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I work for a three year old, small sized software development company - more or less 20 employees. The company has used from the beginning strategies of giving employees relative freedom on their work conditions in order to engage them into the company - salaries are not very high, I mean, for us the free time management, which is not very usual on Spain, is like part of our salary - and all of them are free to choose their work timings if they concur with all the workmates by at least four hours. In most cases, those conditions are agreed verbally, not in the contract.

Currently the company is releasing a big software suite for its main customer, and the company is facing a delicate situation: from today, the customer will begin using the software for their daily sales operation. Their sales volume is important and their activity is very frantic, so if the software or systems fails, the customer will loose thousands $ per hour. Its commercial activity goes from 7:00 to 22:00, even weekends.

Today management told us they need to activate some upkeep plan, so they need to find a rotating schedule which may include some people to work on the afternoon, or maybe work on the morning but "be available on the afternoon for being called at any time and immediately connect to fix problems". They shown open to hear our proposals and to pay for the "being available" fact. The company has so few top workers that this will mean more or less that top workers will have to do dhose availability changes maybe one week a month, maybe more.

After some talks with all the work mates it seems that, being paid or not, everyone disagrees with any work timing change or upkeep. We simply aren't good with any change - people are very tired of years of excessive work and no enough qualified mates, and since what was told on a previous comment, we see loosing our personal life conciliation like a salary reduction. We have even checked the legal issues and it seems that the company can't legally change our work times - Spain worker protection laws, even verbally agreed work time is a strict contract.

But my concrete question is next: this surely isn't the first company facing this kind of event. How does this normally happen? Which is the right way to do this for all involved parties? What uses the company to do? What uses the workers to do? Are we being absolute jerks for not wanting to cooperate? Is the company behavior a clear no-no and shouldn't we feel remorse for blocking the situation?

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    What do you think the company should be doing instead of their proposal? – Patricia Shanahan Oct 15 at 22:24
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    @PatriciaShanahan Exactly what I was going to ask. Clearly there must be software support. If not the existing team, who does the support? – DaveG Oct 15 at 22:25
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    What uses the company to do? What uses the workers to do? I'm actually not sure what this means. Are you asking what each of you should do? – BSMP Oct 15 at 22:27
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    For a startup with 20 people, this doesn't sound too unreasonable and it could be a lot worse. At least they're not asking you to be fixing bugs at 3 AM. – AffableAmbler Oct 15 at 22:38
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    What country are we talking about? That might be important. – PeteCon Oct 16 at 0:00
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After some talks with all the work mates it seems that, being paid or not, everyone disagrees with any work timing change or upkeep.

That's why they didn't consult the employees whether they want a change because the answer was always going to be "no". Instead they were smart and asked for their input on how that change may look like.

We have even checked the legal issues and it seems that the company can't legally change our work times.

I don't know where you live but that rarely is true with employees who want to remain employed, I would run that by an actual lawyer before thinking that you are in the clear as it is almost never so simple. More so as you mention that all those agreements are verbal, not part of the written contract.

How does this normally happen? Which is the right way to do this for all involved parties?

It normally happens (in sensible companies) in similar way to what you are experiencing. Up until now you had very much free reign in terms of scheduling and now this will require changing to meet the new business needs, so the management made an honest and open request for you guys to suggest how to organize it instead of just imposing new working terms.

Are we being absolute jerks for not wanting to cooperate? Is the company behavior a clear no-no and shouldn't we feel remorse for blocking the situation?

I think you are being a bit unreasonable.

The management has reached out, explained an actual problem that the company is facing and what needs to happen in order to overcome it. Their suggestion is even more reasonable as, right of the bat, they are mentioning that on-call time is going to be compensated for, one way or another.

Which is the right way to do this for all involved parties?

The right way is to start talking and try to agree to a solution that will work for everyone as there are many ways to manage an on-call rotation.

If you will start that conversation as contract negotiation and throwing legalities around then it may be hard, if not impossible, to repair the damage this can cause to an otherwise good relationship. Because in the end the problem needs a solution, and if you all refuse to help out with what, so far, is a sensible request then the management will likely reconsider if you are the type of employee that's worth keeping.

And that may happen not because you refuse to partake in the on-call rotation, but because you even refuse to have a basic conversation about the very real problem that the company is now facing, a company on which you all depend for salaries.

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    +10 - for that last sentence! – thursdaysgeek Oct 16 at 0:12
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    Yes. Normally when employees won't do what the company needs them to do they hire new ones that will and quietly let the others go when conditions permit. – Kilisi Oct 16 at 2:26
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    I added some more info to the question in order to clarify. But, at the same time, I don't want to focus excessively on our personal position. I want to keep the focus on the now-we-need-upkeeps issue and how "normal" this is, and also wanting to change the work time rules for employees instead of solving the new needs by growing the workforce, when our privileged work times was an important part of our salary. Personally, workforce have been feeling abused by the work amount from years and that is clearly the reason for our attitude, but i'd prefer to keep that off – Mike Oct 16 at 6:44
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    @Mike since you don't want the focus on those details then why add them? Reality is that employers can change the work contract when the business needs change, and those employees who will refuse to accept the new terms will likely be terminated. This may cost the company a bit - between recruitment fees, redundancy payments, whatever, but if they want to change your work contract, they will as long as you want to stay employed. If this place is so bad as you describe it then the on call work is likely least of your problems. – Tymoteusz Paul Oct 16 at 7:42
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    @TymoteuszPaul I want the question to focus on one concrete issue so the answers can be precise, bit I also wanto to provide some conversational details to people investing time in commenting, since when I participate on stackexchange posts I also like that the OP give me more details – Mike Oct 16 at 8:28
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While a company might be able to legally change your hours, if they're also underpaying and it upsets people, they'll find that good people will leave and they'll have to pay more to attract replacements.

Out of hours support is something that many companies need to do, so you and they need to find a solution that works for everyone. It should recognise that some people aren't available 24/7, and that for others being available affects their quality of life.

If you're a single parent, then there are times you won't be available, and if you have a long commute you won't be able to come into the office quickly.

First, 'being available' needs to be defined. Are you expected to be at home, sober and ready to jump on a computer instantly, or can you be an hour away? Is just being on a phone sufficient? Companies that are new to this may leave this vague, then blame you after an emergency. They also need a process for when you have a family emergency and need to pass the 'duty' on to someone else.

Next the employees need to decide what they would consider reasonable payment, both for being 'on call' and for time spent workout out of hours. People will have different values for their free time, and the company doesn't need everyone to be on call, so there's room for negotiation.

A good starting point is to pay you 10% of your hourly rate just for being on call (carrying a company phone, staying sober, being able to connect via VPN within half an hour) and then either 150% of your hourly rate or 1.5 hours of extra time-off for every hour you work.

Some people will probably jump at the chance to earn a little extra, others would have to be paid a lot more to miss their regular leisure activities that aren't compatible with being on-call.

At the start of the scheme, the employees need to recognise that out-of-hours support is essential to the company's success, and the company needs to realise that they need to pay for it and not just demand it.

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To answer your first question: Many large companies do indeed do this type of on-call thing. I once worked at a company which did this personally.

To answer your second-fifth question: Generally this is in the contract, that you have to perform on-call work. Usually everyone pitches in, and the more skilled people teach the less skilled people, until everyone on the team is qualified to do on-call, so the more-skilled people can have their free time. I've mostly seen on-call rotations (ones that I've participated in and ones that people I know have participated in) to be around a week per person.

As this is a new rule at the company and wasn't in your contract, if you (as a group, collectively) reject the idea of on-call, the company may ask you to renegotiate your contract, at which point you have the freedom to leave if the terms are not to your liking. Or, if you are not willing to leave but also not willing to perform on-call duties, your company may find you redundant and find a way to replace you "for performance-related reasons".

The idea of an on-call rotation is a must-have for your company to attract clients (and keep clients they have already attracted). That's non-negotiable, there will be an on-call rotation. The only question is whether or not you will be part of the rotation, or if you will find another company that does not have such a rotation.

To answer your last 2 questions: I don't think it's a matter of "being a jerk" or not. The fact of the matter is, your company needs this to do business and get clients to pay them money to pay your salary. The choice is not between "do on-call" or "don't do on-call". The choice is between "do on-call" or "lose your job because your company goes bankrupt due to not being able to attract customers". Which of those scenarios is the most beneficial for you?

Now, here's the real solution: Write good code. If your code is good and your application is solid and your infrastructure is stable, then your code won't crash at 10pm on a Saturday and whoever is on-call, which might be you, won't have to deal with it. The better your coding standards are, the less bugs you'll have to fix on a Saturday night you're trying to spend relaxing with your family. This includes both yourself, but also your peers. Don't merge buggy or poorly-written code, don't deploy untested code, don't excuse mistakes or errors. In addition to this, also you should take effort to teach your peers how to be better developers, both so that they can meet these high standards themselves, but also so that they can also take on-call duties, so you have to do them less frequently.

This is an opportunity to raise your coding standards bar and to mentor your teammates who are probably looking for mentorship and don't want to be junior level their whole lives. So go out and do that.

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this surely isn't the first company facing this kind of event. How does this normally happen?

Usually this happens in similar way: the company worked for some time to create a nice product, however now they need to support it and in addition to "normal" customer support they need developers who are familiar with the system to be available 24/7/365 so if system goes down there is going to be a people who might make a decision on what part of the system could be rolled back or patched up to get going and if there are some additional people are needed to fix the system (every time I dealt with the on call that meant that you are not alone but you are the first line that makes a decision if the system needs patching up they can start ball rolling and get everyone else involved all the way from fellow teammates, QAs to the upper management and PMs).

Which is the right way to do this for all involved parties?

The right way is to accept that one way or another this should be done and start thinking about the best way how this could be implemented so you are not going to hate it and company would be able to support the product. Start figure out what are real responsibilities for the on call, what is the backup plan for the case when person who is on call is unable to respond immediately (if company is reasonable they would not expect you to sit in from of you PC for 24/7/duration of your on call), probably need to make clear that person on call should be taken off the regular projects for the duration of their duty and do not "miss" the incidents on purpose.

Are we being absolute jerks for not wanting to cooperate? Is the company behavior a clear no-no and shouldn't we feel remorse for blocking the situation?

From what I understood your company is finally releasing a gamechanger, potentially something that is very important on the road of further gross or it is very possible that it solely existed that somebody in the past pitched the idea about this suite and somebody invested the money in the company to be able to make it. Either way it sounds like it is now a huge selling point to pay the bills and your salary. With all this said I can see that now it requires a bit more from the team, however there are two ways out of it: either cooperate and try to minimize potential issues with the on call by trying to come up with something that is going to work for everyone or look for the job where you are not going to do this.

I personally was in the companies that did not do it, was in the company that did it in a way that it didn't really interfered with your personal life and was in the company where on call was handled awfully. Basically it all comes down to the team, reasonable expectations from the oncall person (hint: if responsibility is to rewrite the whole system at 2 AM then it is unreasonable) and routines in place on how to handle critical situations as well as openness of the management to adjust the routines if 50+% of the team say that something doesn't work and suggest on how it should be changed.

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  • I added some more info to the question in order to clarify. But, at the same time, I don't want to focus excessively on our personal position. I want to keep the focus on the now-we-need-upkeeps issue and how "normal" this is, and also wanting to change the work time rules for employees instead of solving the new needs by growing the workforce, when our privileged work times was an important part of our salary. Personally, workforce have been feeling abused by the work amount from years and that is clearly the reason for our attitude, but i'd prefer to keep that off – Mike Oct 16 at 6:44
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    @Mike Is it common? For the companies that have a critical product that should work 24/7/264 yes (my parents have to deal with this since early 90th). If you feel like you've been abused for years by the company (totally understand that and on call would do things even worse) now you have a good excuse to move on. Keep in mind that since the team is not cooperating they might start hiring new people for the on call duties "which also would help with development" and when they would get enough people they might start letting go the ones they have today. – AlexanderM Oct 16 at 13:55
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If the company is releasing this software and only now starting to think about needing people to do support, then the company screwed up pretty big. This discussion with the the team should have started weeks, if not months, ago. I'm fairly sure that "the big release" wasn't planned out yesterday and I'm also fairly sure that the client didn't suddenly demand on-call support at the last minute.

Someone should have thought of this earlier, and taken the time to sort out a plan. Then they would have learned about the team's reluctance on time, and could have taken steps. Now, they're in the dump and it's in no way a fault of the development team. (You could have asked questions about support during the project, but it's not really your job to do so)

But that doesn't change that the company now has a problem that needs fixing. It's not your fault, nor your responsibility, but that doesn't mean there's not something constructive you can maybe do. You'll have to understand that the company must resolve this situation, somehow. If none of the team are willing to budge on this, then their only way forward is replacing it with people who will work these hours. This is, of course, awful for all parties. The company ends up with a bunch of untrained people and the team ends up without a job.

So you'll need to ask yourself if there's anything you can offer, and anything you want in return. Maybe you are willing to be on call for one day a week (do you have a day you normally spend relaxing? do you expect a lot of calls? perhaps you can combine things) if they pay you a lot of extra money (so that you can relax in more style?). Maybe you are willing to be on call if you only have to work half hours for the rest of the week? Maybe you are willing to be reachable to answer questions by phone, but don't want to code? (The company could hire a new tech and you can help that tech pinpoint issues faster, and it won't cost you as much time)

But then again, maybe you are not willing to put in any hours outside of your normal hours. That is perfectly reasonable. If you took the job for the flexible hours, then this makes the job a poor fit for you. You can tell your bosses as much. Do keep in mind this might make you lose your job; but then a new job elsewhere might be better than your new job here.

Being stubborn is almost certainly going to leave you without a job, because the company's situation needs to be resolved. But being honest about having nothing to offer them is reasonable, as long as you are willing to accept the consequences of doing so. Employment is a two-way street and both parties need to be content with how things are working out.

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