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Follow These 6 Steps Before You Write Your Next Out of Office

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This week marks the height of summer vacation season. With the 4th of July holiday falling on a Wednesday, out-of-town trips that normally take up one long weekend are now spread across a 10-day window that has already begun.

Which means we’ve already seen the classic out of office emails: “Off the grid for the next three days.” “No Internet access until next Friday.” “I’ll respond to your email as soon as I return to the office.”

Out of office replies are considered a modern business must, but there are right ways to let everyone know you’re on vacation and unavailable — and wrong ways to rub your awesome tropical adventure in everyone’s faces. The latest trend is detailed in a recent post on The Atlantic about one jarring out of office communication:

“Thank you for your message. Email received between [these dates] will be deleted from this server eight hours from now. Please send your message again after [this date].”

Consider the implications: not only will this “cog in the email machine” refuse to participate in the “I’ll spend two days ‘digging out’ of my email backlog when I return” merry-go-round, but he or she also makes a statement about the importance of the email that you’re composing. Does it really need to be sent? If so, wouldn’t it make more sense to send it when you know the recipient is in the office?

In this scenario, the burden of responsibility is placed on the sender of the email. And research shows that this bold individual might be on to something. In 2012, a study at the University of California at Irvine found that office workers barred from accessing their email for a full week showed significant reductions in stress levels. An analysis of business emails by a behavioral economist at Duke University discovered that approximately 1/3rd of messages didn’t need to be sent at all, while only 1/10th were considered important enough to be read within five minutes of receipt.

A proposed law in New York would make it illegal for businesses to contact employees by email or instant messaging when those employees are scheduled to be off. Last year, France actually enacted one such “right to disconnect” law. We might not be there yet, but there is a way to do out of office etiquette right this month (and all year long). CMIT Solutions has collected six of the most pertinent ways to do just that:

1) Update your calendar.

Most offices that use Microsoft Outlook as a primary email/calendar/contact app allow sharing between employees, which makes it easy for everyone to schedule meetings and quickly see when their co-workers are and aren’t available. Accordingly, make sure you update your Outlook calendar by creating a standing Appointment marked with the Out of Office status for the days you’ll be gone.

2) But be mindful of alert fatigue.

There’s nothing worse than receiving an Outlook notification alerting you to the fact that your co-worker is out of the office, each and every day that they’re gone. So send the Outlook appointment concerning your Out of Office status only to people with whom you work closely or to whom you report. Just make sure you turn those regular Reminders off, OK?

3) Set up your autoresponder message.

This task can be completed in most versions of Outlook by clicking Tools > Out of Office and then filling in body copy, dates and times, and Address Book rules — for instance, for security and privacy purposes, it’s best to only send autoresponders to internal contacts since spammers can check out of office messages to validate whether or not an email account is active. You also have the option of sending just one out of office response to each unique address. That way, if you’re a prolific writer or receiver of emails, your close contacts won’t get inundated with 100 reminders that you’re out of the office.

4) Be specific.

Obviously include the time period of your absence, along with when you’ll be back in the office (or when people can expect a response from you). If you know that you just can’t get through the day without keeping your inbox nice and tidy, even on vacation, consider including some version of that — just remember that underpromising and then overdelivering is always better. For example, if you plan on checking emails once a day, maybe mention the fact that you’ll do it once a week or every few days. Also, don’t forget contact information, either for yourself in case of emergency (just be careful who you give your cell-phone number to!) or for a designated backup who can handle pressing issues in your absence.

5) But don’t rub your vacation in anyone’s face.

The modern out of office reply should serve just two purposes: 1) a polite and professional reminder you are not available to be relied upon for a particular time period, and 2) a helpful redirect to someone else in your company who can answer a question or solve a problem. The reminders about your five-star lodging or your adventurous day trips or your white-sand beach sessions or how disconnected you plan to be while you’re gone? Those parts are never necessary. If you’ve never heard the term “humble-bragging,” well, you’ll know what it is when you get those smug out of office replies about sailing the New England coast or hiking the Alps.

6) Last of all, keep things simple.

This goes for everyday email use as well as that out of office template. Consider this example: “Hello, I’m out of the office from [date] until [date]. If you need help in the meantime, please contact [name + info.]” That way, whether we’re in the office or out of it, we can all enjoy summer vacation.

Looking for more ways to enhance efficiency and boost productivity? Need help using Microsoft Outlook to manage calendars and contacts? Have a favorite funny, poignant, or creative out of office message you’d love to share? We’d love to hear about it. At CMIT Solutions, we worry about IT so you don’t have to — no matter when, where, or from what device you’re working. Contact us today for more information.

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