Before you take that summer vacation or deal with an unexpected family emergency that’s going to take you out of the office for a few days, there are a few final things you need to take care of. You’ve gotta fill your boss in on the status of your current projects, return any outstanding phone calls, and check the final empty box on that all-too-full to-do list. You’ve gotta wave goodbye to your work BFF and grab all of your lunch leftovers from the fridge. And last, but certainly not least, you’ve gotta make sure you’ve posted an out-of-office (OOO) email message so that people aren’t shouting into the void when they reach out to you over the course of your absence.
It seems like a fairly simple process, but “simple” doesn’t always mean “easy” or “intuitive.” In the interest of helping you continue to do things flawlessly, we’ve brought in an expert to share some specific dos and don’ts of the OOO. Claire Bissot — a senior professional in human resources and managing director for CBIZ HR Services — offers some practical advice to ensure you’re heading into your time away as professionally as possible. Keep scrolling for all of her tips.
1. Do keep it short and sweet. You can squeeze all of the necessary information into a nice, concise package. Use this as your rule of thumb, and keep reading for all the specifics on how to pull it off effectively.
2. Do specify the time period. This is less important if you’re only posting an OOO message for a long weekend, but if you’re planning for a longer absence, Bissot recommends that you explain clearly when the recipient can expect to hear back from you. Include an exact date — not just “I’ll be back next Tuesday!” — so there’s no doubt.
3. Do use a different message for internal and external senders. Popular email platforms like Microsoft Outlook allow you to set a different auto-reply for people who work within your organization versus those who work outside of it. This is worth considering, especially if you’re tempted to make your OOO fairly informal. Your colleagues can stand to get something a little more relaxed and detailed (with more backup contacts, etc.). But even then, keep things professional. One of the big bosses could still receive it!
4. Do include contact information for a colleague. Make sure recipients know who else they can contact on your team while you’re AFK, particularly if you’re going to be away for more than three days or if you’re planning to totally disconnect from phone and email while you’re gone.
5. Do give people advance warning. Bissot recommends that you add a line about your upcoming OOO time to your email signature two weeks prior to any absence longer than one week and one week prior to any absence longer than one day. “This helps significantly with the volume of emails while you are out, as most people want to get what they need you for [done] before you’re out of the office,” she explains.
1. Don’t give a lot of details. While you want responses to emails to feel complete even while you’re on vacation, you don’t owe anyone TMI in terms of where you are or why you’re out. It might feel friendly and personable to drop a mention of your vacation destination, but your email responder is not the right place for it. If you’re away from your desk for an unplanned reason, keep things vague with a line like “family emergency” or “unexpected absence.”
2. Don’t overwhelm your colleagues with additional emails unless it’s necessary. Yes, we did recommend above that you include back-up contact information for a colleague who can help the email’s recipient in your absence, but allow us to play the other side for a hot sec. Keep in mind that any one of your coworkers who is looped into your OOO will likely have a lot of (potentially not urgent) extra work heaped into their inbox while you’re away. If there’s a way to avoid this, you should! Assuming you’re not taking a major vacation and will be checking your email, or if you’ll only be out of the office on a Friday when you don’t expect there to be any urgent issues, you can probably skip the coworker contact info.
3. Don’t wait until the last minute. You might want to consider setting up your auto-responder one day before you actually leave the office. This will give you a little padding so you can focus exclusively on highly important emails before you pack up for your time away.
How do you phrase your OOO message? Tweet us @BritandCo!
(Photos via Getty)