10 things you should do to prepare for holiday time off

The holidays are here, and you may be dealing with limited staff in the office. Here are some tips for getting things squared away so you can take a little time off.

Just as some of us are last-minute shoppers, we also may be last-minute vacation planners as the holidays approach. For the network administrator, taking any vacation time can be a challenge. And if you are the only person in the IT shop, it can be a little daunting for your users. Here are a few tips that will help you plan effectively so you can get away!

Note: This is an expanded version of our Network admin's vacation checklist. It's also available as a PDF download.

1: Verify that everyone knows how to telecommute

Between winter storms and people planning to work remotely for a day or two, it is a good idea to ensure that all of the remote access mechanisms are in good working order. This includes making sure users know how to telecommute and that the remote access mechanisms have enough capacity to handle any spurts in usage. All it takes is one snowy day to make everyone attempt to use a remote access mechanism, and then we find that there is not enough capacity to deliver all the required services.

This also includes laptops. How many users have laptops, but never take them home? Ensure that they know what to do with them once they leave the office.

2: Set up an additional access mechanism (temporarily)

For a temporary basis, it may be a good idea to have an additional way into the environment. This can be a service such as LogMeIn, which allows access to a computer over the Internet. This can be beneficial if the VPN mechanism is not working, and the administrator is out of town over the holidays.

3: Find your help

This can be a person in the office who has casual IT interest or someone you feel can step in to assist in a pinch. Get this person what they need, including access to systems. For the case of "if you need it" access, consider an envelope for each system and an administrator-level password in it. If the envelope is opened, change the password or remove the additional account when you return. If elevated permissions can be added (such as to an Active Directory account) during the timeframe, that can easily be removed. It may also be a good idea to set up a Skype account for you and the temporary helper for quick questions should you be traveling internationally.

4: Clarify support expectations

If the office is closed for an official holiday, does IT need to offer the full level of support? Sure, a server host down would need to be addressed. But if a marketing analyst wants to work on a presentation on New Year's Day and can't get the VPN connected, does that need PC support on-call attention? Clarify the expectation with management on what level of service is to be provided and whether it is on-call only or required to be in-office.

5: Address what you know will be an issue

Chances are, there is something that regularly needs interaction. Whether it's changing the tape, a periodic reboot of a system, or moving a file through a system that gets hung up, you should address it. If you can, write up a procedure for each of these situations, especially the most common ones, like restoring a file or resetting a system. If a system won't be accessed over the holidays, schedules can be changed to save work on an automated process that will need attention anyway.

6: Move schedules around

If there's a task that's somewhat regular yet requires more interaction than you can comfortably hand off, you might want to move the schedule so that it happens right before you leave or upon your return. In the backup tape example, you might tweak the schedule so that a full backup happens right before you leave and incremental backups happen daily for 10 days instead of seven. Of course, make sure the overall level of protection is not affected! This is especially attractive if there are no foreseen changes from a number of days that the office may be closed and no material changes will be brought into systems.

7: Upgrade the phone and Internet access

If your organization has a commercial wireless account, you may be able to add features to your phone's data plan to be fully connected during your absence without incurring fees on your personal account. This can include international dialing or getting a loaner smartphone that has direct email access for quick responses.

Consider utilizing a tethering option to give a laptop access to the Internet. It can be through a mobile phone that provides this through an application or built-in Wi-Fi hotspot capability. Wireless broadband cards can also give connectivity on the go. Anyone who has an on-call burden can go to holiday events and take the laptop and Internet access with them.

8: Clear the calendar

The New Year is just that, a new year. Any substantive work should start then. So if a new matter arises, it may be wise to push it to January instead of taking on any additional work. Running up against a deadline is difficult, and in most situations the customers will understand if something needs to be pushed back to after the first of the year.

9: Change passwords

If you give someone privileged access to an admin account, prevent the password from changing during the holiday period and reset it upon your return. The same goes for your own user account. If by chance anything is using your user account, you'll want to know about it beforehand. Change your own password a week or so before the holidays.

10: Set up email auto responder and give some alternate contact

When I go on vacation, I check in to both my work and personal accounts but still have an auto responder in place. The auto responder must state when you will return, how to get in touch with someone if this is urgent, and whether you expect this email to be replied to during your absence. You also may share your mobile phone with your helping person so you can be reached, even if only via a text message. Google Voice is now free, and this can be a great way to centralize calls and text messaging or to set up a temporary support number for the holidays that rings all administrators, including the on-call staff.

You can add more specific application and system tasks via automation. I've used Windows Scheduled Tasks or other scripts to do something I know will be an issue, such as restarting a delicate system.

Other steps?

The systems will survive, but will you survive the holidays? How do you go about getting out of the office? Share your tips below.