Remote Support for Parents

Remote Support for Parents

It probably comes as no surprise that I'm seen as the "tech help" of the family. Anyone with a job that involves computers probably also plays that side role at family gatherings. You're the one they pull to the side to ask about a popup on their phone, the one that has to sit at an ancient computer for an hour before Thanksgiving dinner to see if you can "make it run like it used to", etc etc. And honestly I don't mind that role, but in more recent years as my parents have moved solidly into elderly retired status it has become a difficult one.

The world is a more complicated digital space today, made even more so by work/learn/live from home mentality of the past year and the push towards even more digitization of all aspects of human connection. An hour here and there once or twice a year is no longer sufficient to keep all the various wires connected. Zoom calls might be the norm for my daughter's learning, but the process of getting my elderly parents to screen share is too difficult to attempt sometimes remotely. And to complicate all of this my father has now entered a long term care facility and is under complete quarantine where only window visits are allowed and he's also 2.5 hours away from me. I'm making up for lost time on gathering the tools I need to support them from here and wish I had started years ago, but no better time like the present and so wanted to blog a series of posts on how I'm doing that in case it's useful for others. As you read these posts I'd encourage you to have that conversation with your own parents and start laying that foundation now. The more access you have the easier you can make this in the future (especially if you have a few hours on site).

In this first post I want to talk about desktop support. My parents had an aging Dell Inspiron desktop PC that was bought in 2010 and had just gotten slower as time marched on. Lack of backups was a concern in addition to old versions of software they relied on like Microsoft Publisher 2010. I've learned a long time ago to not try and push new software too much, getting them fully on Google Docs wouldn't make much sense. But getting them on Office 365 with desktop apps will be a decent upgrade. For speed I'm sure I could have saved money by adding an SSD, RAM, etc but honestly, I was in town for a little over 24 hours and needed to make the most of it and this thing is a budget PC that has survived for 10 years. I can keep it for myself and drop some upgrades on it for a linux box or something. I bought an All in One HP computer to save on desktop space (Look mom, the monitor is the whole computer!). It's plenty fast to survive another 10 years. I also bought a cheap external hard drive to do backups.

I'm not a PC guy at all so sometimes the software side can intimidate me. The idea of transferring everything was daunting as it didn't seem like there was a solid built in tool that would do it all but then I found Microsoft themselves recommend PCMover and I managed to get it for $30. Best money ever spent. 7 hours overnight on wireless with both computers on and the computer booted with everything in its place. For file backups for now I'm just using the local backup option in Windows but might look at something like Carbonite or others in the future (open to recommendations here).

The last piece was wanting to make sure I had access to help from Fredericksburg which was going to be crucial and I was able to build on some work I had already done at the arcade. The PC that drives the video wall lives up in the ceiling and I had to have a way to login and update things remotely and found Chrome Remote Desktop. 100% free, easy to use. Doesn't require consent from the person on the computer as long as you have a pin that you setup and configure it in advance. It's perfect for that scenario and would be for this as well since I wouldn't have to tell my mother to click or do anything and I could just login and start helping.

The next piece I'd like to play with and will report back on is Splashtop which should hopefully allow me to see my father's iPad and iPhone (the only devices he uses) remotely to help him troubleshoot. There will be some configuration to be done over the phone to start and due to iOS restrictions I won't be able to control the screen in anyway, but even just seeing what he's seeing to help him navigate stuff could be huge. Also on the list is a good password manager because holy hell is that a mess at the moment.

I'm overdue in thinking about all this stuff for my parents but you don't have to be if you use this as an opportunity to start having these conversations now and instead of just fixing what's broken next time you're in town, set it up for success down the road.