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There’s no such thing as “nothing to do” in a well-run IT department. There may be stretches of downtime when your staff isn’t occupied with high priority tasks, but making good use of that time might make the difference between a business that maintains and one that excels.

Here are three types of projects that will both keep your IT staff busy and help the company run better as a whole.

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Maintain

Maintaining your own personal computer is reasonably easy. Maintaining 50 or more computers, most used by people who wouldn’t know a backup from a backdoor, requires significant investment in time and wetware. If you’re not creating a new system or putting out a fire, now would be a good time to do the boring chores of IT.

Check each PC to make sure that they’re all updated. Do their operating systems have all of the proper security patches? Are the applications up-to-date? The antivirus software?

Run diagnostic tests on all of your hardware. See what PCs are running hot and will therefore need a cleaning. Use a hard drive diagnostic program to predict drive failures before they happen.

The fact that you back up regularly doesn’t guarantee that your backup is any good. Test your company-wide backup system by restoring random files and drive images (on a spare drive, of course).

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Train

In tech, there’s always something new to learn, whether it’s programming languages, hardware, or the latest BYOD devices. Set up seminars where your IT staff can learn and stay abreast of relevant developments in their field, including new technologies and the latest in malware and security threats, so they can be better able to protect the company.

If you have the budget, bring teachers in from outside. If not, assign employees to give presentations on their strengths. For instance, you might have your top Ruby on Rails coder discuss his or her tricks and techniques, giving the rest of the crew an insight into how to better use this language.

Another option: Allow IT employees to attend training classes or conferences offsite on company time, and if possible, on the company dime. That way, each individual can gain skills, network with peers, and ensure your company is up to par with your industry.

Brainstorm

Bring the IT staff together for a brainstorming session on how best to improve the company’s systems and workflow. Work together to examine how your network and company databases are designed, and reference them against similar companies. Note the weaknesses and bottlenecks. Implore your entire staff to contribute suggestions or complaints and aggregate their feedback to attain a more holistic perspective of your network’s performance.

Then, ask your IT staff how the systems should be designed in an ideal world. Many of the ideas will be unworkable; others unaffordable. But even those ideas might help inspire a solution that can be done and will improve the company. A proactive, forward-thinking approach to IT is often the only way to protect your processes from obsolescence.

Keeping your IT staff working during slow times does more than keep them busy. It keeps up morale, improves productivity, and results in a better company.