Ah, the humble ‘Out of Office’ (OOO). It’s a tool that has traditionally nestled alongside a reliable SPF and remembering your passport on the list of vacation essentials. However, as accustomed as we are to switching it on before annual leave, a growing number of people are using it as an essential tool for managing their day. Excellent mobile devices, collaborating across time zones and an increasingly flexible workforce means that working days are becoming something of a moveable feast. Our status updates and autoreplies are a great way of keeping co-workers and customers in the loop, but often they are personality-free zones containing nothing more than ‘not available/will reply soon/please contact’. Surely, we’re missing a trick?
OOOs have the potential to subtly (and not so subtly!) convey all sorts of useful information relating to your job, personality and the way your work. Obviously, you should pick your words wisely – the more conservative your organisation, the more formal your language and oversharing is a big no-no! – but there’s no harm in doing things differently unless you’re expressly told not to. Take a look at these examples to inspire your downtime/focus time/flexitime communications.
Workers in creative industries are used to working unusual hours – early mornings, late nights – and needing time away from their email. Depending on your role, you might want to reflect what you do into your reply.
Photographers or designers could include a screenshot of a list of files they, accompanied by a caption “just about to work my way through 200 files – I’ll be checking my email every fifty or so!”. Or perhaps share a piece of your recent work, in the fashion of a light-hearted case study.
If it’s your business to be good with words, prove it. The more traditional could use this as an opportunity to direct the recipient to their published work. Or perhaps you might want to take it one step further and write some prose on an appropriate (inoffensive!) topic close to your heart (“I’m away from my inbox right now. But in the meantime, I wanted to share some thoughts on…”). Or keep it simple, with an insightful poem or Haiku.
Pausing my inbox
While work and home life collide
The phone is still on
Every connection is an opportunity, right? So why waste an OOO? Give the facts, but don’t let the email end there – always include a call to action. It’s a chance to share information on new product launches, links to white papers, thought leadership, webinars and more. Always remember to include a link to your LinkedIn profile and, if it’s appropriate, where to request a demo.
Thanks for your email, I’m unable to reply at the moment, as I’m giving a webinar on [subject]. If you’d like to join any of my future sessions, (which include some really popular topics, such as [x] and [y]!) head to our website [link] for the full schedule and booking details.
I’ll be back to my inbox this afternoon and look forward to reading your email.
[name] | Find me on LinkedIn [link]
OOOs have the potential to subtly (and not so subtly!) convey all sorts of useful information
Sometimes you just need to switch off your phone and email in order to give your full attention to a piece of work – and that’s totally ok. What’s not ok is going dark for several hours and being inexplicably uncontactable for the day. Tell the truth and offer an alternative way to contact you in emergencies.
Thanks for your message. I was recently amazed to read that average person can spend around 2.5 hours a day checking email! I’m working on a fantastic project at the moment that really needs those extra few hours, so I won’t be checking my email or text messages until [time]. If you have a genuinely urgent need to get hold of me, please call.
Thanks for helping me get this work over the line.
If you have other regular commitments (such as home-schooling or weekly repeating appointments) then setting a recurring OOO is essential. However, it’s important to use it with other communications in order that colleagues, customers or clients become familiar with your routine. It might be a good idea to include your working or unavailable hours in your regular email signature.
Hi there, As you may know, I wear many different hats in my working life and right now this means that I won’t be able to reply to your email until after [time], while I attend to other business.
For your reference, this is what my working week looks like:
Monday – Wednesday: 8am to 11am, then 3pm to 6pm
Thursday and Friday: 8am to 2pm only
Thanks for your patience and flexibility.
But never forget that the overall purpose of OOOs is to keep people in the loop and you don’t always know who will receive it. Remember to let your recipient know a likely timeframe for response – and thank them for emailing you!