Monday, August 21, 2023

Parsing the out of office reply

We all use it, but how should we use it and when?  I'm talking about that automatic email feature known as an "Out of Office" reply.  

Let's ignore the when consideration for now; but it's the "how" behind the usage of the out of office reply that piques my interest today.  I received one recently that reads exactly like this with nothing added before or afterward:  

"I'm ooo."  

That's it.  I'm ooo.  First, imagine receiving a voicemail greeting like that -- spoken exactly the same way followed by a beep to record a message.  As a caller I'd be speechless.  

Now consider, that you need something from the email author of that "ooo".  You might reasonably conclude after receiving this sorry example above that he/she: 

a) doesn't know when he/she will return 

b) doesn't wish to be bothered and 

c) doesn't care enough about the email recipient to mention an alternative in his/her absence.

I understand there's been an increasing desire among many in the workforce to have a clear delineation between work time and personal time each day, but that desire shouldn't trump common courtesy, or common sense.  

Here are two simple guidelines for composing that out of office reply:

1.  Give the reader some idea of when you'll be back on the job and reading your emails, or at least the frequency with which you plan to pay attention to email in the coming days. 

2.  More importantly; give the recipient an alternative.  Mention either another email address of someone who can handle a need for action, or if you want to handle responses yourself; invite the sender to text those urgent matters to your cell phone.

Within an hour of posting my little screed above about out of office replies; I received an excellent example of one that allows me to close this post on a positive note.  Here's an "ooo" done right:

"I am currently out of the office on vacation the week of 8/21 and will be back at it on Monday 8/28.   I will be checking email at least once a day and will try to get back to you timely for anything that is urgent.  Send a text for anything especially urgent.  Thanks"