Even if IT support doesn't appear anywhere in your job description, office mates may tap you to troubleshoot their computer problems. To keep that "unofficial" duty from swallowing all your time, follow these steps:
Cover the basics. Practice a polite way to ask whether the PC or
a peripheral is unplugged, without making the other person feel like an idiot. Example: "Let's start by checking that none of the connections jiggled loose last night when the cleaning crew vacuumed around your machine."
Gather all the clues. Ask exactly what the user was doing when the problem occurred, and train your co-workers to jot down any error message before they do anything else. Probe for information they may not volunteer, such as asking whether they have downloaded a new program.
Check for patterns. Logging when each problem occurred and what happened will help you identify possible solutions. Example: Staff members running two complex programs simultaneously may need more memory in their machines.
Have support at your fingertips. Learn what's available in the online help section of your computer vendors' Web sites, and bookmark the information before you need it.
If you serve on a committee charged with choosing new machines or software, consider the availability of tech support both online and by phone.
Prepare to bail out. Decide in advance what steps are reasonable for you to take and when to pass the problem along to someone whose primary job is technical support.
Learn how to tap into backup copies of files, and keep an inventory of machines and software. Setting up the staff member to work on another computer until IT can resolve the trouble may be the best support you can offer.