I recently took over a new account base which has significantly broaden the geographic territory I manage. This, in turn, has caused me to travel a bit more. In fact, for the last couple of months, I have been “out of the office” at least once every week and usually more.
While writing this post, for example, I was in San Francisco. I flew up for a night and was back the following night. But even for that short trip, I had my out of office set and ready to go.
What I want to cover in this post is a little etiquette as it relates to your Out-of-Office replies. Most people think that a simple, “I’m currently out of the office and will return Tuesday.” is enough. But I believe there is much more that can be gained by using your out-of-office well.
The key point is that you want to make sure your out-of-office is current, informative, and most of all professional.
The first thing you want to make sure is that your out of office is current. This means that there are dates, and if possible times, for when you will be out or when you plan to return.
“I am currently out of the office and will reply to your message as soon as I return” is not OK.
Unless you truly don’t know when you will be back (unexpected family emergency maybe) it shouldn’t be that hard to provide at least a date of return.
“I am currently out of the office but will be returning Thursday, Sept. 25th and will reply to your message as soon as possible“
If you work scheduled hours you can even add in the time you will be available again.
In addition to a current out of office, you also want to make it informative. This may vary with the reason you are out of the office but provide an idea of where you are or what you are doing can go a long way to keeping your inbox as empty as possible.
For example, if you will be gone all week, but will be available after 3pm to answer emails or calls, let them know.
Or if you are out of the country, and email is the best way to reach you, be sure to mention that in your out of office.
One caveat to this aspect of your out of office; remember that this information will be available to anyone who emails you. This means that if they knew where you live they will also know that you are not home.
No matter if your out of office is for personal reasons or professional, you should always treat it as a professional message.
Even when I take time off to spend time with my family while on vacation, I always leave a message that I would have no problem with my boss seeing.
I would never leave something like:
“I am currently enjoying the sun and margaritas in Cabo. You are welcome to leave a message but I probably won’t reply because the water is too warm to leave.“
As much as I am sure you are enjoying your time in Cabo that does not send a good message to the world about your professionalism.
Something you don’t see too often is an email message that warns people that they will be out of the office soon. I believe this is professional courtesy and include it in every email I send when I know I’ll be traveling.
When I was going to be gone for my son’s birth I added the below statement to my email signature:
“Please note I will be out of the office from Feb. 17th through Feb. 23rd for the birth of my son. I will have very limited access to emails and calls during this time but will provide appropriate contact information upon the start of my leave.”
This is easy to do if you plan to attend any trade shows soon. You know they are upcoming since you had to register so it should be easy to let others know when you will be absent. By the way, if you need any help figuring out what kind of promotional items to use I might be able to help.
The key take away of this is that for extended periods of time you know you will be gone, you usually know well in advance. Use this to your advantage to make sure your clients and prospects aren’t surprised Monday morning when they are panicking and unable to reach you.
I’ve mentioned before that you should always ask a question at the end of your out-of-office. There is no reason it needs to be a dead end or cant provide at least a little engagement.
My company is hosting it’s annual international conference in October so for the past few months my out of office has asked:
“A quick question I have for you, what industry events are you planning to attend this year? I might be attending the same events so we should schedule some time to meet up. Or if you need an idea you should mark your calendar to attend this year’s MRI International Users Conference. I’d love to see you there.”
This is a great way to find out what events your clients are attending and possibly set up some time to meet up with them.
One last thing I want to mention about setting an out of office is that it should be concise and as short as possible. There is no reason to have a full paragraph devoted to where you will be, who they should contact while you are gone, or any number of things you might think to include.
Even while keeping it short you want to make sure it follows the three rules above by making it current, informative, and professional.
~ Johnny Bravo