It’s a fantastic feeling seeing the clock hit home time and setting your Out of Office (OOO) reply to ‘on’, knowing that at least for a while, you won’t have to be shackled to your inbox, replying to every repetitive message that comes your way.
Despite being an absolutely essential tool in business, the monotony of the constantly refilling work inbox is symptomatic of the ‘always on’ culture that’s so prevalent in a lot of companies. The obligation to reply ASAP, to check your incoming messages every five minutes – and even the temptation – or obligation – to check it outside of the workday.
What’s more, it’s inevitable that your brief time away from work, which is your right as an employee, will be the source of much frustration externally. We’ve entered into an age of work culture in which people demand answers at the drop of a hat and feel personally affronted when that simply isn’t possible. If you’re lucky, you’ll return to an inbox brimming with non-time-sensitive emails; if you’re unlucky, you’ll return to a barrage of messages demanding an explanation for your radio silence.
This is why it’s essential to approach the only contact you’re going to have with those emailing you with caution and consideration. The ‘Out of Office’ may be an afterthought for those preoccupied by the thought of a sunny beach far away from the office, but getting your message right is serious business, and may alleviate the stress that you’re inevitably going to return to.
So, let’s start with the basics. The last thing you want is to add more to your own to-do list when you return; a holiday shouldn’t just be an opportunity for the work to pile up, your company should have either set someone in charge of your role temporarily, or diverted work to your team to divide up. As such, do yourself a favour and list the name and contact details for any and all individuals that can handle the query whilst you’re away. You’ll thank yourself later.
Secondly, and this depends very much on your industry, you need to consider tone. You need to ensure that your receiver is aware that it’s not acceptable to contact you under any circumstances, and whilst many deal with this issue with comedy (As the New York Times reveals, Lisette Freeman, CEO of PR firm Shadow leaves the simple but effective ‘In case of emergency, please call 911’ as her OOO. This is both funny and makes the poignant point that nothing is that urgent yet is very much a risqué approach. “If you’re trying to be a smartass, you need to make sure you’re comfortable in the risky approach and the consequences of your messages,” she told the Times.
A less tongue-in-cheek approach would be to take on board the technique of Simply Business’ Erich De Oliviera, who stated that his ethos is to make people aware that he’s on family time. His OOO message is a variation of: ‘Hey, I’m going to be at the beach with my family and my children, so unless you’ve got something more important than that, I’m probably not going to be available for you.’ It’s simple, not overly sarcastic, but drives home the point that vacation time is just that – time away from your inbox.
Finally, it’s of course essential to ensure that people are aware of when you will return. This alleviates anxiety around not knowing when a project will be completed, and also goes some way to persuading people to leave you alone. If they’re aware that in just seven days you’ll be available, they’re far less likely to hound you in the interim. You don’t want to return to 30 ‘are you back yet?’ emails.
Do you have a good technique for constructing an OOO? Let us know in the comments…