On the Receiving End: IT Front Line Staff Flexes Remote and In-person Services this Fall

by Winnie Wan

Our #readyforcampusreturn series sheds light on the incredible IT teams working behind the scenes to support UBC's transition back to campus. Part four of our series is a joint Q&A with our IT Service Centre and Learning Technology (LT) Hub. We chatted with Rose Chan, Manager, IT Service Centre (Vancouver), Vinnie Potvin, Team Lead, IT Service Centre (Vancouver), Andy Fehr, Team Lead, Service Desk and Deskside Services (Okanagan), Tammy Yasrobi, Senior Manager of Learning Technology Hub (Vancouver), and Tim Kato, Team Lead, Learning Technology Hub (Vancouver) on how their front-line staff responded to the changing needs of the UBC community and how they transitioned their support as they returned to working on campus.

What was it like for your teams at the start of the pandemic when you were told to transition to a fully remote Help Desk?

Andy: It was a challenge, to say the least. The Service Desk Team in the Okanagan remained on-site for as long as possible to help out with the transition. For the first few weeks, our team strongly focused on setting up hardware for everyone, so they can work remotely. When we did shut down our in-person Service Desk, we noticed a significant increase of tickets.

“In the first few months, we had an increase of 30% in phone calls and 40% in tickets compared to the previous year.”
–Rose Chan, Manager, IT Service Centre (Vancouver)

Rose: We had to be fluid to the situation at the start of the pandemic. We had to quickly set up our equipment and transition our staff to a work from home environment. In the first few months, we had an increase of 30% in phone calls and 40% in tickets compared to the previous year. We weren’t even offering walk-in support! We had a lot of inquiries relating to how to use a tool and online learning.

Tim: For the LT Hub, moving to remote meant we had to quickly pick up and learn new collaboration and teaching tools like Zoom and Collaborate Ultra. It wasn’t just for our team to stay connected, but also to help instructors teach their courses online. The volume of work for our team approximately doubled. Last September, we had a 120% increase in tickets compared to the year before, so that was pretty crazy.

How did your services change for the UBC community when you were in a 100% remote environment?

Tammy: We were a drop-in centre when we were on campus. We pivoted our in-person support to virtual drop-ins and built a model around that, which included a new phone support model and transitioning all of our work over Zoom. Our team used to sit in one room together, so moving to a remote environment was quite impactful on how we provided support to faculty and staff. Since being remote, we occasionally extended our support to students as there were more complex issues regarding exam support and learning technology problems.

I imagine your team was also busy in offering additional workshops on all the tools that you support.

Tim: Yes, in collaboration with the Teaching and Learning Professional Development team in CTLT, we offered more workshops and training sessions on using Collaborate Ultra, Zoom and Canvas. We also quickly learned that Kaltura training was really important.

Did the UBC IT Service Centre change their service model as well?

Andy: We noticed in the Okanagan that self-service support was becoming quite popular. People were willing to invest their own time to learn and manage their own support. Learning that, we focused quite heavily on improving our documentations and directing people to the updated content.

Vinnie: For us in Vancouver - fundamentally in terms of our services, the job has been the same. I would say that the pace for changes accelerated quickly. Just one week after the decision was announced to transition to a remote work environment, we had to adapt and support the community from our homes. Services, such as MS Teams and OneDrive, were also quickly rolled out. Our team had to learn these services and make sure we were ready to support UBC.

Yes, I remember how quickly some of these services were launched! Did you hire more staff to accommodate these changes?

Vinnie: Yes, we were able to temporarily hire additional staff to support the launch of some of these new services. When we launched MS Teams and OneDrive, we hired 10 co-op students to support the two services and the September back-to-school inquiries, which was way more than previously because of all the remote considerations.

Tim: At the LT Hub, we learned quite quickly that we didn’t have sufficient staffing at the start of the pandemic. For the first couple of weeks, it was all hands-on deck from LT Hub staff as well as other staff in CTLT, which included staff members that didn’t normally handle tickets. We started bringing on co-op students to the team in the summer 2020 to service the doubled volume of tickets.

Now that we are in the first week of September, how did your teams prepare for the transition back to campus?

Vinnie: For the ITSC in Vancouver, our staff are on a three-week rotation schedule of alternating being on-site and working from home. With this schedule, we can continue to provide support on the phone, online, and address concerns that may require in-person support.

Andy: We switched to a hybrid model this summer, with staff on-site and working remotely. Our Service Desk officially reopened this week for walk-in support. We plan on launching an application to help us schedule appointments in the near future.

Tim: Our support staff are also on a rotating schedule of being on-site and working from home. For on-site support, we implemented an appointment booking form. The form helps us address safety concerns, preventing overcrowding in the room. It also helps us prepare in advance on the issue that requires support. The virtual support option will continue to be available as that has become a favourable option to get support and we are aware that not everyone is comfortable to receive support in-person.

It sounds like the silver-lining from working remotely was that it helped your teams review your service options and come up with solutions that you can sustain for the long run.

What did your teams look forward to upon returning to campus?

Vinnie: I think some of our staff were very enthusiastic about just the prospect of having that face-to- face interaction again. They really missed that.

Rose: Agreed. Our staff were keen to see how this hybrid work model of being on-site and working remotely will pan out as it does provide more flexibility to their work environment.

Andy: Same with us. On a personal level, I was looking forward to switching our online conversations to in-person again.

Tammy: Our team echoed similar sentiments. Everyone was excited to work together in-person. Collaborating face-to-face is sometimes more fulfilling than doing it on Zoom.

Tim: Yes, there was definitely some excitement on our team as we have some new faces that joined our team since the start of the pandemic. They finally got the chance to meet one another in-person.

Yes, the prospect of having more in-person interaction is definitely something we’ve all been looking forward to this past year in a half. Thanks for the awesome catch-up! Good luck with the start of the school year.

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