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Clear message


Coordinating an organization with a brick-and-mortar office is hard enough. When all of the staff are volunteers whose primary responsibilities are school or paid jobs, it gets a lot harder. Now scatter these volunteers across the world and have them communicate soley through the Internet, where it's easy to ignore e-mails while maintaining plausible deniability of blame. This is our current staffing situation, so it's important that we have some communication ground rules.

Who is affected?

Every member of the co-op has some response time obligation: we will feel free to let members' services stop working if they don't respond to e-mail after, say, a month, and we will feel free to kick members out of the co-op after the time period of non-payment specified in our HcoopBylaws, sending warnings only through e-mail.

However, members who volunteer for particular roles take on additional, far greater communication responsibilities. One volunteer in a key role can derail our entire operation by not communicating effectively.

Response time caps

Every member in one of these roles needs to have a concrete response time cap listed on this page:

By default, a volunteer's cap is considered to be 48 hours. Volunteers may voluntarily lower their caps. Increasing your cap above 48 hours requires approval by a majority vote of the board of directors.

Here are the current volunteers and their caps. The list starts out with 48 hours for everyone, and people come here and change their own caps as they like.

First Response rule

The basic function of your cap is to dictate how soon you must respond to messages that need a reply from you.

By when must you reply?

These rules are intended to apply to a variety of Internet communications. Generally there's a pretty good folk idea of what's a message, what isn't, when a message is sent, and when a message is delivered. The general intent of the First Response rule is to say that you must respond to a message that needs a reply from you no later than the time that the message was sent plus your response cap.

The Internet has all sorts of fun possibilities for unreliable or delayed message delivery. Using the time that the message was sent makes it easier for the sender to understand others' expectations, though. As a compromise, we interpret the response time window as starting at the message delivery time only if delivery occurs more than 30 minutes after sending. Messages will generally contain information on when they were sent, so that readers can determine which case of the rule applies.

What needs a reply from you?

Bugzilla Policy

If an admin recieves an email about a new bug, and the bug:

  1. is still open
  2. [and] is assigned to the admin in question
  3. [and] does not depend on any open bugs
  4. [and] is of severity S1, S2, or S3

The admin in question will either reply by posting a comment to the bug or else perform some action which causes (1), (2), (3), or (4) to no longer be true.

What should you say in a reply?

Often this is obvious. Sometimes, your schedule means that you can't deal properly with a request within its reply time window. In these cases, you should reply acknowledging receipt of the message and giving a concrete date/time deadline by which you will give the request the attention it needs. There are no restrictions on how far in the future the deadline can be, but you should try to be reasonable.

If 24 hours have passed from a deadline that you gave in a past reply and you're still not ready to handle it, you should reply again to that Bugzilla bug/mailing list thread/etc. giving a new deadline. This process repeats indefinitely. Obviously people aren't going to be happy if you just keep looping through this forever.

What if you can't reply?

We'll be understanding if you have a genuine emergency. However, people disagree on what is a good enough emergency. A life-threatening situation or a situation where you need to focus on some task non-stop to avoid losing valuable property, getting kicked out of your apartment, etc., would qualify. Being really busy at work or in dealing with some other crisis will probably not qualify if you nonetheless end up in front of a computer regularly, able to send e-mail. Nothing that you know about in advance, during a period when you're able to send e-mail, will qualify, and here's why:

Any volunteer can take any amount of "time off" at any time, just by e-mailing the hcoop-sysadmin list. The message subject should start with the text "AWAY", followed by as concrete a designation of a time period as possible. The message body should describe prospects for Internet access during your away time, along with any other information that could help avoid a communication crisis. You don't need to explain where you'll be, why you won't be able to reply, etc., but you can if you want to.

It shouldn't be surprising that the board of directors will feel justified in removing someone from a sysadmin role if he "abuses" this possibility by being "away" so much that he effectively isn't an admin. Also, if a board member tries this trick, the general membership will feel justified in voting out that board member, as described in the HcoopBylaws. But we're all going to do our best to be understanding.

If you have any kind of emergency but have the time and opportunity to send an AWAY message before you need to switch to full focus on that emergency, please do so!

Important: During a declared AWAY time, the TaskDistribution table is used to determine who is responsible for an absent volunteer's duties. When a person marked as primary assignee for a task is AWAY, the secondary person takes over with respect to the First Response rule for messages that would have been considered the responsibility of the absent member due to their subject matter. The secondary person also needs to take over doing the actual work in his marked task areas, of course.


VolunteerResponsePolicy (last edited 2011-03-02 00:19:06 by ClintonEbadi)