Get away from your desk. Get out of your office. Go see your customers.

I remember the days back when I worked in desktop support. I would start the day by checking the ticket system, then grab some tools and replacement parts, and head out the door. Maybe I would come back to the office by the end of the day, maybe not. I was always on the move. There was something different each day. I had contact with my users, for better or worse. Even without consciously realizing it, I started to understand their work, their business needs, their environments, and how my work could improve theirs.

Then I moved into system administration and network engineering, and spent more and more time stuck behind a desk. The longer you are out of contact, the more the users become faceless, the work monotonous, the responses - boilerplate. Something needs to change.

Earlier this week, I made a day-long journey across two of the counties we serve, visiting eight remote sites along the way. Our department has an opportunity to secure some funding for infrastructure improvement projects, so we decided to survey all of our remote sites. I expected to find aging hardware that was due for replacement. But, I was also looking for things that had been previously left as ‘good enough to get by,’ along with a few wish list items. For some reason I have been REALLY looking forward to this excursion. Even though it would involve spending half the day in the car, and the other half crawling around cramped closets tucked into out of the way crawl spaces inside nearly forgotten buildings, I was looking forward to this.

At first, I was looking forward to it just to break the monotony of the last few years' worth of projects that have kept me locked behind my keyboard. I needed to get out. However, by the end of the day, I started to see even greater benefits to the trip.

First, it was good for the organization. In larger enterprises, those in the field are often left to feel that the ‘mothership’ has lost touch with them, that resources are devoted to the central office workers, while they are left to fend for themselves. While visiting these sites, I let the users know why I was visiting; that I was looking for ways to make their services run better. Even though they know it will take time for things to work through the funding, procurement, and deployment processes, they appreciate that someone is thinking about them.

While doing the survey, I spent time in classrooms, workrooms, and offices; on local networks while running baseline tests; and taking notes. By observing their environment first hand, I could look for other improvement opportunities for which they may never have thought to ask. I found some minor annoyances that the end users did not report, but had just decided to tolerate, which will be easy to resolve when rolled into a larger project.

Finally, as we interface with machines all day, it is easy for technology personnel to forget that there are real people behind all of the support requests we receive. Problematic sites or equipment can be mistaken as problematic or ‘needy’ users, leading to dread whenever you see a ticket come in from ’that user.’ We forget to separate the people from the technology.

This was a great opportunity for me to rebuild connections with my end users, some co-workers I had not seen for two years or more. I was able to reground and re-energize myself by seeing the worthwhile work that I am supporting. 

Find an opportunity to take some time away from your desk. Get out of the office. Go see your users.

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