10 tips for handling technical issues when you work from home

by Melissa Smith - Mon, 23 Mar 2020

Several people requested a post focused on technical support. There were lots of different questions covering many different platforms and needs. The specifics and details of peoples’ conundrums were far more specific than I could handle. But I consider it my job to look for patterns and universals, and find them I did. So I’m hoping that the strategies I share below are useful regardless of your particular situation.

Budget extra time for technical hiccups and practice runs

While you’re adjusting to performing your usual duties while working remotely, things will take longer. Remember that the rest of your team is probably struggling with this too (or facing different struggles involving tweens and/or Playstations). Remind yourself and everyone that this adjustment takes time. Everyone will be slower while they climb this learning curve. For new stuff, no one expects you to be an expert. If they do, they’re a jerk and unreasonable (or they are up to their eyeballs in stress and distractions -- see tweens and/or Playstations).

When you ask for help or stumble, say please and thank you, not sorry

You may recall articles that circulated a few years ago about how some people apologize far too much. You are not inconveniencing people by asking for help. You’re trying to spend your time as efficiently as possible for your organization. When you work on teams, you are expected to help one another which, by definition, involves asking for help. Practice saying things like, “Thanks for your patience. Working from home is great except for the added tech support snafus, eh?” This feels better to BOTH parties compared to “Sorry for bothering you with this. I’ll let you get back to what you were working on before I interrupted you.”

Ask for help

Working remotely can make it feel like you’re alone waging a war against your to do list and your computer. But you’re not alone. If you’re stuck and can’t get yourself unstuck (or if it seems like it’s taking longer than it ought), reach out to your team. Helping feels good, and so long as you’re not constantly asking, they may appreciate the opportunity to help. And if you’re usually the person other people ask for help, you can start calling in favors in return.

Often people can help by asking YOU questions that trigger you to think about the issue differently.

When you ask for help, if it’s via email or Slack, remember to provide context and specific information for what you’re doing. This makes it easier for people to help you. Screenshots are awesome, and I like the free software Jing for this purpose. You can use it to record videos too. Alternatively, you can ask someone to hop onto a quick meeting with you so that you can screen share.

If your team is using Slack, consider creating a channel specifically for technical help.

Lastly, your IT department DOES still exist. They might be overwhelmed, but you won’t know until you ask. It could be you’ve encountered a common problem, and IT may already have developed a recommended solution.

Share what you’ve learned

If you figure out something that you think most people in your group will stumble across, be sure to share with interested people using whichever medium is most appropriate.

Divide and conquer if everyone in the group is learning new tools

If many people in your group are facing multiple technical hurdles, consider whether it will make sense to divide and conquer. For example, let’s say your team is suddenly using Slack, Zoom, Google Docs, and Google Sheets to collaborate. For some, that might be an overwhelming number of new tools to learn at once. So suggest that each of your team members pick one of the four tools to really study: Read through the getting started guide, watch YouTube tutorials, and then be the expert for the team. This can help everyone in your department feel a little less overwhelmed.

Google: not just for checking your symptoms at 1 AM

You can ask Google very specific questions and usually hit the jackpot right away. For example, “how to scan using hp deskjet 2652” will return exactly what you need. Don’t forget to check the videos if you understand things better with a walkthrough.

Make sure you’re not defining the problem too narrowly

There might be another method at your disposal that would make problem solving easier if you slightly changed how you’re defining the problem.

Let’s say your perceived need is for a coworker to scan a document and send it to you. They’ve got a printer/scanner, but they rarely use it and they are running low on patience today. Would a photo be an acceptable substitute?

Let’s say your co-worker takes that photo, but you need a PDF, and your home computer doesn’t have the fancy copy of Adobe that you need. You think, ‘aha, let me search for how to convert this JPG to PDF.’ If you google ‘Convert JPG to PDF’, you get nothing but results for possibly disreputable software. But if you can mentally zoom out and google ‘easy ways to convert a file to PDF’, you’ll find articles about using ‘Print to PDF’ in MS-Office (as well as some Mac-based solutions). Chrome also lets you print to PDF.

Or let’s say you’re writing a newsletter (hi!) and your Monday and Friday posts are super long (guilty!). In fact, they are so long that Gmail truncates part of your email. And that means you no longer get nifty statistics from your newsletter platform and one morning you wake up thinking that only two (TWO!) people read your email. You could write shorter emails (but leave out presumably valuable content), edit the email content so that it contains all the info with fewer words (and probably sounds as interesting as an encyclopedia entry), or switch newsletter platforms to one that was smart enough to design around this issue (sounds time consuming).

Each of those solutions above? They solve the question: How can I make my emails shorter so that my platform gives me the feedback I crave and adore? But if I change the question to ‘how can I get the statistics I need and still give my readers the same content?’, then the answer becomes clear: send an overview newsletter and post the extended version on my website.

If you’re stuck and can’t think of a way to broaden the problem, take a break and come back to it. Take a walk. Work on something else. Or ask a coworker to be your sounding board.

If you run into a roadblock, verify that it really needs solving… by you

If you run into a significant roadblock, always reach out to confirm with whomever is requesting the work. Consider the following circumstances you might uncover:

  • Since they first contacted you, the deadline changed or the project was cancelled entirely
  • The request was a ‘nice-to-have’ not a ‘have-to-have’ piece of the project, and it’s completely acceptable to not include that piece
  • The requestor can very easily send the information in a different format that is 1000% more manageable
  • The initial request was a curiosity, not a need. Since it’s trouble, you can drop it entirely

All of these things are worth finding out before you invest your company’s time or (more importantly) your energy on solving the problem.

If you’re hosting a webinar or livestream, recruit an admin

All web conferencing software has a chat ability that people can use to ask questions (and horse around). Have you had the pleasure of being in a meeting where the person leading the meeting is also keeping one eye on the chats as they are trying to talk? It’s like watching a live PSA for not texting while driving. They might as well be doing vodka shots every slide of their presentation.

Recruit an admin. They’ll wrangle the chat area so that you can focus. That could involve the following:

  • Providing technical support to people who aren’t connecting
  • Using the interface to mute people with disruptive audio
  • Answering clarifying questions that you’ve already covered
  • Keeping track of the questions, organizing them, and sending them to you during the question period of your talk, or raising them immediately, as appropriate

Pay it forward (or backwards)

If you’ve got that one co-worker or friend who always helps you out of your technical jams, offer some sort of treat for their help. That person could be playing IT support for lots of people right now. Here are some ideas to pay it back or forward:

  • Offer some virtual babysitting by playing a game over webcam with their kids
  • Order them a Yum box subscription (provided they don’t have dietary restrictions)
  • Order them a gift delivery or curbside from their favorite local restaurant or bakery. You can surprise them by collaborating with their partner or roommate to figure out their tastes
  • Send them a YouTube playlist to brighten their day