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How effective is your out-of-office and what does it say about you?

Updated: Jan 8, 2020

Phew! First day back in the office and I've spent the whole day catching up on my emails. Thanks to sending out several thousand virtual Christmas cards just before the break, I had a lot of responses to get through. It was genuinely great to hear from everyone but there was one group of responses that gave me a fascinating insight into my clients, colleagues and friends...the out-of-office email. I literally had 100s...

Stepping back, I realised that what you write (or don't write) can tell a lot about your style and, depending what you want to achieve, it can go a long way to the impact you make.

Based on what I saw here are some observations on the types of out-of-office that I encountered

  1. Many people don't bother to set up out-of-office emails: This gives the impression either that they are not off (therefore fair game to contact them), are forgetful or generally don't care.

  2. Some people keep it short and sweet: Aside from saying that they are off and when they will be back, there is no more to their message. This effectively projects a "leave me alone" image.

  3. Some people write essays: You know the sort, where they feel they need to list lots of information about where they are, what they are up to and each of the individuals you should contact in case you have any specific questions. Whilst these generally cover all bases, they can be a little over the top for the reader.

  4. Some people use the opportunity to express heartfelt messages: It was always lovely to get a nice message back on top of the information that they were out of the office. This made me feel warmer to the sender.

  5. Some people really show their personality and creativity: I loved the out-of-office emails that threw humour into the mix or told a story or even had a poem or card/photo attached on their response. These really were engaging and can make these people stand out.

  6. Some people use the opportunity to create leads and engagement: I was surprised to find several out-of-office messages directing me to sign up for newsletters or check out a website. One out-of-office even sent me a copy of a useful report that the recipient had recently written. This made them seem very resourceful and entrepreneurial.

  7. Some people lack attention to detail: Quite a few people's out-of-office expressed the wrong dates (some mentioned October), or had the wrong information (email addresses for colleagues that didn't work for example). Others still had their out-of-office on a week after their message said they would be back. This didn't necessarily portray them in a great light.

  8. Some people weren't very consistent: Although their out-of-office said they were off, they subsequently sent emails conflicting what they explicitly written. This can prove confusing.

  9. Some people were just vague: Although they did have an out-of-office, it didn't say when they would be back, whether the message would be addressed in the meantime or anything much beyond "I'm out of the office". This can prove irritating and confusing.

  10. Some people got it spot on (for me): Their message felt personal, gave clarity on when they were off and when they would respond (which they did) and had a hint of humour and/or creativity

You're probably thinking "It's just an out-of-office". Well, it is and it isn't. Stuff like this can really influence others and impact your effectiveness.

Maybe, next time before you set your out-of-office give it a few minutes more thought: What do you want to achieve? What more could you do with the message? How do you want to come across? Should you vary your response by sender?

After all, it's all about becoming a little more effective one step at a time :)

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