Remote Work

Should I Bother IT?: A Guide to Computer Support for Remote Workers

Learn how to troubleshoot most computer issues and don’t bother calling your office’s IT for support, unless it’s really necessary.

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It doesn’t matter if you spilled coffee on your office laptop, or your home router stops working unexpectedly, or the cat nibbles on your mobile phone charger: this new era of remote work will bring old and new computer support problems to the table, and that’s a fact. Sometimes we cause the issues ourselves, and sometimes –as expected– our equipment breaks down. And who we’re gonna call when these issues won’t let us work? Ghostbusters? Of course not, our IT managers, sysadmins, and computer maintenance guys, as we always do when we’re in the office.

Our IT guys had several advantages in the work environment, most of them lost on this transition to remote work. For example, your office could have one or several protected internet networks, where traffic could be filtered and monitored. Chances are, you don’t even know how to access your router at home! A pretty standard IT manager can perform remote management and installations in the office without even standing up, a tricky thing to do when computers aren’t in a secure network anymore.

And we can’t forget the physical barriers to equipment. If your hard drive breaks down, and you lack the technological skills to replace it, your work laptop may become a very expensive paperweight, and your productivity will drop down to zero. Your IT manager could be on the other side of town, quarantined. Or maybe you’re doing remote work, but you’re in another city, far away from the office. Nobody can come home and help you, and you will have to spend a lot of time on the phone with the office experts to solve the issue.

Knowing all this –and having experienced it firsthand in our own office– we decided to organize the most relevant issues in remote work, so you, as a user, know exactly when to ask for help. In those cases where you don’t ask for help, we’re listing a couple of solutions for any user to perform and not bother your IT crew, who may be dealing with more serious trouble elsewhere.

When not to ask computer support for help

There is a well-known acronym on the systems world: PEBCAK. It stands for “problem exists between the chair and keyboard”. If you don’t get the hint, it means the issue is at the user level, and that means you. It may be hard to grasp this concept –mainly because we’re not the people dealing with these issues– but most computer problems are caused by our own helplessness or inability to understand certain computer concepts.

We won’t delve deeply into most advanced stuff, just into several questions most people ask to IT managers and systems administrators. All of these can be solved with a little bit of google-ing and common sense, so be sure to try everything here before dialing to your office’s computer support.

“My PC won’t turn on”

This is the most common inquiry in every office space, and also very easy to troubleshoot. The steps to work it out are very straightforward. Is your PC plugged into a power outlet? If you have a desktop PC, is there any chance the switch behind your computer case is turned off? If it’s a laptop you have, does it have a battery on? It is charged? Is the charger in good condition? Are you sure the extension cord you’re plugging it has power? Any of these questions can be solved in seconds by checking every connection is in order.

“What about my screen? The case is making some noises and lights are turning on, but the screen is dead”. Turn the display on. Does it display some kind of message? That’s good, just check the cable between your tower case and the display, and replace it if necessary. Doesn’t show anything and the LED indicators are off? Not so good. Check if it’s plugged in, or if it has some sort of switch on the bottom or back. If it still doesn’t work, it’s time to call the IT department.

“What if I spilled coffee on my laptop and it doesn’t turn on anymore?”. Well, don’t bother to call IT and speak directly to your boss. Accidents happen.

Okay, this coffee is spilling on a keyboard, not a laptop. Why? Go figure.

“My computer is too slow and it won’t let me work”

An old classic. As long as inexperienced users still exist, this issue will remain unsolved for eternity.

There are several causes of performance decrease on a machine: the most natural of all being obsolescence, or the process of becoming obsolete. Not every machine can withstand the passage of time unaltered, in every sense of the word. New apps and sites require more horsepower, and as our devices get old, so does their ability to stay updated. If you’re still using a Windows 2000 machine in 2020, you know what I’m talking about.

However, the most common way to fix a slow machine is to close open applications. Are you running too many apps at once? If that’s not the case, background apps could be hoarding all your processing power. Open Task Manager on Windows or Activity Monitor on Mac and check every monitor window. Some app you don’t know –or a ghost process of another app– may be sucking your CPU dry.

Another cause of sluggishness is malware. A malicious app may be using your CPU power to mine cryptocurrency, for example. The safest way to deal with these issues is to run your antivirus solution and let it clean everything. 

“My computer shut down unexpectedly”

The main reason for the sudden reboot of your computer could be software. New apps, drivers, or installations generate communication conflicts between your files and hardware. To solve this, make sure you roll back any changes to the machine, such as files, new apps and USB devices.

On the other hand, the problem could be heat. Excess dust on the main fan of your PC can lead to overheating, therefore activating the sensors that control heat dissipation and crashing everything. Make sure you clean everything you can with compressed air to keep a good airflow on your PC, and keep it away from hot temperatures.

If the issue persists –i.e. a constant blue screen of death– it may be indicative of faulty hardware, like RAM. So, yeah: call your IT guy.

“My internet doesn’t work” / “My internet is very slow”

Remember when you were at the office and had this amazing internet connection? Well, you can’t always say the same thing at home, especially for a family of four. Maybe your kids are watching Netflix or playing video games, and your spouse is watching a Youtube tutorial on how to wash the dishes or something like that, and your connection goes out the drain.

First and foremost, test your actual internet speed. Tools like Speedtest or even Fast.com can help you diagnose your internet connection. You have to look up for three signs: low latency, high downloading speed, and high upload speed.

Latency is the speed it takes for a single piece of data to leave your computer, arrive to a remote PC, and come back. For a national connection –like a default testing to a local server– your latency should not be above 15-30 milliseconds. A transnational network should have between 100-150 ms on average. 1000 milliseconds of latency is an entire second to send a single instruction, and you should have a talk with your ISP if that happens.

On the other hand, download and upload speeds should match the numbers your internet provider is supplying, especially when nobody else is using it. If you’re suspecting your neighbor is a parasite of your internet, a simple password change should be enough.

There isn’t much an IT support person can do with a home connection, though. A systems administrator can check your computer for any malware that can be hoarding bandwidth but can’t go much further.

When to ask computer support for help

Because of course there are reasons. We can’t figure out everything ourselves.

“I can’t log in”

While a password reset is a common problem at the office –and you should ask for it if you need it or can’t do it yourself– a consistent login error is another matter. We use a lot of internet services nowadays, and every one of them is susceptible to downtime and server crashes, issues that only the IT department can handle.

Still, it is a basic security practice to have a password manager on hand. Tools like Dashlane, 1Password, and Lastpass may help you stay organized while “inconsistent”: that is, using a different password for everything –the ideal scenario to keep your organization and your accounts secure– while using an app to remember every password you have.

Just make sure you didn’t leave the CAPS LOCK key on though.

“I’ve accidentally deleted important files”

When key files get deleted, panic ensues. Is that file on your recycle bin yet? Check it, and if it’s not there, it’s time to call management. There are several ways to recover a lost file, and IT people are very capable of recovering documents using a lot of tools. For example, you could be working with files who have a cloud backup, so if you delete it locally you won’t be able to lose it entirely.

In some cases, your IT could have configured some sort of automatic backup or persistence system on your computer, and that’s good news for you. A physical backup allows you to recover any file from a specific point in time, so you may have lost just days of work, and not weeks or months.

Even so, you could remember to back up files by yourself, right?

“I’ve got a blue screen of death repeatedly”

As we said earlier, if an unexpected crash isn’t caused by some sort of issue related to heat and dissipation, the software is to blame. Most crashes are related to driver issues, recently installed apps or bad memory addresses, and are very easy to reproduce and troubleshoot. However, if a BSOD is consistent and appears without you even doing anything on your computer, it may be a serious hardware malfunction.

Learn how to troubleshoot most PC issues and don't bother calling the IT support of your office... unless it's really necessary.

These issues may be very hard to troubleshoot for most people, so call your IT people as soon as your PC reboots more than three times without any change.

“My computer is making an odd noise”

Turn it off immediately! In any case, a fan or any of the mechanical components of the device may be faulty, and without the technical knowledge, you may render your PC inoperable.

Takeaways

As users in an office environment, we expect to have the helping hand of our IT managers and sysadmins, but in this new world of remote work that help may be far away. We are used to these guys as a silent but very critical part of our organizations, and their skills and masteries are now more noticeable than ever. They’re still working, though: over the phone or having a remote call with any worker, or even coming to our quarantined houses to repair something.

We hope this guide can make a difference in a lot of workers, and as a kickstart to diagnosing and repairing your own equipment instead of recurring to your IT guy for everything. Nonetheless, don’t be afraid to ask for help when needed, or you may end up breaking something that didn’t need to be fixed in the first place.

We know. It is a fine line.

Norman Gutiérrez