Writing a Badass Out of Office Email...Without TMI

Setting your Out of Office email and heading for vacation is one of the great joys of the working world.

Especially when you’re an entrepreneur and you feel like work never stops, being away from your email can be unnerving. With the average working adult receiving more than 100 emails per day (there aren’t solid statistics on business owners, but we’ll let you surmise)—it’s a big step to close your computer and walk away.

We’ve all been on the other side too: You need to get in touch with your contact at that new tech startup but instead you get their Out of Office reply talking about feeling baby koalas on a soul-searching safari or something.

So, this week we’re talking about how to write your Out of Office auto-reply in a safe, effective, and not-obnoxious way.

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Keep it simple

You’re not writing the next Pulitzer Prize-winner here. Your OOO email has a simple goal (much like the voicemail message on your phone): to explain that you’re away and will respond when you’re back.

The vital information is usually the timeframe when you’ll be gone and when they can expect a reply. Remember: you do not have to promise to reply on the day you return to your desk; in fact, it’s probably better not to.

Try to keep your email as concise as possible—for your sake and theirs.

Here’s one example of a super short but informative message:

I’m out of the office until August 12. I will have limited access to email during that time, but I will get back to you as soon as possible after I return.

Be clear about how Responsive you’ll be

If you’re taking naps on a secluded beach you probably won’t be checking your emails at all. If you’re at a work conference, it’s likely you’ll be on your laptop anyway and sooner to respond. Either way, be clear and realistic. If you’re at a work-mandated event, it’s not a bad idea to add in a little plug for your company or why the work you’re doing is great for clients too.

For example:

“I’ll be on a digital detox for the next week and will respond to you as soon as possible when I return to the office on August 12.”

Or:

“Our annual Marketing Convention is this week and I’ll be away from my computer more than usual, learning the latest techniques to help your company thrive. I’ll respond when I can, but you can expect a slightly delayed response.

Avoid being showy or including TMI

In 2018 124.5 billion business emails were sent and received each day, with an average working receiving 121 every day.

That is A LOT of email. So, give people the information they need and the get outta there because you have sangria to drink and they have more emails to get to.

Best practice is to keep it short and sweet, with information about how responsive you will be, when they can expect a reply, and possible who/what to reach out to if they need immediate assistance. Let them know whether you’ll be checking emails occasionally and might get a reply, though delayed, or if you’ll be totally away from email. You can refer them to your company’s FAQs if you have them as a great way to give more information without offloading on a coworker or divulging personal information (more on that in a second).

Every person who emails you does not need details of your amazing vacation plans, or the fact that you’re getting away to avoid burnout, or anything about your child’s bodily functions!

A Dallas book reviews editor was mentioned in the New York Times for his lengthy and personal out of office reply, which had everything from suggested reading materials to company policies and a not to Weird Al Yankovikcin it. He ended with this bit, which is exactly what I’d recommend not doing, although it did get him into the Times:

If you are annoyed with me for leaving the office, I want you to imagine a middle-aged man who fell in love with a beautiful baby girl almost 18 years ago, and now he is driving her to a gigantic college in a distant city filled with all kinds of people who do the things people do at college ... and he has to leave her there. And drive home alone. In the dark. In a minivan. Alone.”

Be careful of email security concerns

Don’t give out information that you wouldn’t share with a total stranger. The expert in this Scientific American article warns: “My rule of thumb is, 'If you wouldn't tell a room full of strangers the information, you shouldn't put it in your out-office-reply.” Instead, it’s good practice to be careful about sharing who your superiors are, who you are travelling with, exactly where you are going, and personal contact info.

Think about it this way: if someone wants to find you and you’ve just told them where you’ll be, when, and what your cell phone number is—that makes it all too easy for them to target you. Or someone could know that you’re away from your house, leaving you vulnerable to theft.

It might sound dramatic, but in this age of cyber-security concerns, even your out of office email matters.

A good practice is to have your auto-reply only send to people inside your organization or contacts. It’s not 100% crime-proof but will reduce your chance of sending personal or company details to an ill-wishing stranger.

Definitely turn off your OOO message when you’re back

Seems obvious, right? But the next thing you know you’ve jumped back into work or are answering emails on-the-go your first day back and you realize that your still have your responder on. Oops! Thing is, if someone receives your auto-reply on August 15 that says you’ll be back on August 12, it doesn’t come off well. They may be concerned, and more likely they’ll be annoyed, especially if they waited patiently to get a hold of you. Luckily for Gmail users you can set an expiration date in your email Settings. Otherwise, write yourself a reminder in your phone or on a good old fashioned sticky-note!


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Now you can set your Out of Office autoreply and go be present for whatever adventures you encounter!

Remember, taking time away to get clear about your goals and de-stress your mind is vital to your business’ success too.

You’ll return with a new perspective for challenges and hopefully more energy to crush them.

So, cheers! And enjoy your vacation.


Enid BrenizeComment