The Best Out-Of-Office Message In The Work From Home Era

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Do you turn on out-of-office (OOO) message auto-responders in your email system when you travel for business or take time off? If you do this, people will see something like this when they email you:

“Thanks for your email. I am out of the office with limited access to email until Tuesday, November 13th. If it is urgent, please contact my colleague Fred at [email protected]

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The problem with this message is that you are probably lying. The only people who have limited access to email these days are missionaries who know the Amazon River and a man who goes fishing in Alaska for a couple of weeks every year and leaves his cell phone at home.

The out-of-office message is the 2023 equivalent of a note from your mom excusing you from school on a day you could have moved in, but didn’t because your mom was too tired to fight with you.

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If You Need Help, You’re Out of Luck

We need to reconsider the part of Out of Office messages that says “If you need immediate assistance, please contact…”

How many of us have personal assistants to help us handle our business affairs? So many. Which means that the person you are telling the sender of your email to is probably a co-worker of yours.

Don’t your colleagues already have full time jobs? Do they really need – or want – to handle your stuff because you’re “out of the office”?

what if They out of the office?

Last time I emailed the “urgent support” person in oooo messaging, the person had no idea what to do and didn’t even know he was the contact person. You can guess who he listed as a contact person the next time he was out of the office.

Are you out of the office when you are in your home office?

With so many people working from both home and “the office” these days, it’s worth considering whether you’re “out of the office” when you’re working from home. Wakefield Research studied Americans who work from home, and asked them what they do when they “work” from home. They found that:

  • 43% watch TV or a movie
  • 26% take naps
  • 24% admit to drinking alcohol
  • 20% play video games

In other words: people who work from home are treated no differently than people who go to the office. As a result, you are in the office when you are working from home. Or maybe it just means you’re out of the office all the time.

email problem

Let’s face it: The out-of-office message is just an excuse not to respond to email right away. Personally, I’m thinking of permanently leaving message response out of my office.

Here’s why: The emails we receive mainly fall into four categories, those that: 1) want us to do something for the sender; 2) want us Purchase something from the sender; 3) require us to share information with the sender that we should not share; and 4) provide us with something valuable.

By my estimation, less than 1% of the emails I receive are in that fourth category. An out-of-office message gives me time to respond to an endless stream of requests from people who want something from me.

And a quick response to the 1% of emails that deserve a response makes the sender feel special, like I’m interrupting my vacation just to respond to them (it’s so easy to fool people, isn’t it?) ?).

How to craft your out of office message

A Harvard Business Review article titled Why you should put a little more thought into your out-of-office messaging recommended that:

“Sharing a small piece of information about you, your travels, or your company’s product or service can create a business relationship or a connection the customer may feel toward your company.”

Oh ok. How about this again:

“Thanks for your email. I’m currently attending a conference, so there’s a very good chance that when you read this, I’ll be on my sixth glass of scotch and ready to answer whatever you want from me.” Will not be in a position to. Please find another sucker to do your job.

On the other hand, maybe we should not Share small pieces of information.

The author of the HBR article shared a real example of an out-of-office message her husband uses:

“Hi, I’m celebrating 5 years of marriage, as well as enjoying summer vacation with my 4-year-old and 4-month-old. In honor of such an important holiday, I won’t be checking emails until [date],

I’m pretty sure that if I had received that message, my reaction would have been:

“Man, I have been married for 35 years and have 3 grown children. I know full well that being away with a 4 year old and a 4 month old is no vacation. Tell family you have an important client who needs an hour of your time, spend two minutes answering my emails and spend the other 58 minutes lurking in the hotel bar.

There are many articles online with suggestions on how to word your OOO message. Many people have creative and (somewhat) interesting ideas for what to say in your message.

Whatever you do, though, remember: The purpose of the OOO message is to set expectations about when you Desire respond. Most people don’t care what your reasons are for not replying right away. So keep it short, sweet and to the point.

And please don’t email me with criticisms about why you think I’m wrong about all this- I’m out of the office.

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