How to Work With Your IT Department
Now and again, something goes south with your computer. There’s no shame in it—even the experts aren’t immune, and you can’t fix every problem on your own. (Sometimes I have to call tech support myself.) But here’s the trick: When you call your IT technician, you don’t want to fulfill that person’s assumption that you’re a nuisance and an imbecile. Instead, you want to set yourself up as a friend who happens to need a hand.
So what’s the secret to making that happen? I’ve distilled the wisdom from my own years of work in IT, as well as that of numerous current help-desk staffers, to determine what can turn a PEBKAC* into a pal. Here’s how to become a model citizen among the techies at your office—and still get to do what you want with your computer in the end.
1. Treat IT with respect.
You may not understand what the department does, but IT has a tough job. A lot of it involves behind-the-scenes systems that you’ll never actually see but that make your email, web browser and paychecks work correctly. The day-to-day operations of many companies are at the mercy of IT doing its job right, so put that in perspective when you can’t print out an email or your cell phone is on the fritz. When you approach IT, you should always have an explicit understanding of how important your problem is. Even if it’s on the serious side, IT may have far bigger fish to fry. The best strategy: Start every call or email to IT with, “Hey, I know you’re really busy, but if you get a spare minute….” You’ll likely get faster service than if you insist that you’re the customer in the biggest rush.
2. Develop a personal relationship with IT.
If the technicians see you only when your laptop is busted, then you’re more of a nuisance than a respectful partner. Maybe the department could use your services in some way. Next time a techie fixes your computer, ask if there’s anything you can do in return. This applies outside the work environment, too: Invite the IT crew for happy hour. Remember birthdays. Drop off bagels for the team once in a while—or, better yet, cupcakes. Food always works with IT. Always.
3. Do not introduce malware into the corporate environment.
Introduce foreign software and hardware at your own risk. Some basic rules: Don’t click on spam. Don’t visit sketchy websites. Be incredibly careful whenever you plug in your laptop, transfer files from a thumb drive or burn a CD at home that you’re positive is clean. If malware spreads from your machine to the office network, you’re toast.
4. Take responsibility immediately if you mess up.
Did you visit a website you shouldn’t have? Did you open an email that turned out to contain a virus? Were you playing a video game when you were supposed to be working and crash your computer? Fess up. A mea culpa—“I know I shouldn’t have clicked on that .exe file. I’m sorry, and it won’t happen again”—will get you back in IT’s good graces much faster than a frantic “I don’t know what happened!” The former proves that you’ve learned something. The latter suggests that you’re dumb or evasive. Remember, the IT department keeps detailed usage logs and, if pressed, can probably call you out if you try to lie.
5. When IT asks you to do something, do it.
If you get an email telling you to install a piece of software or do some other task, jump on it right away. IT asks you to do such things only because the department doesn’t have the time or resources to do so itself—believe me, they would never ask you to do anything unless they absolutely had to. Treat such requests as critical. Then, for good measure, reply to the message after you’ve finished and tell them that you’ve complied.
6. Be as descriptive as possible.
There’s nothing more frustrating than an email that says only “My computer isn’t working right.” Give as many details as you can: What software and which operating system are you using? What, specifically, broke down? If your computer shows an error message, what is the exact text? For massive bonus points, take a screenshot of the message or problem. The easiest way is by using Windows’ Snipping Tool (type “snipping” in the Start Menu search box). Just click and drag to highlight the area you want to photograph, then attach the resulting file to your trouble report.
7. Get permission if you want to install additional software.
IT staff most likely won’t mind if you’d like to install a new IM client or iTunes, but they’ll appreciate it endlessly if you ask if it’s OK first.
8. Remember that modern computers are flaky.
There’s a lot of bad engineering out there: Software crashes, hardware breaks down and websites fail all the time. This is not because IT isn’t doing its job. Don’t complain to the IT department that your laptop is junk. Their laptops are junk, too, and they crash just as often as yours does.
9. Don’t change your email stationery or use a funky color or font.
You’ll be mocked. I promise.
10. Did you reboot before crying for help?
This is the first thing IT will ask you. Rebooting fixes at least 80 percent of the problems you’ll encounter. My advice is to reboot twice, then pay a visit to IT. Bring doughnuts.
CHRISTOPHER NULL is Executive Travel’s technology editor.
* Techie lingo: Problem Exists Between Keyboard And Chair.