The catalogue of gadgetry that the 21st-century manager relies on offers plenty of work for the devil's hand - PC crashes, data traffic jams, viruses, mishaps and keystroke cock-ups. MT confronts these everyday opportunities for digital disaster and suggests the cure.
HARD DRIVE SEIZURE
Ninety five per cent of us these days share a desk with a PC or, if you are a designer and/or style victim, a Macintosh. These black and beige boxes are a vital weapon in the business person's armoury, but they have a maddening tendency to jam like a squaddie's rifle in the Arabian desert.
The hard drive is the brain of the computer where all your software and data is stored on fast-spinning magnetic coated metal disks. If it falters, it renders the computer of less use than a headless chicken. The average hard disk is an OAP if it makes it into its fourth year, and when it fails - an event often signalled by a nasty rattle and 'the blue screen of death' - it's too late. The stored data will be all but irrecoverable and your life will be one of unremitting misery in the hands of inanely grinning IT staff.
THE CURE Like a boy scout or girl guide, be prepared: hard disk failure is unpredictable, even on a new machine. Always back up anything of a critical nature onto either a corporate server or a portable storage device such as those made by Iomega, available with memories of up to 120 gigabytes. These devices are the same size as a packet of cigarettes and they might just save your life instead of shortening it.
The Love Bug, Melissa, the Worm ... the symptoms of virus attack in computers are as varied as those in humans. A virus may give your PC the silicon equivalent of a cold, letting it soldier on, infecting lots of others as it goes about its business. Or it might fell the machine faster than a dose of Sars. Viruses can even be fatal, with hopelessly riddled equipment having to be junked. But prompt remedial action usually saves the day.
THE CURE Comprehensive anti-virus software kept rigorously up to date stops most attacks. But be vigilant. Don't open files of unknown origin, and avoid dubious web sites and e-mails offering cut-price Viagra. If you're caught by the latest work of a malicious alpha geek from Boisi, Idaho or Manila, don't touch anything and call in your IT hit squad or a contractor immediately.
Even perfectly functioning voicemail systems drive most of us to distraction - an NOP survey once ranked voicemail as the third most hated aspect of business life, after parking wardens and junk mail, and another survey found that 70% of callers hang up when confronted by a voice message. The frustration is not being able to speak to someone you want to get hold of immediately.
THE CURE 1 Update your message daily with details of where you are and how quickly you are likely to be able to respond. 2 If you are going on holiday, include a colleague's details on your message for urgent requests. 3 If you find yourself playing telephone tag, don't be afraid to start a voicemail dialogue. Think of it as an 'asynchronous conversation'. 4 Best of all, persuade your company to let you have a PA or secretary. Callers prefer talking to humans.
Having 3,457 e-mails waiting when you get back from a week in Fuengirola may be an office talking point, but it's nothing to be proud of. E-mail can be a productivity-killing curse instead of fulfilling its potential as a modern telecommunication blessing. At its worst, e-mail has become a displacement activity - you spend so much time sending round-robins about what you are going to do, you never get around to doing it. You are paid to think and to do, so do some thinking outside the in-box.
THE CURE If in doubt, don't send it. Get out of the habit of circulating rear-end covering CCs to all and sundry. If you're so in demand that you are receiving upwards of 1,000 e-mails a day, consider a second private address that you give out only to your closest contacts. This will help you sort the wheat from the chaff, but at the risk of missing something important in your public inbox. Take your pick.
PDA LOST IN TAXI
It's the worst feeling in the world - like losing your child in a supermarket or hearing that you are the subject of a hostile takeover bid ... Back to the office after a great lunch with half a bottle of Cloudy Bay and you discover you've left your PDA in the back of a beaten-up Toyota Carina minicab.
THE CURE Never, ever leave your PDA/Palm Pilot or i-pod unbacked-up for more than a few days. And back it up in more than one memory location - not just your PC (see Hard Drive Seizure, above). Try Flash memory cards for a bulletproof back-up. Just remember where you put them.
MOBILE PHONE DOWN PAN
Mobiles are our most personal bits of technology, the one thing that goes everywhere with us, even into the smallest room. With unfortunately soggy consequences more often than you'd think.
THE CURE Don't panic. Modern mobiles are surprisingly robust and if you act quickly you may save the day. Fish it out, remove the battery and sim card, and dry the lot quickly in a warm place using indirect heat. Don't put your moby in the microwave - like the luckless hamster of urban myth, it will probably explode. Repeat offenders might consider buying a splash-proof outdoor model such as Nokia's 5210.
We've all been there. A roomful of expectant executives eager to learn (maybe). The speaker ascends the podium, hauls out an ancient laptop and spends the next 15 minutes trying to connect it to the venue's state-of-the-art projection system. By the time he is ready to start, everyone is bored rigid, and when he embarks on a presentation that consists entirely of reading out loud what's written on 25 slides in a dull monotone, attention wanders and the audience is lost in the collective thought of what's for lunch. Even worse, he's brought the wrong presentation or the battery goes flat and there's no socket nearby.
THE CURE This one is more about you than the technology. If you're giving a presentation, give it. The audience should be dazzled by the strength of your ideas, not driven to the edge of catatonia by the flashing graphics on the screen. Use slides sparingly and only when they add to your words rather than just reiterating them.
VIDEO CONFERENCE CORPSING
After 11September, when nobody wanted to travel to meet face-to-face, corporate conference and video calling organisers saw their chance for the big time. Slick salespeople have been busily selling the huge advantages in cost, time and security of long-distance conference calling and/or video meetings ever since. And although there's no doubt that modern technology has now made the virtual exchange a lot more satisfactory, remote meetings are still subject to enough glitches to keep Dennis Norden in work for another five years.
THE CURE Penny wise, pound foolish. Don't let the economic and logistical advantages of a videoconference persuade you to abandon face-to-face encounters. Let technology take the strain of regular internal progress meetings or catch-up sessions with a long-standing client. But if you're meeting a counterpart for the first time - especially when big money is involved - it helps to be able to see the whites of their eyes.
In these straitened times, budgets shrink faster than a snowball in July, and many business people are being forced to make their own more cost-effective travel arrangements online. For the dozy and web unsavvy, this is fraught with pitfalls. One executive known to MT, for example, managed to book a Ryanair flight from London to Italy back-to-front - his return flight was on the day he was due to depart, and vice versa. Don't try complaining at the check-in desk - the airline staff won't want to know. You have to pay all over again. Watch in particular for harsh terms and conditions - travelling with the low-cost jet set involves many more restrictions than flexible Club Class.
THE CURE However long-winded and tedious it might seem, always read the small print before you press the fatal proceed/purchase button. Children of the paper generation should print out details and scrutinise them before buying, and get an adult to double-check it. Don't forget to take plenty of eurocash, as the destination airport will probably be 40 miles from the city centre.