I'm sure Mark / Mike have a 7 points podcast about writing an effective 'out of office' message for your email :)
Waiting for the podcast, any suggestion?

MattJBeckwith's picture
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Hello Pier. I'm sure you're right about them probably having 7 points on the subject.

Here's my opinion. If I'm going to be out for a few days of more I proactively send an e-mail to those people I communicate with regularly (daily). For my auto out of office message I always put what day I'll return to the office and who to contact in my absence (and of course, make sure that person is aware) if the need is urgent.

I stay away from the "I'll be surfing in Maui" comment that I see on some messages and end with a sentence saying something to the effect of "have a great week".

The ooo messages that drive me crazy are the ones that don't direct me to anyone.

aspiringceo's picture

I like Dave's idea of being proactive and contacting folk before he goes away rather then setting an OOR.
I tend to think twice about setting them, and at the risk of sounding paranoid, heres why.
1). Sending OOR automatically replies to possible spam alerting them that your email is live.
2). Would you leave a note on your front door at home saying that your away from such a date to such a date? I dont think so yet folk have no problem telling the world and its mother that same information creating a possible security breech both at home and at work.

When I do set an OOR I tend to say "I am away from my office right now but I will reply to you on my return. Urgent calls can be directed through a member of the XXXX team or contact xxxx xxxxx at 270 6500 thank you."


PierG's picture

Thank you guys: I usually don't write anything to direct requests to xxx (sorry Dave) for a single reason: I'm not a 'front end' guy.

So if it's important, the writer knows a lot about my company / dept to call someone else or call me on my mobile; if it's not important (or if he doesn't have my mobile), he can surely wait till I'm back.

Am I rude?

TomW's picture
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[quote="DaveTehre"]Hello Pier. I'm sure you're right about them probably having 7 points on the subject..[/quote]

Don't you mean 7.5 points? ;-)

sklosky's picture

It strikes me that an "out of the office" message is just part of the "how to handle things when I'm not around" or "what to do when I'm on vacation" podcast. It is just part of an approach to this challenging issue.


itilimp's picture
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We have a corporate standard for our out of office e-mails. It is similar to those stated above.

If we are out of the office for 24 hours then we are supposed to forward our e-mail to a colleague (not that I ever do as I really don't think it is an appropriate standard for back office staff).

If we are out of the office for more than 24 hours then we must set our out of office e-mail to let people know:
a) that we are out of the office
b) the date we return
c) who they can contact about issues in the meantime if cannot wait until your return.

We also have to ensure that the subject line of the auto reply is formatted as follows:

OUT OF OFFICE: return on

This is then appended to the subject lines of people who write to you.

Greenest's picture

I like the reply from itilimp. I never even thought of the subject line thing.

I am reluctant to do the email forwarding thing as the only staff I have to forward to may not have authority to read some of my more sensitive mails. I do have delegated authority to view with one of the pool secretaries though.

rwwh's picture
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Reading the discussion, I have two things to add:

[i]On SPAM[/i]: If you are afraid to send out-of-office replies to spammers, remember that the spammers fake the [b]From:[/b] address. It will never reach them, but in the worst case it will reach an innocent third party, in the best case it will result in a bounce in your inbox. It is also technically possible to filter spam on the mail server, and send out-of-office replies only to messages that pass the filter.

[i]On the need for automatic replies[/i]: Consider the use of "functional" rather than "personal" E-mail addresses. Rather than sending mail to [email protected], a supplier should contact [email protected] so that John Doe can leave for a holiday without the need for an auto-reply. Mail to "purchase" can either be forwarded to the correct person depending on who is on duty, or be handled by an automated ticket tracker.

Whatever you do, please make sure that no autoreply is sent to mail lists, and that each sender is informed only once of an absence.

ashdenver's picture

Our corporate IT setup is such that the OOR only goes to internal email inquiries. If a client emails me while the OOR is active, the client has no clue that the OOR exists. A colleauge in another office will get the OOR with pertient information.

OOR's (IMO) should be factual and helpful. Our general Best Practice is along the lines of:

[quote]I will return to the office on Xxxday, Month xx, 2007.

ABC issues may be directed to Person A at 123-456-7890 or [email protected].

Any other issues may be directed to Manager B at 987-654-3210 or [email protected].[/quote]

Our Best Practice also includes sending a proactive email to our immediate group (50+ people in 7 offices) indicating:

[quote]I will be out of the office beginning tomorrow, Xxxday, ##-##-##. I will have no access to voice mail or email until I return to the office on Xxxxday, Month ##, 2007.

My clients are aware of my asbence but any assistance you may provide to them during my absence will be greatly appreciated. Case notes for all issues have been updated as well.

For information or assistance with my clients during my absence, please contact Jane Doe, John Smith or Sally Sprite.[/quote]

When drafting these types of communications, keep it professional and factual. Place yourself in the other person's shoes and try to proactively address things that may come up - who do they talk to, is it the same for all things, how does one reach that person.

One of my pet peeves is always the murkiness people build in to their dates. Please be specific about the date you will return to work! Don't tell me "I'll be out of the office April 9-13" - tell me that you "will return to work on April 16." There's something psychologically important (IMO) to having that return-to-work date visible and in black-and-white. There are a number of people who will work weekends and some of those people might email you. If they see "April 13" they may very well expect you will return their inquiry on April 14 or 15 unless you make it clear you will not resume work until April 16.

Pier, the external restrictions our IT group has in place effectively do what you've described: trust that the emailer knows enough about the setup to get in contact with someone else quickly during my absence. In that respect, I don't think it's terribly rude. I think there are a number of companies that do not employ the Out of Office Response at all - same thing!

Mark's picture
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Oh, you're all so funny with the 7 points! ( I loved it! ;-)) )

Well, this will teach you: we don't recommend out of office messages at all. The evolved standard regarding immediate email responses is crazy. Email is NOT the most urgent of forms. First there's face to face, then phone, then voicemail, then email.

I know, I know... YOU LOVE EMAIL, and it's your company's culture. And I completely respect that. I love email too, and it's MY culture as well.

But the fact is, if someone needs a response, the best approach is to, IN THOSE RARE INSTANCES WHERE SOMETHING IS URGENT, they will CALL you, and they will get your voicemail, where there IS an out of office message.

If you're conducting urgent business by email, then you're running a risk. Now, I know this makes me ...different. But listen to this.

I was with a client recently. A manager was asking how to respond to someone who had yelled at them. I asked what had happened.

He said, "well, I sent an email to him, and since I hadn't heard for about 5 minutes - this was a production outage issue - I walked over and asked why he hadn't responded yet."

I did my best to correct his approach.

We don't think you need email OOR's.

Zero steps, for a change. ;-)


PierG's picture

thank you for the ZERO approach change :)
I see your point and I absolutely agree on this misuse of email.
Don't you think is anyway fair having an OOR? As I wrote, I don't suggest alternative contacts or something like that, I just state I'm out of office so that people can make choices about that.

Gareth's picture

In work we have a corporate directory with everyone in the company listed. As well as the standard name, job title, location and contact information we also have a 'whereabouts' section.

This 'whereabouts' section rips your calendar information from outlook so the whole company can see where you are, when your there and for how long.

My manager requests that we use OOR and it contains contact information for another person if there is an issue. I always refer the person to the 'whereabouts' because is contains the most up to date information.

Note: I don't deal with any external customers.

Mark's picture
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I'm not going to tell people not to have them, but I do feel they're unnecessary. The negatives of completely unnecessary OORs just about balance out the potential value of them.


Mark's picture
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Making my point for me was an email I got from a list serve I received this past week:

[i]I am on leave. I will be checking emails [periodically]. If you need to contact me urgently[...][/i]

This went to thousands of subscribers.



JoeFuture's picture

In some e-mail systems, you can choose to send OOF (as my org calls them) messages to internal or external addresses (or both). You can also set up inbox rules to avoid problems like this and not auto-reply to messages coming in from listservs.

Of course, shouldn't we all just be delegating responsibilities while we're away so there isn't a need for anyone to get in touch while we're on vacation? :)

pneuhardt's picture

And here I sat, all ready to disagree with Mark and say that OOMs are a valuable tool and a courtesy to other email users when he brings up the bit about the auto-response to all the members of a list server.

Mark, one of these days I'll catch you saying something I can truly disagree with. But not today. Well, I agree with one slight modification.

I will say that email OOMs are unnecessary if you have already informed those people that you KNOW are likely to contact you with an urgent matter that you will be out of pocket. Basically, such a notification goes to anyone you can consider a customer or a co-worker on any active project. Send them an email telling them when you will be out, when you will return and who is handling your urgent affairs in your absence.

This is a good idea for "internal" customers, and is really not that uncommon in my experience. Not common enough, but not a rarity either.

This is a great idea for "external" customers (ones that are providing you with revenue) as it sends them a message beyond, "I won't be available." It tells them that you value them and their business enough to make sure they have support even in your absence and that you care enough to make them aware of it ahead of time. Paying customers aren't usually fond of surprises, especially in times of crisis. Take the surprised of your absence away by telling them in advance. It will be well worth the time it takes, and is all too rare an occurance in my experience.

And for goodness sake, do put an away message on your voice mail. Even more important, be sure to change it back to normal first thing upon your return.

madamos's picture
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Wow! You really cleared up the whole podcast for me. I was also initially disagreeing with Mark on this topic. My disagreement was based on my past experience. I work in IT and based on my position, I have various executives in the company ask me for updates on major issues affecting our clients. I was out on vacation one time and had forgotten my out of office message. I received several e-mails from one executive expecting an update on an issue in my absence. The e-mails' tone got more pointed and distressed as they continued.

Based on that experience, I was ready to disagree with Mark. But based on your post, I now realize that while I told my team and department that I would be out of the office, I didn't communicate that out to others people in the company that I have a relationship with.

A brief moment of clarity! I will certainly change my behavior and communicate more broadly next time I am out of the office (which happens to be for the MT Conference next week).


ccleveland's picture

I do disagree with Mark. OOMs are useful, even expected, in some cultures. I agree with Mark’s point of view about how many people rely on e-mail too much for urgent communication. However, there are degrees of delay. Certainly expecting responses in five minutes or even five hours may not be reasonable. However, expecting responses within 24-48 hours is not unreasonable in many business settings.

Most people at my company use OOMs whenever they’re out for a day or more. There have been several occasions where I had a question that I didn’t need right away that I sent via e-mail. After not hearing anything for a few days, I generally call. At that point, finding out that someone is out for a week or more is frustrating and has wasted time.

As far as expectations go, my director expects all of his staff to send a “reminder note” in advance (it’s kind of similar to a scheduled event in Outlook) to our immediate teams and peers. Additionally, our division requires us to turn on OOMs during Friday afternoon’s if we take advantage of the “Summer Hours” program allowing us to leave early on Fridays. And, yes, our e-mail system only sends OOMs to [u]internal[/u] company e-mail accounts (no listservs! :)).

I practice both a proactive message and/or communication (call/email/etc) to key contacts and turn on OOMs if I will not be accessing e-mail for more than a day. The message itself is straightforward, provides alternate contacts, and indicates when I will be back…the two-step out-of-office process(© ccleveland :twisted: ).



Mark's picture
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