Five Ways to Stay in Your Help Desks Good Graces

By Deborah Rothberg  |  Posted 2006-10-13

Five Ways to Stay in Your Help Desks Good Graces

Youve just arrived at work on a Monday morning after a long weekend and you havent had your coffee yet. You land your laptop on its dock and take your seat, waiting for the familiar image of your desktop wallpaper to greet you.

And you wait.

But it doesnt appear. What is this? you grumble to yourself and check your clock only to realize that you are late for your meeting and need to get into your email to find out where it is.


You panic.

You call the help desk.

And it must be your lucky morning because one of the IT guys arrives at your desk within a minute. He walks over to the laptop dock, presses down on the laptop lid and you hear a dull "clack." Your desktop appears on your monitor at last.

"Your laptop wasnt fully docked," he says with more patience than the situation deserves and walks away.

"Oops! Im sorry!" you call after him. "I just assumed something was really wrong!"

Thank goodness this has never happened to anyone you know (cough) because this is a prime example of how not to stay on your help desks good side. The problem was easily fixed, the panic was completely avoidable and the employee didnt do one iota of troubleshooting before calling in a pro.

You might think that in this day and age, nobody would be this dense or unthinking in the handling of their employee-assigned PC workstation, yet IT pros will tell you that it happens all the time. And while they may try their best to stay patient and friendly with the workers they were hired to assist, they can only reset a forgotten password so many times before greeting a call from the repeat offender with some eye-rolling.

eWEEK spoke to a range of IT professionals about what they considered the bare-bones computer tasks that every employee should be able to perform—aspects of daily work theyd consider almost inexcusable to request frequent help with.

Almost, they said, insisting that they didnt mind helping workers, as long as the workers would try to help themselves first.

1. You should know how to save and back up your work.

Almost every person with a personal computer has a tendency to assume that it will never die, yet every computer sooner or later does just that.

"That general assumption is what drives all the stupidity that happens around simple things. Most IT emergencies on a daily basis are because someones laptop dies on the same day they need a proposal or report into someone. It always comes down to backup," said Jeff Reed, chief technology officer of global technology provider Logicalis, in Seattle.

Reed noted that many people wrongly assume that they have no role in the backup or recovery process, and are often surprised to learn that their work isnt automatically backed up for them.

"Educate yourself on how your company backs up and recovers PCs. Reading the manual could save you two weeks trouble. Its pretty easy to save your work to the network or any drive where it can be backed up," said Reed.

Expectations of IT professionals are changing. Click here to read more.

In addition to understanding the different places that their work can be saved, workers should also understand the difference between "Save" and "Save As."

"If you are collaborating with someone, or even working on your own, it will help you to keep a legacy of your work, versions A, B, C, etc., until you come to a final document," said Tomlinson.

2. You and you alone are responsible for knowing your passwords.

No matter how friendly they appear, IT professionals are never happy to hear that your forgotten password needs to be reset.

"You should know how to create, remember and change secure passwords for all personal accounts, applications and resources on the network," Richard Tomlinson, director of records and registration and assistant professor at Harrisburg University of Science and Technology, in Harrisburg, Pa., told eWEEK.

Better yet, if you need to write down your password, you should do so in a way that does not announce to all passers-by your low opinion of the importance of network security.

"We see people with their passwords on a sticky note on their monitor all the time. Because I wanted to remember it! theyll say. But what they meant was they didnt want to be inconvenienced by having to look it up," said Tomlinson.

Next Page: E-mail security.


3. You should know how to e-mail effectively, securely and efficiently.

It may seem common sense to not respond to an e-mail phishing attempt or spam, or to not click on an attachment in an e-mail from an unknown source, yet as long as these security threats exist, someone will inevitably, either by accident or because they were markedly misinformed, fall for them. The results could cripple an entire data network.

Beyond the obvious "big bads" of e-mail security are the effective managing of the quantity and information contained in electronic messages. Unnecessary messages should be deleted, sent and deleted items shouldnt be used as a saved items repository, and folders should be created to organize saved items, said Tomlinson.

"There are users that absolutely dont know how to manage their e-mail or storage space. Their mailboxes end up filling up and they cant receive mail anymore. The more users you have that dont understand that, the more storage space your IT department requires," said Tomlinson.

And most gravely, IT pros told eWEEK, dont send a piece of chain mail to 20 people that you know.

"E-mail was meant to be short, concise communication. Before you forward something, just assume that youre really not that great of a source of information. Youre not a journalist. You send something to 10 people who each send it to another 10, and its a huge drain on resources," said Ken Colburn, president of Data Doctors Computer Services, in Tempe, Ariz.

4. Do your part to secure your workstation.

While the onus of the daunting responsibility for securing a corporations network falls predominantly on the IT department, there are no shortage of things that employees can do to ensure that their computer is not the station that waves the bad guys in.

Among these, not opening risky attachments or downloading spyware-ridden programs and screensavers are near the top of the list. Not much further down, however, is the need to lock your workstation when you are idle or walk away from your computer, especially if your computer is not set up to do this automatically after a set period of time.

More so, dont assume that because you are not handling classified information that your computer is not vulnerable to attack.

"People have said to me, But Im just using Word! Im not doing anything risky. But any time you are logged into an enterprise network, you are doing something that poses as a security risk to it," said Tomlinson.

5. You should troubleshoot before calling for help.

In the case of the stranger (cough) who hit the panic button and called for help when his computer seemed to be broken, any number of troubleshooting techniques may have averted a help desk ticket.

John Baschab, co-author of "The Executives Guide to Information Technology" (Wiley 2003) and president of the management services division at Technisource, a provider of information technology and engineering services in Little Rock, Ark., gave a few examples: "Things that could have saved a call: Is the computer plugged in? Are the lights on the printer on? Is there paper in the paper tray? Is the right tray selected? Is the network cable plugged into the wall as well as your computer? Is your monitor turned on and is your docking station locked in?"

Another item that any worker can easily check for is repeatability.

"Is the printing problem in more than one program? You can quickly figure out if its a printing issue or an application issue," said Colburn.

On the more technical side, but still a potential timesaver, is to learn the basic first-response tasks that any help desk worker would try first.

"There are really simple commands [they] could [use to see] if they have a network connection, or [workers could learn] to use Ctrl-Alt-Delete to see on the task manager whats stalling them so they can shut that application down instead of rebooting the whole machine," said Tomlinson.

But without question, the most basic, elemental and primitive triage workers should be able to perform on their computer is the good, old-fashioned flick of the power switch.

"Its amazing how many people dont reboot before calling for help. It solves a million problems," said Colburn.

Check out eWEEK.coms for the latest news, reviews and analysis on IT management.

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