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.


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:

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