to three weeks depending on their job designation all of which are non I.T positions. I trained the Trainer on the I.T. aspects and helped incorporate into the training program a focus on the basic rudimentary fundamentals that a user needs. The Trainer has worked in every area except for accounting and I.T. Keep it focused on task and cover the basic *user* skills necessary to perform the task. Use the KIS method. Keep It Simple and leave out the Stupid. How to (step by step) procedures for each task. How to recognize common user errors. How to correct common user errors. How to explain (describe) to support what your problem is. How to adapt (learn) on your own.

Jessica Lynn
Jessica Lynn

I would be embarrassed to have a new staff member show up and not have their desk ready--- computer, phone, basic office supplies. IT spends anywhere from 1 - 3 hours on average with an new employee then follows up a week or so later to make sure the new employee is comfortable with their system and their desk set-up. We feel that this new hire orientation is a great way for new staff to meet IT and for us to get to know them. That way we also get sign-off that they are comfortable and have the tools to do their job effectively. As part of the new hire process, HR prints up a training manual - about 50% of which is IT (how to use outlook calendar, email, contacts, where to save things etc). We find that new employees LIKE this training, and overview of systems policies. It may seem like over kill for some organizations, but even in a busy shop we feel that it should be a priority.

jr_hearty
jr_hearty

My company most often uses an Ad-Hoc approach to new employee training. The IT department is not staffed to provide training, so it is left up to the individual departments as to how they train. We have a high retention rate here, so there are a lot of older employees. I can see knowledge transfer becoming a major issue for the company in the coming years.

jdmercha
jdmercha

What's that? Do any companies actually train their employees these days? Don't you have to have training programs before you can tap IT people to teach them? There are a few of us IT peole that can teach, but for the most part I agree with Stress Junkie.

Maevinn
Maevinn

Loads and loads of CBT. Everything from SkillSoft certifications to PPT files to flip through. Can take up to a full week to complete all of it, but it's nice to have as a reference, and covers everything from IT matters to ethics and the company handbook.

onbliss
onbliss

Very few companies, that I have contracted, had the computers quite ready with all the software installed. Well if that is how the companies want to spend their money, who am I to say something.

KayJay_07
KayJay_07

Apologies for the duplicate post. On submitting the first post I received a message saying the topic could not be found, hence the second posting.

zlitocook
zlitocook

I have been a trainer, support and every thing else. Some people just like doing support and nothing else. I was picked as a trainer because I talk to people, not through them. You give me an irate user and after ten minutes or so I will have them smiling and their computer fixed. I walk them through what I am doing and let them drive if they want to. I have been a hospital or health support person for five years, not of my choosing but that is where the jobs are. The doctors and nurses know their stuff but not allot about computers. I say old school because allot of the newer support people do not have the experience with people and the problems they have. Not all new people just some of them.

stress junkie
stress junkie

First, a little background about me. I am one of the very very few IT people who enjoys working with end users. I don't denegrate them when they don't know what I know. I don't get angry with them when I have to think of a fifth way to explain something that seems simple to me. I always treat people with dignity and respect and I don't expect them to know what I know. Most of the other technical people that I have met do not treat end users the way that I do. The reasons that these other technical people act the way that they do are diverse and deep seated. Trying to "train" some people to be respectful of others is like trying to train a wolverine to be a good house pet. It isn't going to happen. In business, as in life, one has to know which battles to fight and which battles to walk away from. Trying to change deeply ingrained interpersonal attitudes and habits in adults is most likely to fail. Therefore your time and effort would be more productively used in a project that is more likely to yield positive results. Perhaps teaching elephants to fly would be one such project. :D

stress junkie
stress junkie

I've met many many highly skilled IT people who just didn't understand how to explain computer use to nontechnical people.

Jaqui
Jaqui

CBT, I know lots of people who get aroused at hearing CBT.. ]:) C@#$ Ball Torture... ya really gotta watch the shortened form of terms, you never know what will pop into my mind from it ;)

stress junkie
stress junkie

... if it is written in a nontechnical way. If the CBT is written with the audience in mind then it can be very useful.

miubhi
miubhi

I work for a fortune 500 company and have worked in and out of the IT department. Yes, I am a normal user now. We have no training (just to tell you your password will change on a regular basis and don't surf questionable web sites. Everyone is an administrator on their own pc, so desktop support has to constantly rebuild PCs--even the so called super users!

stress junkie
stress junkie

Absolutely wonderful system. I don't know why this isn't used more often for desktop support. Of course servers get a full disk image once a week or more frequently. Why not have a single workstation disk image to restore to desktop computers?

JamesRL
JamesRL

Yes, I'm in a large company. But the process is pretty simple. I have a new employee checklist in a word form. It tells me all the things I need to do, including which forms I need filled in on the first day. I did once start at a billion dollar company where my laptop was not there the first day. I was given a loaner, basic software (no MS Project, my key tool). My laptop was ordered and the sales department had ordered one at the same time, and someoen from sales went looking for there in the stockroom and stole mine. If I pay someone $250 a day and lose them for a week, thats a fair hit. for no result. Plus frankly it looks unprofessional. I've known contractors who felt nervous when they weren't fully utilized in the first few weeks, and they jumped ship. Thats a huge loss, as you may have to start the hiring process over again. James

onbliss
onbliss

I have not seen how the Desktop Support or Tech -Support groups rebuild PCs when contractors arrive, but sometimes I see that companies do not have an image specific to developers' needs. The image that is used to rebuild the PCs is mostly that of end users or non-developers. So we end up installing all the necessary software one by one. On top of sometimes getting access to source control system takes some time, and then downloading the source control and rebuilding the entire thing can take time. If the system is complex, then it takes more time to build all components locally. Most of the time it is useful to understand the system and helpful. I think Managers realize this to be part of the learning curve. But I don't want to know how to load Visual Studio, tracker software etc. But I am seeing some companies using Virtual PC effectively. The Virtual PC image has everything that the developers need. Even the browsers are all configured and have links and favorites configured to meet developers' needs. Splendid. There are desktop shortcuts all the tools needed. I have seen only one company use virtual PC so effectively.

onbliss
onbliss

I am guessing such things happen in a medium to large size company, where there are release schedules and all processes in place. Losing a couple of days or week would not matter much. Even if it means loss of money, they would probably cast it as a cost of running the business. Just a guess, I don't know what the managers think.

JamesRL
JamesRL

We sell software and hardware systems in a vertical market. Our customers expect us to be able to set up and install servers, networks, VOIP, setup users, all to a rigourous schedule. We take no money in advance, when the hardware is installed, then we can bill. The customer has to sign a form stating the HW etc is installed. Consequently, it would be a bad precedent/example to be less organized internally. Besides, I can't pay someone to sit around and twiddle their thumbs. Thats against my nature. James

stress junkie
stress junkie

... that working as a temp I would get in to work the first day. The manager would give me a pencil stub, throw me in a closet, and expect me to rebuild their systems by lunch time. I really have been put in closets and printer rooms with no terminal or desktop computer. But that was when I was a contract employee. Things are different for me now that I have my own business. When I was a contract employee I never even owned a notebook computer. I bought my first notebook computer two years ago when I started my own business. It's different than being a contract employee. Now I think of myself more as one of the field service techs that I called on many times. I expected them to have their own screwdrivers and flashlights. So now I expect to provide all of my own equipment and software when I walk in the door to a customer's site.

Tig2
Tig2

I have only ever been with one company that had the tools I needed available on day one- most, not even on week one. I have generally been willing to bring in my personal lappie and a printer so that I can do SOME work, knowing that once the company supplied tools arrived, I would have to transfer that data to the new machine. But I get tired of the (seeming) expectation that I will do so. Unfortunately this is an issue getting worse, not better. My partner recently changed primary work locations. It took about a week to get a computer assigned and an email address created... much less the other tools he needs to do his job. And he has been with the company for over 25 years. At least I can be comforted by the thought that is isn't just me!

JamesRL
JamesRL

My last contract everything was ready the day before I arrived. They do pay an outside company to provide the service and they have strict service level agreements. At my current job, I would be very embarassed if one of my contractors showed up for their first day and a computer wasn't ready, ids created and software loaded. James

stress junkie
stress junkie

... I keep a lamp cord with bare ends handy. I find that electricity can be very motivating. They WILL learn. I guarantee it. :D

Maevinn
Maevinn

Creating CBT's that meet HR requirements are one example. And like you, I end being the go between--my philosophy is that if the users computer isn't allowing them to do their job, I haven't done mine. I started in the industry working with users that hate computers, hate being in an office curse every time they have to turn one on. So I learned right off the bat how to keep them happy and focused!

stress junkie
stress junkie

When I got into this business in 1985 I was amazed at how many system administrators were pure control freaks. Also at this time most secretaries were just being introduced to computers. This combination lead to many tears being shed by the secretaries. There were many occassions when I would approach a secretary to help with some problem and she would be gun shy toward support people. It was easy for me to gain a reputation as being very end user oriented in this environment. When I worked on a team of system administrators the nontechnical people would eventually ask for me specifically because they enjoyed working with me. I noticed that in the late 1990s system administrators started to become more friendly toward each other. Over time the typical system administrator also became more respectful to end users. I am very glad to see this change. There is still a widespread attitude of "f-----g users" out there but most system administrators don't insult end users to their face or yell at them. So things are getting better. But things are not so good that the typical IT person should train new nontechnical employees.

Jaqui
Jaqui

was a description of my one client hat uses MS software. :D is it any wonder I have zero respect for those using MS products? ~lol~

stress junkie
stress junkie

I'm sure that anyone would hate to have their work undone and have to redo it on a regular basis. Moving in circles is irritating. I'm not trying to say that I'm a saint. I just treat people with respect by default. The other people can compel me to change my view towards them. :D

Jaqui
Jaqui

the end user that won't even try to learn something basic to help themselves, like to NOT install everything being pushed in popup windows. you don't get even slightly irritated at fixing their system every day from the malware they installed? [ gods, any *x is lightyears ahead of anything MS has for preventing that particular stupidity ]

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