So, you find yourself On-Call


Document Email Errors
We all have our favorite errors and solutions.  Do you have these documented?  Plans of actions can be created for each distinct type of error you may encounter.  Having these documented in an organized way will help you determine the steps you need to take when you encounter these errors.  I went thru my emails, and generalized them, grouped them, and stuck them into a spreadsheet with possible solutions.  As I encounter new ones, I plan on adding them into this spreadsheet.  But I need to make sure that I have these in an accessible location when off-site.

Document On-call Process
In a general sense, having a laundry list of steps that ‘should’ be taken when an error occurs will help you stay focused.  Check the cpu, check the disk space, check i/o.  Check whatever you normally check, document it and make a check list out of it.  Follow it.

Cell Phone
Make sure the right people have your number, and that you have your phone with you.  Use your landline while at home.  Use the speaker phone feature to become hands free.  Use an earpiece to become hands free.  Just think of all the things you need to easily use your cell phone and communicate.  Ever run out of battery on your phone?  Keep a charging cord handy too.

Phone Numbers (boss, coworker, helpdesk, Networking)
Another list.  Gather all the important people you may need to communicate with.  Make sure you have all their numbers, and multiple ways to communicate with them, quickly and efficiently.

Email Addresses
Do you know who runs your helpdesk?  Could you email the helpdesk alias?  Or even an individual on the helpdesk?  Do you have personal email addresses to people, in case their work email is not functioning?  Any and all email addresses, in case you cannot reach your company directory.  Make sure you get a list.

Remote Desktop Shortcuts
I always create multiple shortcuts of Remote Desktop links to my favorite servers.  Then I do not have to remember or reference the server list I mentioned earlier.  I can simply click on it, and connect, assuming my connectivity to the office has been established.  Streamlining this process reduces my stress.  Ensuring that its accessible from without the offices, while I am remote is critical.

Access to all relevant files at home and away
Often, I will find that a favorite file that I reference from work is not accessible from home.  I need to have a copy of these local, so that I can reference it easily.

Wireless access – where can you connect from?
If you are lucky enough to have wireless access, have you tested it out?  Can you connect from your bedroom, downstairs in the family room, how about in the car on the freeway, or near your favorite restaurant? Have you tried to connect from your favorite locations?  It is important that you can connect, know how to connect, and don’t fumble with it when the time is at hand.  Practice, practice, practice!

Webmail access
You may have a mail client on your work station.  You may have it on your laptop.  You may get mail on your blackberry/phone.  But what if you are unable to use these devices?  Can you get to your inbox from the web? Does your office email exist on a web based solution?  Have you practiced connecting?

Escalation process
Document your escalation process.  Ensure that you have a copy of it.  Know it by heart. 
Do whatever it takes to be able to successfully navigate it while away from your desk.  There is nothing like being at dinner, getting that email, and not quite knowing what your next step is.  If it’s documented, and known, and widely used by yourself and others, there is less room for error.  Know who you need to escalate different issues too.  When should you call your boss?  When should you call a coworker?  When should you escalate to the Helpdesk?

Learn from others
There is mostly likely someone at your office that knows more than you.  Lean on this person to learn as much as you can about solving issues.  If you are the person that knows it all, share it with others.  Mentor them.  Teach them.  Someone will be the expert, and they can teach you what to do in certain situations.  Even if it’s documented, it’s a good idea to shadow this expert and watch what they do.   Take notes.   Do a dry run with them.  Do as many different errors/issues/etc. as you can; this will only shore up your ability to perform them alone, when the opportunity arises.

Phone
Make sure to keep your phone handy.  Put it in a location where you can see it and hear it.  It doesn’t need to be in your hand 24-7 while on-call, but it needs to be accessible.  At home, I keep it next to my sofa while I watch TV.  I put it on my nightstand at night.  I keep a waterproof container on the boat so when we are boating and I’m on-call, its visible and present.  Whatever you need to do to ensure that it’s there, but not attached to your person, this will help you to relax and enjoy the small amounts of free time you may have while on-call, but also allows you to respond quickly.

Sane Error Notifications
It’s a good idea to setup and properly configure your phone or whatever alerting system you may use to alert you while on-call. However, too much alerting will fray your nerves.  Drill down the list of items to the bare minimum.  I have specific email addresses that are used (4-5 of them) for specific errors and issues.  I’ve setup ringtones on my phone to alert me when these come into my inbox on my phone.  Only these.  This way, I am notified audibly, and not when anything else comes into my mail box.  This has helped me to be better attuned to errors, and not excuse them with the bulk of the other emails, like the boy who cried wolf.
Being on-call can be a huge stress inducing period.  You find yourself going crazy.  You may find yourself visiting jobsites, after you get fed up with enough of the craziness.  However, if you look at how you are handling the on-call timeframe, and leverage some of these ideas, adding to this list with your own ideas and needs, you will find the time spent on-call more manageable.  You may never look forward to it, but it may not be as painful as it has been in the past.  This is my hope for all of you, and for me.

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