Work From Home has become overwhelmingly prevalent since the outbreak of COVID. More people need to work from home and are proactively making home purchase choices with this new, often preferred, working situation in mind, further decentralizing our workforce, thanks to the omnipresence of internet connections. While this saves workers commute time and makes it easier to get a little more rest or a jumpstart on the day’s work, we can’t forget that our employees and customers are all in need of guidance when there isn’t an IT aid hanging out at a nearby water cooler.
Below is my troubleshooting guide for the decentralized workforce. While there are broader, more systematic work from home internet issues that users can’t address, there are some more local problems that can be addressed, whether they have internet connection issues, software or physical hardware problems, or bad device connections. This guide is in no way a silver bullet for every issue, but if there’s an approaching deadline and you know a call with IT is going to eat up a bit too much of your time, applying a little bit of one’s elbow grease is all it might take for the issue to clear up. However, this shouldn’t go against company policy if you have explicit instructions and processes when technical problems arise. Additionally, if you have email delivery issues, that monster of a problem can be troubleshot with my blog on troubleshooting email delivery.
Without further ado!
Troubleshooting Software Issues
- Make sure your application is up to date.
- Roll back any updates if you recently installed any.
- Restart the application.
- Update or disable any involved integrations.
- Power cycle your computer.
- Update your OS if there’s one available (not the major jump).
- Copy the work to a newly instanced document or recreate from scratch.
- Contact your IT department.
Make sure your application is up to date.
This one is self-explanatory. Make sure you are running the latest version of your software. Developers are constantly introducing new features and enhancements to programs and squashing bugs. But these changes can also introduce new bugs. It’s a never-ending battle. Update your application and see if that clears it all up.
Roll back any updates if you recently installed any.
Updates being the problem are uncommon but not improbable. If you’ve just installed some updates to a program and it’s suddenly not working, roll back the program to the last version if you can. Sometimes, the latest version of a program isn’t the most stable, and if the issue appeared immediately after an update, that might very well be the culprit. That said, many programs don’t let you do this, so you might need to move on to the next step.
Restart the application.
Humans program apps, so there are sometimes flaws. If a piece of software ever starts acting up, quitting the program and restarting it may be all that’s necessary to clear it up. If a program isn’t properly releasing memory back to the computer, weird things can happen. If you’ve ever tried to open up multiple large programs at once, you know what can transpire. And on that note, you should make sure you don’t have an encyclopedia of open programs in the background. Some apps take a lot of memory, and if you have dozens of apps and browser tabs running, your computer will suffer from the strain and cause weird issues.
Update or disable any involved integrations.
This scenario is a little more niche, but consider if the issue can be related to integrations or add-ins of some kind. Once upon a time, I was trying to draft an email on a marketing platform, but whenever I went to preview the email, I felt like I was looking at Matrix text crawl in all its fantastic glory. I later discovered that the plugin to check my grammar was interfering with the website code as I clicked ‘preview’ and started jumbling up the data. It was a bizarre edge case, but this happened because of a browser integration – I had to disable it to use the platform. Keep your integrations, extensions and add-ins up to date. If you suspect an integration issue, you can try disabling them one-by-one until the problem clears up (or doesn’t).
Power cycle your computer.
If you are guilty of not rebooting often, you’d be surprised how many issues can be cleared up by just turning your computer off and on. Much like I mentioned with the memory leak issues earlier, sometimes the only cure is to reboot everything so you have a clean slate.
Update your operating system (OS) if there’s one available (not the major jump).
Depending on the operating system you are using, you may want to make sure to update your system. You do not want to endeavor on a major update, like Windows 10 to 11, or Mac’s Catalina to Big Sur. Those major updates sometimes entail their own problems, especially right after release. Instead, you should see if there are any minor updates for bug fixes or security improvements. It’s rare but not impossible that the issue is related to the operating system.
Copy the work to a newly instanced document or recreate from scratch.
Sometimes it’s the file itself. You may have come across a file, which upon opening, the computer informs you that it’s corrupted. Weird things can happen to files. I recall a bizarre issue with a spreadsheet that wouldn’t perform the correct formula calculations. As the document was edited, revised, and then passed through multiple people via email, something went wrong. The solution? I copied the data into a new document to eliminate any weird settings that could be applied to the cells – suddenly, everything was working again.
Contact your IT department.
If you’ve tried the above things to no avail, the issue might be a little more obscure or require deeper technical know-how. Reach out to your IT team and explain the problem and the steps you’ve taken. It could be any number of things, and it’s the IT department’s responsibility to dig into the issue more deeply.
Troubleshooting New Hardware Issues
- Follow the installation instructions again.
- Install/reinstall the drivers.
- Check your connections.
- Confirm compatibility.
- Search the internet for reported similar issues or hardware updates.
- Contact your IT department.
Follow the installation instructions again.
This step is pretty self-explanatory – set up your hardware according to the instructions. Double-check that you followed every step and take note of the minor differences you encountered. If this hardware lets you, you can try reinstalling from scratch; do so again with the correct process.
Install/reinstall the drivers.
Drivers are like mini programs that tell your computer how to interface with new hardware. These days, most devices are automatically detected, and their drivers install automatically. However, sometimes the drivers that get installed are old. Visit the manufacturer’s website to find your product and associated drivers. Download and install it (a restart may be required). If this still doesn’t work, try uninstalling the drivers and removing the device, rebooting, installing the new drivers again, rebooting and then plugging in the device. It’s a pain, but sometimes adding a reboot between each step will make the difference, especially if your device has weird plug n’ play issues.
Check your connections.
Connections are easily overlooked. This step comes up more than once in this guide, so read how to troubleshoot your cable connections below.
Compatibility is less often the problem these days because most devices are compatible with a wide range of computers, but check to see if your piece of hardware lists compatibility with specific hardware and operating systems. In the same way printer ink cartridges only work with particular printers, you should double-check that the hardware you are trying to connect works with your specific operating system and connections you are using.
Search the internet for reported similar issues.
Sometimes, there is a manufacturing defect in the product. Or sometimes there’s a bug that appears every nth time on a particular system. Google is your friend and is, in fact, a very close friend to IT technicians around the world. If you are having an issue, it’s likely you aren’t the first person to experience it. Google the problem and include the brand and type of device you are using. Some manufacturers realize an issue is shipped with the device and will have newer drivers or firmware updates to help resolve the issue. Have a gander, and if you find that this is the case, reach out to your IT team to ask if it’s okay to do a firmware update – sometimes the process is particular, and your IT person might want to supervise this process. A poorly handled firmware update could brick the device (render it an unusable hunk of junk), so get on the line with your IT person to walk through it.
Contact your IT department.
If nothing above has worked, reach out to IT. There could be some special consideration that applies to your specific tech setup that IT may be aware of and have more troubleshooting steps to take. Don’t be afraid to reach out, either. IT is there for that reason.
Troubleshooting Old Hardware Issues
- Power cycle it if you can (unplug and plug back in).
- Check your connections.
- Check for driver updates.
- Contact IT if there was a major OS update.
- Contact IT if there was a firmware update.
- Contact your IT department.
Power cycle it if you can (unplug and plug back in).
Old hardware can be finicky. Power cycle it with the power button, and if it doesn’t have one, unplug it, let it rest for 30 seconds, then plug it back in. Why 30 seconds? It’s a fair amount of time to allow any residual charge of electricity to fade – this sometimes matters if there’s an onboard chip involved and it needs to lose charge to reset correctly.
Check your connections.
This is the same advice as with new hardware. Check your connections.
Check for driver updates.
Do you see a pattern in this guide? Tech is constantly advancing, and hardware needs to keep up with whatever is new until it’s no longer compatible. Check for driver updates for the device.
Contact IT if there was a major OS update.
You might not think this at first, but yes, the OS can run the risk of invalidating your hardware. How? I had a user with an aftermarket ethernet to USB A-type adapter because their laptop didn’t come with onboard ethernet ports. We ran an OS upgrade (the big one), and suddenly the laptop couldn’t get internet over the cable. It turned out the aftermarket adapter wasn’t up to the technical standards required for internet traffic security demanded by the upgraded OS. Plainly put, it was an old and insecure piece of tech that the OS refused to let us operate anymore, so I had to buy a newer one. If hardware issues arise after a major OS update, speak to your IT person – you might need some new gear.
Contact IT if there was a firmware update.
Like how a firmware update may be needed to fix an issue discovered by a device’s manufacturer, sometimes a firmware update can ruin the device itself. You may recall the “don’t shut off your computer” or “don’t disconnect the device” messages. That’s for a good reason. If a firmware update (the update for the physical software on the device) goes wrong, you might have turned it into a paperweight. Reach out to your IT person.
Contact your IT department.
Sometimes old equipment needs to be retired. Your IT department will make that decision after walking you through some steps.
Troubleshooting Computer Connection Issues
- Make sure everything is plugged in correctly.
- Power cycle your computer or device (unplug and plug in your device).
- Does your device connect directly to a USB port on the computer?
- Try a different USB port.
- Does your device connect to a hub?
- Check other devices connected to the hub.
- Try a different hub port.
- Try connecting directly to your computer.
- Can you replace the cable?
- Contact your IT department
Make sure everything is plugged in correctly.
Checking cables sounds like an obvious step, but this is surprisingly easy to overlook. Inspect your connections visually. Are they snug and fully plugged into the correct port? Someone called me for setup assistance because a laptop couldn’t communicate to a badge printer for an event. I reached around to feel the connection on the back of the printer, and it felt snug – I even unplugged it and plugged it back in. Still, nothing happened. 30 minutes later, as I’m pulling my hair out, I recheck connections to see if I’m just insane, and let me tell you, my sanity nearly flew out the window. The cable was plugged into the completely wrong type of port. It was a USB B-type connector, but the sizing was perfect for the RJ11 port (used for phone connections) that it felt like I had plugged it in properly. Nope, it was the wrong port. There was a good share of laughter and embarrassment all around, but I have always visually checked ever since then.
Power cycle your computer or device (unplug and plug in your device).
The classic, turn it off and on again. Sometimes unplugging and plugging it back in is all that’s needed for your computer to pick up the signal again. Think of it as a friendly tap on the shoulder of your computer.
Does your device connect directly to a USB port on the computer?
Try a different USB port. Sometimes ports go bad, or the pins get worn down. You might need to try using a different port, and that’s all.
Does your device connect to a hub?
If you have a USB hub, check to ensure the other devices on the hub are working. Try moving some connections around to confirm you don’t have a dead port on the hub. And if that fails, try connecting directly to your computer.
Can you replace the cable?
If your device’s connection lets you swap out cables, you could try a cable to see if your existing one has gone bad. You can identify what type of USB connection you are using and buy a new one for a few bucks at the store.
Contact your IT department
Time to pick up the phone.
Troubleshooting Internet Issues
- Check other websites.
- Troubleshoot your network connection.
- Check your cables (if applicable).
- Restart your computer.
- Restart your router/modem.
- Check for connectivity on other devices.
- Check with your ISP for outages.
- Call your IT department or ISP.
Check other websites/apps.
You should first rule out the possibility that the website or application you are trying to use is having issues. Check a news website or search engine to make sure you can access other resources available via the internet. If you can access those, the problem lies with the application or specific website. For a website, you have only one option: wait. For the application, restarting it might work. If it’s a cloud-based application, it might be a platform issue – check their website, Twitter or system status for information.
Troubleshoot your network connection.
Your operating system comes with some built-in diagnostics to see if it can resolve the issue. In Windows, you can open the network center to troubleshoot the connection. Often, if the troubleshooter discovers a problem, it will reset your network adapter to fix it. The same diagnostic capability is available on mac.
Look at your network for internet connection.
You can hover over your connection on Windows or open your connections on Mac to see if you are connected to the network but without internet. If that’s the case, you can almost immediately narrow this down to a modem/router problem or an ISP problem.
Check your cables (if applicable).
As always, if you are using cables or something like a USB network adapter, make sure they’re plugged in all the way. You can even unplug it and plug it back in for good measure.
Restart your computer.
Sometimes, a computer that hasn’t been shut down in a while can run into weird connection issues with the network. Restarting your computer to reset your network connection can help.
Restart your router/modem.
When it comes to this step, make sure other users on your network are aware of what you are doing and that you won’t be impacting them. Unplug your modem/router for 30 seconds at least, then reconnect. These devices have special light codes to indicate if things are working correctly, so consult your manuals for that. Typically, green means good, and amber or red represents an issue.
Check for connectivity on other devices.
See if your tablet, phone or other computers can access the internet just fine over the network. This should provide you some clues to help rule something out (e.g., if your Wi-Fi device can connect, then maybe it’s a cable or wall jack problem).
Check with your ISP for outages.
After all of this, your ISP should provide a login portal you can access via smartphone to check for notices of outages in your area. Some tools even begin a diagnostics process.
Call your IT department or ISP
Give your IT department a call to get some help. It could be that something is wrong with your VPN (or other connected apps) interfering with your ability to connect to the internet). And if all else fails, you might have to bite the bullet and call your ISP to have them send out a tech to investigate the issue if there are no reported outages. In which case, you may need to use your phone as a hotspot to scrape by during the day.
Hopefully, this guide helps to some extent. For most hardware, it comes down to testing the connections and compatibility. For software, it comes down to updates and restarting the application. And ultimately, turning things off and on again is typically all it takes. It’s easy to forget you can take some of the above steps, especially when problems arise at inopportune times.