Is your IT department understaffed, overworked, and are you looking for reinforcements in vain? Maybe these hard-to-hire reinforcements can be hired from within, rather than having to outsource or hire expensive, short-term extra help. While this was usually only done if your own staff was falling too far behind, the burden of the shortage of skilled IT staff in the workforce is starting to take its toll, and this is now be a viable option for all.

Undoubtedly, there is a person in every group who is more computer-savvy than others. The one who can end your problem or answer your question in seconds, when it would take hours, if not days, to get someone from the IT department to look at it. These people shield the IT department from several questions each day, and keep frustrated endpoint users at bay that had given up asking the overwhelmed crew for help and assistance.

Nevertheless, professionals often frown upon the help given by these helpful troubleshooters on the floor level. How can we ensure that the help given by these often self-appointed volunteers is nothing short of the first-tier support provided by the IT department?

Pros and cons

First of all, make sure that your IT staff is willing to share their responsibilities with people on the work floor. Without their full cooperation, this plan is destined to fail. We can all agree that trained and weathered IT professionals will generally do a much better job than people who have been trained for other jobs. But if you are facing the same problem as most companies and you just can’t hire enough IT professionals, you will probably welcome all the help you can get. And having to rely on a frustrated and overworked IT staff might be worse than letting volunteers that feel recognized and empowered help in any way they can.

On the other hand, in “any way they can” might be just turn out to be the problem with this solution. It should be made crystal clear when the volunteers are expected to call in the help of the professionals. You do not want to face some catastrophe because one of the benevolent volunteers Googled a half-baked solution for a problem that was reported to them.

This whole team security strategy fits nicely in the ongoing shift to BYOD, and even Bring Your Own Security (BYOS). Generally speaking, it will make your employees happier, but it takes some planning and attention to make sure it also works for the company as a whole.

BYOD strategy

One important thing to consider is whether the company has adapted a user-centric or device-centric approach to technology integration. If every user is equipped with a device according to their personal preference, there could be a multitude of devices in use. This can be frustrating enough for a trained professional to deal with, let alone a volunteer who is about to find out that everything works just a little bit differently on their colleagues’ devices.

Determine at the outset the composition of your technology and workforce, and you can better structure a plan for your volunteers—and your IT staff, too.

Education and training

Training your entire staff in security basics will certainly result in less work for your IT staff. And while providing your employees with security awareness training is a good and necessary start, you can bolster support for your IT team by offering additional IT and security training to those who are interested. There are lots of useful training programs that deal with common issues found in the software that your employees are using on a daily basis. And if the trainee is motivated and interested (as we would expect from these volunteers), it shouldn’t take up a large amount of their time.

In addition to training, you’ll also want to set up a system of rewards for your volunteers, whether that’s monetary compensation, company swag (for example, custom hoodies designating them as IT helpers), or other perks. While many volunteers may be happy to help out of the goodness of their hearts, given them additional incentive will only strengthen their commitment and attract others to the team.

Enablement

Once the volunteers have received proper awareness training, equip them with the tools and authority to help their peers and make sure the rest of their department knows that they have been properly trained and can be asked for help with certain issues. This way, the people in that department are comfortable with asking for their help and will know when they can go to them instead of IT.

What this means: Volunteers will need access to certain software, systems, or cloud-based services. They’ll also need a way to communicate their actions to the IT team, so they’re aware of minor issues, even if they didn’t have to fix them themselves. Do they develop a ticketing system? Do they integrate with the current system for reporting issues? Do they spend an hour at the help desk?

No matter how you decide to enable your volunteer staff, make sure that they understand the consequences of their actions. Don’t tell them to “just do this” without explaining why you want it done that way. Give them some background so they can build out their expertise and learn how you want to run things.

Empowerment

Another important step is to give volunteers the administrative powers to make the actual changes themselves. With the ongoing uptick in Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) policies, most of these users have learned how to make the necessary changes to their own devices, and how to troubleshoot some of the more common issues. They may even have some specialists outside of the company that they turn to when there are problems with the device that they consider their own.

One caveat: Make sure that the volunteer is informed about the risks of combining work and personal information on the same device—and what the consequences are if they don’t adhere to company policies. As always, clear communication is a key to success. Make sure everyone is aware of what is expected of them, and what they can expect in return.

Points of attention

Finding the right people to assist your IT staff with easy-to-fix issues or simple roll-outs can make your employees happier. The IT staff can concentrate on problems that are more challenging and don’t have to run around like headless chicken playing whack-a-mole for every minor problem, like users who just need to reboot, haven’t turned on the power, or are holding the mouse upside-down. Meanwhile, your volunteers will feel that their helpful attitude has paid off, and they are now officially allowed to help their peers.

The volunteers will need the training, tools, permission, and rewards to perform their new tasks. But, and we cannot stress this enough, they will also have to be informed about their boundaries. You don’t want to see them go overboard because they are reluctant to admit that something is over their head. Remember that difficult problems may show up as minor issues at first. So empower them to help, but make sure they know when to step aside. That way, the whole team can keep your organization secure.