I know I’m not the only one making plans to close down my laptop for a few days.
Whatever else you’re up to at the end of 2020, most of us will be taking some time away from the desk and looking for something else to fill our days with – there’ll be a lot of eating and drinking in this house.
But when you take a break from your desk, do you set an Out-of-Office message on your email?
Away from your desk?
The thing is, with so many of us working from home – in fact (if we’re honest) from our phones – it can seem ridiculous to claim that we’re “Away”.
Either we’re not actually leaving home so our desk is, well… just over there.
Or, we’re effectively taking our office with us in our pocket.
When you haven’t actually got an office, it’s difficult to know how far from it you’re likely to get.
So let’s change the focus
Where we work isn’t really the point is it?
Taking time away from our work is as much about what we are doing as what we’re not. For a lot of us, this time is less about ‘stopping working’ and more about ‘taking family time’ or even ‘me time’!
So what does that mean when we need to tell people we’re not going to answer their email?
It’s all about communication
It won’t surprise you to know that, for me at least, the out-of-office is just one part of how we communicate in our business all the time.
Whether I set one or not depends on the circumstances of my time away from work – and how I can get technology to work for me (sometimes it just doesn’t). More important for me, is the communication before any time off – making sure those who are likely to want something from me know what to expect.
If I don’t set up an out-of-office, or auto-responder, then it is up to me to keep an eye on my inbox and manually manage the expectations of those who contact me – and often that’s ok. But if I want to be sure I don’t have to think about my business at all (I sometimes doubt that’s even possible) then an automatic reply is obviously the best way to do that.
Making an Out-of-Office work
If we’ve decided we do need an automatic response to our emails so we can ignore our inbox and focus on our family, or fridge… I won’t judge.
When we come to put our message together, what does it need?
- It doesn’t need an apology, just a reason
Do we really need to say sorry that, for a week or two, our priority isn’t the query we’ve just received? I hope we all know that the answer to this is No.
Sometimes – between Christmas and New Year for example – we hardly even need to say why we’re not around. How much we choose to share is personal choice; that we’ll be visiting family, spending time with our new Xbox or cheese board are all equally valid life choices – they are!
Having said that, your message does need to start somewhere and a reason for your absence makes sense. As I say, how much you choose to share is your choice:
- The basic – I’m away from my desk
- The expected – I’ll be on the sofa with Arthur Christmas/Die Hard/Love Actually
- The overshare – I’ll be fighting my children for the last Green Triangle or pig-in-a-blanket
2. It does need a timescale
Don’t forget to tell people when you’re back – and when you’re likely to get to their email (we all know the two won’t necessarily be the same).
There are times when we don’t know the date we’ll be returning, perhaps we’re off for illness. If this is the case, give as much information as you can and – obviously – that you feel comfortable giving.
3. Does it need an alternative?
Whether you need to provide your contact with another name or contact option depends very much on your position.
Those who are part of a team will very often suggest someone else to help with any enquiry. But if there is just you – it is reasonable to question whether someone really needs another way to contact you. Is there likely to be a copywriting emergency?
The suggestion of a new email address “interruptyourvacation@” by Josh Kopelman in this Hubspot article is perfect, making sure anyone thinks twice before pressing send.
So if you decide you do need to communicate your time away from the desk in an auto-response, these are the three things I think you’ll need.
And if you just want to kill some time before you turn it on, search the internet for the ‘best out of office messages’ – there’s plenty there to amuse.