Having too few IT help desk workers stresses the company in many ways. Productivity declines, workers become frustrated (both IT workers and users), and necessary IT maintenance and upgrades go undone while help desk workers stretch their time and effort thinly to meet user demands. Having too many help desk workers presents a different set of problems: money gets wasted, highly skilled IT workers become bored with their jobs, and money spent on staff can hinder other important IT investments like new hardware and software upgrades. How can you find the ideal balance?
Gartner Research recommends a tier one help desk worker to user ratio of about 70 to 1. This can vary, of course, ranging from as low as 30 to 1 to as many as 100 to 1. Some unfortunate help desks operate with a ratio of 800 to 1! Though, obviously, there are problems in this situation that aren’t being addressed. Certain factors can either reduce or increase your need for help desk staff.
Tier two help desk workers, those with higher skill levels and more training, are there to provide complex support to users that goes beyond the skills and expertise of tier one workers. In companies with 500 or fewer employees, a ratio of tier two help desk workers to users of 18 to 1 is good. Companies with more than 500 employees but fewer than 10,000 can get by with a ratio of 25 to 1. Again, these are averages. Below are circumstances which can change this ratio significantly.
Ideal Environments for Thriving on Fewer Help Desk Workers
Environments in which users are technically savvy don’t require as many help desk workers. For example, a financial firm filled with CPAs won’t likely get many help desk calls asking for help using Excel or PowerPoint, but a construction firm filled with general contractors, plumbers, electricians, and carpenters might need that additional support.
Secondly, secure and closed environments with limited access to systems won’t need the same level of support as an open environment where remote workers or the public can access systems. Companies with low employee turnover rates, little need for new hardware and software installations, and little or no experimental technologies can often get by with fewer IT workers, as well.
Ideal Versus Reality: Factors that Increase the Need for Help Desk Workers
Factors that drive up a company’s need for help desk workers include environments with less tech-savvy users, such as in education, manufacturing, logistics, textiles, etc. Companies that are growing rapidly also need more IT workers, primarily because it’s far better to have the IT staff trained and ready as new employees join the ranks and need assistance.
BYOD policies also drive up the need for technical assistance, both because of the security issues inherent in opening systems to outside devices and because there are a wide variety of devices at play, all of which work differently with the internal hardware and software.
IT environments using lots of custom-built hardware and/or homegrown software also need more help desk workers, primarily because these systems aren’t mainstream and therefore aren’t generally understood by the average user. For example, if you’re using Google Docs for cloud-based project sharing, most everyone will know how this works when they hire on, driving fewer calls to the help desk. Conversely, if you’ve built an internal file-sharing application, new and infrequent users of this software will often need instructions and assistance.
A company that is geographically widespread also needs more help desk workers than a centralized organization. The first reason for this is time zones — it takes more shifts of help desk workers to cover users from various time zones. The other reason is familiarity. Users spread wide aren’t able to share information on how to do certain tasks, meaning they need help from the IT service desk more frequently.
A surefire way to offer your users better service without beefing up the IT staff is to use a cloud-based ITSM that allows for easy self-service. Self-service portals are easier for users and take the stress off of understaffed or fast-growing IT departments.