With the proliferation of telecommuting and remote workers, corporate help desks are being pressured to support the home office. However, this practice can cause more problems than it's worth. Let us know where you stand on the issue.
I originally posed this question to TechRepublic members in September, 2000.
For as long as I've been working in IT support, and probably since the dawn of IT, help desks have struggled with the question of supporting employees' home PCs. It's a recurring debate that refuses to die.
During my last tour of help desk duty, I confronted this dilemma on a daily basis. Many of our employees used company software to access our corporate intranet from their home PCs. This software, although secure, was not the easiest product to install or use. Needless to say, these users would call with connectivity problems ranging from incorrect TCP/IP settings to conflicts with Internet Service Provider software.
Although our help desk staff only supported the company software, it was difficult to draw the line between what we would and would not do. Time and time again, I had to tell people that our software would not work with AOL, and was not supported with their version of Windows. The users just didn't understand that the help desk would only work with the company software, and I felt badly for not being able to resolve their problems.
Point: Corporate help desks should not support home PCs
On the one hand, I feel that corporate help desks are just that-corporate-and should not spend time and effort supporting non-company equipment. Our help desk supported the company software, even if it was on the employee's home PC, but that was all. If the employee wanted the convenience of working from home, they had to accept the responsibility for some of the setup and support.
More importantly, supporting a home PC raises several liability issues. What happens if something the help desk does crashes the operating system? Then a technician has to make a visit to the employee's home or the employee has to bring the computer in to the help desk. Supporting home computers causes more problems than it's worth for corporate help desks.
Counterpoint: Corporate help desks should support home PCs
On the other hand, I understand the end user's frustration when his or her computer doesn't work properly. Also, even though users aren't required to work from home, it's expected of many that they remain connected to the office. They therefore assume the IT department will be able to make this happen. When IT support fails, it gives a bad impression to the user and damages the support/user relationship.
What's your opinion?
Modern VPN, remote desktop software, and virtualization technology make supporting remote workers easier than when I first posed this question to TechRepublic members. But, the core issue remains. Where should corporate IT drawn the line when supporting employees' personal computers?
Bill Detwiler has nothing to disclose. He doesn't hold investments in the technology companies he covers.
Bill Detwiler is Managing Editor of TechRepublic and Tech Pro Research and the host of Cracking Open, CNET and TechRepublic's popular online show. Prior to joining TechRepublic in 2000, Bill was an IT manager, database administrator, and desktop support specialist in the social research and energy industries. He has bachelor's and master's degrees from the University of Louisville, where he has also lectured on computer crime and crime prevention.