Easing The Pain of Being On-Call: Page 2

Posted November 7, 2006

Eric Spiegel

Eric Spiegel

(Page 2 of 2)

There are also less tangible things you can do to make your on-call folks more productive (and less cranky). Try to share the burden, instead of having a dedicated support person. If you put your entire development and QA team into rotation, there will be a smaller chunk of the year spent on-call for each of them. These are the experts because they write and test the code, so if something goes wrong they can probably fix it faster. If a developer puts in a new module, then adjust the schedule so that person is on-call the first time it runs.

Be consistent when dealing with holiday support schedules. If someone was on-call on Thanksgiving, then don’t assign them this duty again for Christmas. Announce next year’s annual schedule before this year’s December holiday season so people have a chance to review it.

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Have a process in place for people to swap on-call slots. You can always veto a swap if you feel a person’s expertise is needed for a particular slot. Just make amends for any veto with extra time off or some other perk.

Be extra sensitive to the impact being on-call has to life outside work. When you are on-call, you really can’t mentally leave work completely. You have to always make yourself available if trouble occurs and thus have to be careful not to make extravagant plans (or consume alcoholic beverages at the local bar).

Just watching little kids while your spouse goes out can become a nightmare if you get a support call. Consider providing a half-day off the Monday after on-call ends. This will give them a few extra hours of family time or just extra time to decompress. Even if they received no calls, they still had to be on alert, which increases stress levels.

In the extreme cases of a team member being up late (or early) working on a problem, be more flexible in their working hours the next day. Do you think the code I wrote under sleep deprivation was solid? If they are up many nights in a row, consider giving a comp day.

By improving your processes to reduce bugs, providing the support tools, and being more sensitive to the stresses of round-the-clock support, you will create an environment that eases the pain of being on-call.

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