Establishing a 24-Hour Helpdesk or Service Desk

If you are asked to set-up a 24-hour support operation, where do you start?

I'll leave Service Level Agreements aside for now, and assume they are in-place. What I'm going to focus on here are staffing issues and staff costs.

There are really two different cases to consider: greenfield site, and an existing operation moving from a more normal 9 to 5 or 8 to 8 to a 24-hour or near 24-hour (for want of a better expression, I'll call this a brownfield site).

Out of these two, the greenfield site seems to easier - you can recruit staff who understand what they are getting into, rather than trying to persuade existing staff to change existing shift patterns. Except, it's not as easy as that, as the comments below make clear.

As part of the preparation for this post, I called a few service delivery managers with 24-hour experience (2 running genuine 24 hour operations, 2 having once run near 24-hour operations, all running Mon-Fri only), to ask what their issues had been, and are currently. Not scientific, but useful none-the-less.

Support staff morale and 'burn' was reported, not surprisingly, as the biggest problem. Some of the comments made are as follows:

"Even when you advertise that the job is shift work on an IT Helpdesk, it doesn't seem to sink-in for a lot of people what it actually means. They just see the 'IT Helpdesk' words and see an opportunity for a career change. Some people are just fine, but others get cranky within a couple of months and start to talk the job and the company down. You're better off letting these people go in my opinion."

"Money is a rotten motivator. Extra cash for working on Wednesday to Friday only works for a couple of weeks, after that sick leave goes through the roof."

"My most important time is still 9:00 to 17:00 but moving support to later and longer hours degraded the service for the core times as well, because the most experienced people left within the first 6 months."

"My biggest mistake was the budget. I had budget to include salaries and a bonus payment based on unsociable hours, and that was it. But each time I recruit someone my agency fees are well over a thousand pounds, and their refund interval is short. My company had a corporate agreement with these guys so I was stuck with them."

"New staff were recruited by our HR department and sent to me 'to save my time'. The new starts became belligerent within the first weeks. It turned out HR was downplaying the shift work element from 'this is a shirt-work job' to 'some shift-working may be required'. This allowed them to tick their box and left me looking like a chump."

"In my case training became a difficult as the people capable of giving the training we not working shifts, but the trainees were. I could devise no solution to this problem."

"In my case we bid for the contract at too low a cost. It was like running a marathon with a broken foot from day 1. Horrible."

I'll follow this post with some of the remedies that have been successfully applied, asking if their were any positives from the experience, and expand this topic buy considering budgets.