Managing On-Call Rotations: Navigating Incident Management from Chaos to Calm

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Managing On-Call Rotations: Navigating Incident Management from Chaos to Calm

Navigating On-Call rotations can often feel like taming a storm of alerts and constant disruptions, leaving teams overwhelmed and stressed. Hence there is a need to streamline On-Call rotations and leverage concerned software to restore order and peace. In this guide, you’ll explore practical tips, best practices, and smart strategies to transform your Incident Management process. Let’s get to a more efficient On-Call experience.

What is On-Call rotation?

An On-Call rotation is when team members take turns being available during business and non-business hours to handle urgent issues, incidents or emergencies. They need to respond quickly to any problems that may come up, ensuring that services run smoothly even during off-hours. On-Call rotation is common in but not limited to IT, healthcare, and customer support industries, where continuous service is essential for success.

On-Call rotation aims to avoid any unforeseen major incident or tackle them before they escalate to something serious and result in SLA violations. So, it’s the first step towards ensuring customer satisfaction & reliability. 

With a diverse user base spanning across different time zones, some organizations would need a solution to ensure 24/7 support without causing burnout. Having ‘follow the sun’ schedule for an On-Call would help address the requirement. It is a strategy that ensures round-the-clock coverage and support for customers or clients in different time zones. 

This arrangement involves scheduling On-Call responsibilities based on the working hours of different regions.

For example, if your company operates in multiple locations globally, you could divide the On-Call duties into three shifts: Americas, Europe/Africa, and Asia/Pacific. 

The America shift would cover the working hours in North and South America, while the Europe/Africa shift would handle the European and African time zones, and the Asia/Pacific shift would take care of the working hours in Asia and the Pacific region.

This schedule helps ensure that there is always someone available On-Call. Here is a case study demonstrating flexible scheduling implementation by Klever’s On-Call team. 

They’ve efficiently organized their on-call team into squads responsible for specific regions and time zones. Team members can set their preferred On-Call slots, enabling a fair distribution of responsibilities and a healthier work-life balance. 

Key challenges in On-Call rotations

1. Stress & burnout causing improper work-life balance

Being constantly available and dealing with critical incidents can cause high stress and burnout among On-Call personnel. Poorly designed On-Call rotations can lead to sleep deprivation, anxiety & reduced productivity.

On-Call schedule

2. False alarms causing alert fatigue

On-Call engineers may receive alerts or notifications for non-critical issues, leading to unnecessary disruptions and wasted effort. They might experience lack of concentration during critical incident or while getting a feature out.

3. Knowledge transfer & skill set variance

Ensuring smooth handovers and effective knowledge transfer between On-Call shifts can be difficult, risking miscommunication or incomplete incident understanding. Not all team members have the same level of expertise, and certain incidents might require specific skills, which can be a challenge during On-Call rotations. 

4. Managing peak loads

During periods of high activity, such as holidays or product launches, managing On-Call rotations effectively becomes crucial to handle increased incident volume. 

5. Negative employee morale

Continuous On-Call duties without proper recognition or support may negatively impact employee morale and job satisfaction.

6. Guarantying reduced response time

Quick response times in various time zones can be challenging, especially when team members are located globally. Inadequate documentation and communication practices can also hinder incident resolution, leading to delays in MTTR

7. Access to accurate tooling

On-Call engineers require fast and secure access to the systems and data for troubleshooting and resolving incidents. Without the toolset in hands, they’ll miss alerts, and which will result in higher mean time to acknowledge.

And these challenges keep piling up based on the nature of your IT Incident Management processes.

On Call Schedule
The right Incident Management softwares will not let you feel this way!

Addressing On-Call rotation challenges requires thoughtful planning, clear policies, and ongoing support to ensure that these rotations are efficient, sustainable, and beneficial for both the organization and its employees.

So, how do I effectively schedule On-Call rotations?

For an On-Call rotation schedule that covers all the key challenges & also promotes a healthy culture with best SRE practices, follow these:

  1. Best practices for effective On-Call management
  2. Empower developers for On-Call success
  3. Mitigate On-Call challenges with technology

For targeting all the above, here’s what you need to do:

Follow best practices for On-Call management

Establishing Clear Communication Channels

  • Designate primary communication channels (e.g., phone, messaging, email) for On-Call alerts and responses. Allow On-Call responders to get customized alert notification from channels like phone, email, push & email.

Defining Incident Severity Levels and Escalation Paths

  • Categorize incidents into severity levels (e.g., low, medium, high) based on their impact on customers and services. 
  • Define clear escalation policies for each severity level, outlining who to notify and when to escalate. Escalation Policy counters delayed response in On-Call rotation by automatically routing alerts to the next level of support if not addressed promptly. 
  • Irrespective of your team size, a direct escalation policy promotes a better On-Call rotation process.
  • Following a round-robin schedule promotes accountability and ensures each team member gains experience in handling diverse incidents.

Documentation and Knowledge Sharing

  • Maintain a centralized knowledge base with detailed documentation of past incidents and their resolutions. 
  • Runbooks provide clear and detailed instructions for handling incidents, ensuring efficient and consistent responses from On-Call personnel. Leverage runbook automation for achieving faster incident recovery with Squadcast. Check best practices for runbook automation, if you want to know more.
  • Encourage On-Call engineers to document their actions and findings during their shifts if they encounter any incident.
  • Foster a culture of knowledge sharing and learning from past experiences to improve Incident Management.

Implementing Proper Tooling and Automation

Empower developers for On-Call success

Utilizing & Tracking Metrics for On-Call Rotations

  • Distribute On-Call responsibilities among team members in a fair and balanced manner to ensure that no single team member is overloaded with On-Call duties.
  • Analyze relevant metrics regularly & identify potential areas for improvement in the On-Call process. 
  • Monitor the time taken to resolve (MTTR)& acknowledge (MTTA) incidents and restore services to evaluate efficiency.
  • Set benchmarks for response and resolution times to maintain service level agreements (SLAs).

Continuous Improvement through Post-Incident Reviews

  • Conduct root cause analysis after critical issues to identify reasons and areas of improvement. An incident post mortem promotes clear communication & understanding of the incident resolving process.
  • Encourage open and honest communication during reviews to learn from mistakes and successes.
  • Implement changes based on review findings to enhance On-Call performance and Incident Management.

Establish straightforward On-Call responsibilities

  • Avoid leaving team members feeling adrift during On-Call shifts, especially during odd hours when immediate communication might not be possible.
  • Clarify whether being On-Call involves merely responding to alerts as they arise or requires active monitoring. Define the required steps for team members if they encounter a problem they cannot immediately resolve. 
  • Support night shift employees with flexible morning hours, prioritize rest and sleep, and foster open communication about On-Call rotation's potential negative impacts.

Mitigating On-Call challenges with technology

Modern Incident Management tools like SquadcastPagerdutyOpsgenie, etc. offer a single source of truth for all incidents, consolidating alerts from various monitoring tools in one dashboard. 

Centralizing Alerts and Streamlining On-Call Workflows

  • On-Call schedules are seamlessly managed, ensuring the right person is notified and accountable for each incident.
  • Automated escalation policies ensure that unresolved incidents are promptly escalated to the appropriate team member or manager, preventing potential delays in incident resolution.

Benefit from Real-Time Notifications

  • Real-time notifications are sent to On-Call responders via multiple channels like SMS, phone calls, emails, or push notifications, ensuring they are always informed about ongoing incidents.
  • With real-time alerts, responders can take immediate action, reducing Mean Time to Acknowledge (MTTA) and Mean Time to Resolve (MTTR).

Integrating On-Call Schedules with Collaboration Tools

  • Seamless integration with team collaboration tools like Slack and Microsoft Teams enables smooth communication during incidents.
  • On-Call handovers become more efficient as responders can easily collaborate, share updates, and access documentation in the same workspace.

Foster Collaboration and Knowledge Sharing

  • Shared platforms like Google Docs and Confluence pages encourage On-Call team members to collaboratively document incident resolutions, post-mortems, and best practices.
  • Knowledge sharing fosters a culture of learning and continuous improvement within the team.

Mobile Applications for Incident Acknowledgment

  • Mobile applications empower On-Call responders to acknowledge incidents anytime, anywhere, even if they are not at their desk.
  • Mobile access ensures that critical issues are acknowledged promptly, reducing response times and improving customer satisfaction. For instance, Squadcast mobile app helps keep your services always on and stay in control during incidents

Squadcast comes to rescue in the face of On-Call rotation challenges!

On Call Rotation

When it comes to navigating the complexities of On-Call rotation, rest assured that Squadcast has your back. 

Here’s how:

With Squadcast's intelligent automation, you can effectively combat alert fatigue and streamline your On-Call processes. The platform offers routing rules based on event tags, ensuring that alerts reach the right On-Call responder promptly and efficiently. By defining tags for services and adding granular conditions, you have full control over how incidents are managed.

incident routing intelligence

To minimize alert noise, Squadcast allows you to group and organize duplicate alerts using alert deduplication rules. This ensures that your team focuses on critical issues and reduces unnecessary distractions.

Assigning priority to incidents is made simple with P1, P2, and P3 and similar custom classifications. Critical incidents that demand immediate attention can be classified as P1, while still high-priority threats with a 24-hour response time can fall under P2. Less urgent alerts can be categorized as P3, helping your team prioritize their actions accordingly.

alert deduplication rule

To avoid confusion during On-Call rotations, Squadcast's escalation policies come to the rescue. You can set up multiple layers within the policies and define time frames, ensuring that the right person receives the alert without disturbing additional responders during odd-hours. This flexibility accommodates multiple users who take turns handling On-Call responsibilities, making scheduling a breeze.

Escalation Policy

Squadcast allows users to customize notification mediums. On-Call responders can choose their preferred means of notification, whether it's through email, push notifications, or text messages, optimizing their response time and ensuring they stay connected.

With the Squadcast Slackbot, incident response communication is strengthened. Creating an incident or utilizing message actions is as simple as calling the Squadcast Bot into the relevant channel, making coordination seamless and effortless.

Squadcast Incident Slackbot

The concept of squads further enhances teamwork within your organization. By creating squads, you can directly assign certain incidents to specific groups within teams. This feature ensures that On-Call members are added to schedules and receive simultaneous notifications during critical situations. Squads serve as coordinated response units, acting as the final level of notification in an Escalation Policy when an incident remains unacknowledged. This robust approach guarantees effective Incident Management and promotes smooth coordination within your team.

Incident Management Squads

Incorporating Squadcast into your On-Call scheduling brings a wealth of benefits, helping you optimize incident response, minimize alert fatigue, and foster collaborative teamwork. Discover the power of Squadcast and experience a better way to manage On-Call rotations and incident handling.

Squadcast effectively addresses On-Call challenges in a subtle manner, making it a great alternative to other On-Call alerting tools in the market. When compared to other competitors, Squadcast offers optimized pricing too. Check out Squadcast as a Pagerduty alternative and Opsgenie alternative.

Interested to know more about Squadcast? Here’s where you book a Squadcast demo!

Organizations Implementing Effective On-Call Management with Squadcast

There are many Squadcast’s On-Call rotation case studies that have cracked the code to manage On-Call rotations. Notable ones include:

  1. Milk Moovement carved the path to efficient escalation and operational excellence.
  2. Mailbird soared from reactive to proactive incident response across time zones for their On-Call responders.
  3. Klever went from manual to automated On-Call scheduling, elevating their global response time.
  4. Isha Foundation is harnessing automation for streamlined alert routing with robust On-Call practices.
  5. Publica has a lower mean time to resolve, better communication & ownership with streamlined On-Call rotation.
PagerDuty Alternative

Promoting Better On-Call Rotations. Are You Ready?

On-Call engineers act as the frontline in detecting and resolving customer-impacting outages promptly. Establishing an effective On-Call rotation process is vital to achieve round-the-clock issue management and provide continuous support. 

With the right approach, you'll be On-Callin' it like a pro! 

Squadcast is a Reliability Workflow platform that integrates On-Call alerting and Incident Management along with SRE workflows in one offering. Designed for a zero-friction setup, ease of use and clean UI, it helps developers, SREs and On-Call teams proactively respond to outages and create a culture of learning and continuous improvement.