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How do I keep staff "busy" without creating meaningless "busywork?"

By rowdydave ·
As an IT Supervisor, one of my biggest challenges is finding meaningful tasks for staff to do while waiting for calls during a Help Desk shift, or between project tasks. I hate even the thought of "makework" just for the sake of looking busy; that seems meaningless to me, and I believe it can lead to negativity. But I also think it's unhealthy for the workplace to have staff sitting around browsing non work-related Internet sites, or just twiddling their thumbs during work hours.

This could be a simple matter of ineptitude on my part, but I'm betting I'm not the only one who struggles with this. Anyone have some good suggestions for meaningful activities?

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Have you thought about training CDs/DVDs?

by NI70 In reply to How do I keep staff "busy ...

How about buying some training CDs/DVDs, A+, Network+, Server+, etc? Especially if they've got time on their hands. Also, does your company have an Intranet site? If so, have them rework your Intranet, update the frequently asked questions section. Have them set up a test lab for them to test patches/security updates, new software, and open source software (research OSS that would save the company $$$$, I'm sure your CEO/CFO/CIO would appreciate that because it all boils down the almighty dollar. I'm sure they'd appreciate the training, the ability to set up a test lab, and/or update your company's Intranet site. How about having your staff review your policies and update if necessary. You failed to mention how many staff are on duty when they're on the Help Desk shift. Does your company's help desk software also include the hardware/software inventory? Do you subscribe to industry trade mags? If not, subscribe to some, especially the ones that are meaningful to your company. I'm not a supervisor and I don't aspire to be one, but I can think of tons of "busywork" that is work related, as mentioned previously. Good luck to you! Let me know how this pans out.

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Maybe the local college ...

by Too Old For IT In reply to Have you thought about tr ...

... could provide some credit-worthy training at your location? Or direction to college level courses on CD/DVD?

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Learn&Practice

by 3xp3rt In reply to Have you thought about tr ...

It?s a good idea, but you can learn from internet. It?s full of information, technical news and so on. On other idea is to practice the Help Desk work for example at Techrepublic at Tech Q&A. After me it?s a very good practice and learn possibilities.

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Or documentation.

by dryflies In reply to Have you thought about tr ...

How well is your network documented? I am a small shop just me and a part time student and while there are times that we are backed up for a week, there are other times when we twiddle our thumbs for a week. Training is fine as long as it is self paced because you have to be ready to drop what you are doing and take care of a client.
so document the network, write scripts to check patch levels, server disk space, monitor backups, etc. Don't worry about working yourself out of a job, if you do well you find areas that are out of date and need upgrades, other areas where stuff just isn't working quite right... for the self starter, there will always be something to do.

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I agree with the above

by pingme11 In reply to Have you thought about tr ...

I agree with all of the above. Training and documentation should fill in the down time gaps. I have my staff working on several projects that are important but can be put aside momentarily for urgent help desk matters. This is not busy work but the work of IT. You are lucky that you have the time. Use it wisely.

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Searching Information

by 3xp3rt In reply to I agree with the above

Also even when the IT stuff work on projects, need to inform over the Internet.
When you work about a project without Internet possibility you can work more, because when you need an information, you must search in books, old projects, notes and so on? Well with Internet access searching some information can done in minutes.

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Research

by ciacob In reply to How do I keep staff "busy ...

My IT manager gives me research projects. A few weeks ago he had me research competitors and compile a list of service offerings. S and M then took the info and put price points for them. Have them do research you don't have time to do. I love it cause I get exposure, an idea of whats going on upstairs, and feel good when I see a presentation with my information in it.

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down sizing

by rob mekel In reply to How do I keep staff "busy ...

If this is this much of a problem then maybe down sizing your staff is an option.

Otherwise sign them up for a training course on internet or company classes. But be sure they can and do this in spare time. Or get them working on updating manuals or process papers.

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NO! NO! NO!

by azul In reply to down sizing

Downsize? To many times that is the reflex reaction of managers. That is a cop-out and a sign of a BAD manager/management.

One of the first things I was taught as a manager is that 9 out of 10 times, when an employee is fired or laid off it is because of bad MANAGEMENT. Like it or not, admit it or not, managers have a responsiblity to their employees.

Staff are people, not a commodity. You don't simply reduce your inventory when it slows down.

Let them study, the research idea is a fantastic and even better idea. When an employee feels valued they work better, act more ethicly and are more loyal.

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Slow Times

by w2ktechman In reply to NO! NO! NO!

I agree Downsizing is usually used to commonly. Many managers look to reduce staff at the first sign of slowdowns, and often end up hiring someone else a few months later that does not know the office setup. Or, they downsize and let call times slip when it gets busy again.
Anyway, for this post. My suggestion is research and training. However, often too much training time will bore someone to death, so see what kinds of smaller projects they may be interested in. Usually if interest is involved, a better attitude is applied in learning.
For me, I have taught basic scripting creation to someone by helping with a few requests. Having small batch files to do common tasks is great for everyone, so if they create them (even with a little help), they feel more accomplished. I also setup someone to be the 'registry guy', who is also the BSOD guy.

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