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How much time do you spend on-call?

By DemRoyer ·
As anyone who is in IT knows, being on-call for after hours support in some way, shape, or form usually comes with the territory. But how much after hours support is reasonable to expect from IT staff? This is the hot topic around my office right now.

My company provides a high-volume 24/7 service to the public, and due to the nature of the service we tend to be busiest at night and on week-ends (which means the majority of service-affecting problems tend to happen during those hours). Being a somewhat small company, we have a limited number of staff to contend with these outages (right now we have 3 people on the rotation). Our technicians are on-call for a week at a time, and typically log somewhere between 2 and 12 hours of off-hours support throughout the week they are on-call (4 - 6 hours is probably the average). They are compensated for this extra work by a combination of OT and comp time. This of course does not alleviate the fact that the on-call person is typically dragging the week they are on-call (especially the ones who don't fall back asleep easily after being called at 3:00AM).

Unfortunately, while I'd love to provide onsite 24/7 support, there isn't enough operational work to justify having someone in the office all night to deal with the 2 or 3 support situations that may come up. What I'm wondering is whether this is a problem for other small (or even large) companies. How much time do your support technicians spend providing after hours support, and how are they compensated for this? Does the on-call responsibility ever create a morale issue? If so, how do you deal with it? I'm really curiuous about how other companies are handling this situation...

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Our typical on call

by mjd420nova In reply to How much time do you spen ...

Our on call policy is based on the regular employees doing a normal eight hour day, and the on call person begins his/her DUTY at 5PM monday until 6AM the following day, for one week, from 5PM to 6AM only. The on call person must stop in the office to pick up repair/tool kits just for those customers equipment that have to be supported 24/7. If the off going person fails to return the parts to the office on Monday, they are resonsible to provide the support until the parts are returned so the next person can take up the gauntlet. Luckily not all of our customers are willing to pay for or need 24/7 coverage.

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As the only tech in my territory

by NickNielsen In reply to Our typical on call

I'm on call 24/7/365. Since I must respond within one hour after being called, I am very limited in what I can do and where I can go. For being available, I am compensated 2 hours pay for each non-workday on call.

If I am called out in the evening, I am allowed to start my day late the next day. This usually results in me starting at 9 or 10 since I don't often sleep past my normal wake-up.

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As the IT deptarment of 1

by dechevarria In reply to As the only tech in my te ...

I am on call 24/7/365. As the only the IT person in the company, I am responsible for all support calls relating to IT and Phones. Fortunately my boss is very understanding when I need to shift hours to take an unscheduled day due to my support schedule.

However, I did work for large banking institute at one time with a large IT department and still found myself on the 24/7/365 schedule with NO compensation.

So as you can see it depends on the company.

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On call

by thomascruff In reply to As the IT deptarment of 1

I recently worked for a large shop that required on-call. They had a primary/backup type setup and a call escalation tree.

However, when the call got escalated to 1st level management, he/she would just go through the numbers in his cell phone until he found someone, on call or not. Even those on vacation were subject to calls if the primary/backup did not answer or could not solve the problem.

They did not compensate for on-call, nor did the off-hour calls excuse you from the 45 hours (8-5)you were supposed to be in the office every week.

This company even charged the people who were issued phones $15 a month for any personal calls they might make on the company cell phone.

Needless to say, I have moved on to a better environment.

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It's a little different in the mainframe world

by OldMainframer In reply to Our typical on call

...but some of the issues still apply.

At the current company, one person is designated on-call for the week. Some things come up during the normal 8-5 workday and some things come up during the overnight hours. The on-call person is expected to be the primary point of contact, but sometimes, one of the other team members has a better perspective or experience to solve the problem. We have no problem supporting each other in this regared.

On-call here has always been kind of quiet. Compensated? No. But, it's not too bad.

One former company was a nighmare, but that would take a book to explain how bad it was....

An earlier company, we had enough staff to handle the evening hours ONE day per month. At that time, we were expected to come in at 5 pm and stay until the cycles were all more or less done (say 3-5 AM). Compensation was that if you stayed "too long", you were not expected in the next day. Since we all worked 45-50 hours/week anyway, I'd have to say, we were not compensated...

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We faced a similar issue

by rclark In reply to How much time do you spen ...

We are a 24/7/365 regional hospital. All of our staff is subject to call in different ways. Like you we started with a weekly call schedule. Every one except the analysts had to take the beeper, cell phone and laptop home. That lasted until they were getting two or three calls a night.

We finally went to 24/5 coverage. During the week, we have three shifts; days, evenings and nights. In order to get these positions productive, we have moved most of the computer setup and reformat to second and third shifts. They are also responsible for calling the analysts when something goes wrong and implementing the solution set for the problems.

What this does is to relieve the normal day shift from most of the weekday after hours support.

Then everyone only has to worry about call on weekends.

The analysts are on call 24/7, but they have hands on the other end of the phone to help fix the problem so it doesn't take so long. This way, the only really functional requirement is that we have to get our brain in gear at 3:00 a.m.

Most of the time, I get called about 3 times a week somewhere around 1:00 a.m. or 4:00 a.m. That is when the end of day process starts and end, and those are critical points where problems seem to show up.

It is not optimal, but it is working, and our people can sustain it. We have 14 support and 4 analysts for 1200 users.

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Handled with Compensation and User Training

by Kdoyle In reply to We faced a similar issue

We are a 24/7/365 operation and have three employees for our on-call rotation; half the staff we had a little over two years ago. All are salaried ? no overtime. For each week they are on-call they receive a comp day off. We have been successful in reducing the calls received after hours by providing users information on what constitutes an emergency. See verbiage below.

?Calls to the after hours on-call phone should be restricted to work stoppage emergencies only. Emergencies include the inability to access XXXXX or XXXXX, the inability to login, or a power outage. Loss of email or a printer is not considered a work stoppage as phones and faxes are still available and you can print to other printers. These items will be handled the next regular business day.

Please note: Each user receives six grace logins. If it is found that the inability to login was caused by neglect to change the password as prompted, your account will be locked. If the need to fix this results in an after hours call to the on-call phone, your supervisor will be notified as this is a fully-preventable situation.?

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None - Zero, Nada, Zip.

by dryflies In reply to How much time do you spen ...

I am responsible for keeping the network up from 8-5 M-F. if it goes down on weekends or nights it is TS. I do come in on the odd saturday to make changes that would disrupt workflow during the "up" hours.

I have had one outage during the "up" hours while we had electricity. the flash in my firewall got corrupted and I had to reload from an image I had saved. unfortunately, it had been so long since I had reloaded the image that I had to put in a TAC to do it.

During all other network outages, we did not have lights either. Ah the sound of APC alarms in the morning. :-)

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Three Different Approaches

by ngit In reply to How much time do you spen ...

I've worked in three very different organizations that handled the 24/7/365 situations in very different ways.

One organization was an ISP that simply had 24/7 support on-site, though truth be told the night shift tech and supervisor often ended up playing games and monitoring maintenance with the occasional call from a customer.

Another organization had 6 people on the 1st line rotation and 6 people on the 2nd line rotation. The 1st line took all the calls and, if they are unable to fulfill the request due to skill or restricted access permissions, the call would be passed on to the 2nd line rotation. Not surprisingly, Help Desk folks were on the 1st line and Engineers were on the 2nd line. Carrying the pager happened in one week intervals and you were likely to be on call for a week once every month and a half. Compensation was pitiful when I started, but was eventually increased to a pretty respectable sum. Any time spent after hours was directly compensated through overtime pay, but not comp time. Fortunately, call volume wasn't particularly high, except at the beginning of the weekends. The expectation was that calls would be picked up within 15 minutes and the duties grew and expanded to include carrying a laptop and an EVDO-enabled phone during my tenure there.

The last organization had about 50 people on the on-call rotation. There were two tracks: primary and secondary and you only had to be on call one day at a time. The primary on-call person would receive all the calls and the secondary would only come into play if the primary doesn't respond in a timely manner. Due to the sheer number of people on the rotation, you were basically on-call once a month. We were salaried and not given additional compensation, though being a time & materials shop, any time we spent after hours contributed to our billable hours. Calls were picked up by an answering service and the primary was expected to pick them up within 15 minutes; secondaries had 15 minutes to answer from the time they were contacted. After 30 minutes, calls were escalated to management.

Speculating about your situation, having something workable with 3 people on the rotation might be challenging. The best things to take into it would be compassion and respect, in my opinion. Pay them a stipend for taking on the on call duties, especially since you know they're taking multiple calls a night. If you can directly compensate with overtime, do it. If not, beef up the stipend and try to work in some comp time. If your people feel that they are being respected and their needs are being met, then the onerous duty of taking the pager won't seem quite as bad. If they feel like their after hours efforts aren't being appreciated, it's very easy for the human mind to start looking for evidence for why it's going to suck.

While we all have a responsibility for our own attitudes toward work, it's a lot easier when management is respectful and appreciative of the fact that our lives often get "put on hold" when we carry the pager.

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Excellent feedback

by DemRoyer In reply to Three Different Approache ...

Thank you for the detailed feedback and suggestions. We seem to be using a combination of the methods you described above, and are working toward implementing some of the ideas you mentioned. To provide a little further detail on our current situation:

Our on-call rotation has 3 tiers - the first tier is made up of three hourly Help Desk Analysts who are the first point of contact for all after-hours problems. In addition, we have two (and soon to be three) System Admins who provide a second tier of support if the first tier needs to escalate a problem. As a final resort, the 2nd tier can escalate the problem to management (who either helps fix/work-around the problem, or tracks someone down who can). Since the Analysts are hourly, they are compensated via either comp time or OT (they also receive a shift differential for after hours work). The Admins, who are salaried, do not receive OT but can flex their schedules to accommodate the off-hours work.

At this point, a strong possibility seems to be putting both Admins and Analysts on the 1st tier rotation so as to lengthen the time between being on-call from every 3 weeks to every 5 or 6 weeks (with different levels of tech management becoming the permanent 2nd and 3rd tiers). A side benefit of this is that the Admins may be able to permanently resolve some of the repetitive issues if they have to deal with them on a routine basis. The challenge in that is finding a way to equitably compensate the Admins, who are not typically eligible for OT. We've been playing with the stipend idea as a possible option for this.

As for your comment about compassion & respect toward the techs who are shouldering this often burdensome responsibility, I wholeheartedly agree. The problem is that when an employee starts to burn out from a particularly bad week, showing compassion & respect begins to seem like pretty slim comfort.

I?ll keep everyone posted on what we ultimately decide on?

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