8 min read
Out-of-Office Etiquette: How to Effectively Communicate Your Absence
May 3, 2023
In this article:
The world has a problem stepping away from work, plain and simple. Our professional obligations can feel extremely all consuming and the constant demands placed on us make us feel obligated to always participate in the doing of things that need getting done. Sometimes, however, one has no choice but to step outside of the office and hit pause.
The Out-of-Office responders has become a staple of the working world and is widely used by all to denote unavailability and absence. Some are humorous, others formal, but they’re all important and necessary when working with others.
Out-of-Office notifications are more than simple gestures and actually require some thought to optimize to their most effective and valuable state.
Here are some tips on how you can set up your own and communicate your absence successfully:
What to include in your out-of-office emails:
Firstly, congrats that you secured some time out of the office! When crafting your new out-of-office email, it's important to include information to ensure that the recipients of your message are informed and can take appropriate action in your absence. Here are some things you should consider including:
Date range for your out of office setup: Be sure to specify the dates you'll be away from the office, including the start and end dates. You would be surprised to find out how many out of office responders have nothing by way of dates and the world would be a better place if we’re all a little more clear about our activities.
Reason for absence in out of office setup: You may want to mention the reason you're out of the office, but this is optional. Sometimes it’s better to leave things up to the imagination and get by on assumption as we all know the truth can be stranger than fiction.
Contact information: Provide alternative contact information for the person or team that can help during your absence, including their email address and phone number. More on this later!
Response time in out of office setup: Indicate when the recipient can expect a response from you or your team, and whether there will be any delay due to the absence. Remember, honesty is the best policy so don't create expectations for a prompt response when there is no chance of there being one!
Thank-you message in out of office setup: Express gratitude for their understanding and patience while you're away. Incoming traffic and requests is a good thing and you don’t want to come across as flippant or blase about people taking the time to reach out to you.
Adding signatures in out of office setup: Be sure to include your name, title, and any other necessary contact information in your signature. While you’re at it, link them to your websites and social channels too so you can network too!
How to personalize your out-of-office emails:
Personalizing your out-of-office emails can help create a more positive and engaging message for the recipient.
Here are some ways you can personalize your out-of-office emails:
Using a friendly tone in out of office setup: Make your email sound friendly and approachable by using a conversational tone. This can be especially helpful when your absence is inconvenient or unexpected and helps to defuse some negative perceptions should they arise.
Adding a touch of humor in out of office setups: If appropriate, include a light-hearted joke or pun to make your email more engaging. Everyone has a funny bone so why not use your mandatory and often mundane out of office responder to spark some joy.
Using emojis in out of office setups: Emojis can help convey your message in a more engaging and friendly way. Emojis are great for regulating tone and ensuring there is a little less ambiguity in your messages. Use them sparingly but do make use of them. The days of the full stop and exclamation mark are almost at an end.
Provide helpful information: Offer helpful tips or recommendations for things to do in your absence, especially if you're out of town. If you’re in the meetings business, chances are that you trade in information and act as a resource to others in your day to day life. A succinct and curated information exchange in your out of office responder can be a great way to introduce people to your helpful ways and provide them with details that show off your acumen ahead of the actual meeting.
Using visuals in out of office setups: Include a relevant image or graphic to help convey your message and make your email more visually appealing. A little .gif goes a long way!
Customize the subject line: Personalize the subject line to grab the recipient's attention and make your email stand out in their inbox. Subject lines are the first line of defense in the fight against the spam folder, so make sure to flex your creative muscles here and make a great first impression.
Should you include emergency contact information in your out-of-office emails?
Including emergency contact information in your out-of-office email can be important in certain situations. And by certain we mean rare. Don’t make a habit of being permanently available and create some boundaries for yourself and the people you work with to make sure that time off is actually time off. That being said, here are a few scenarios where you might want to include emergency contact info in your out of office emails:
When you're the primary point of contact: If you're the primary point of contact for a project or client, and your absence could cause significant delays or issues, it's a good idea to include emergency contact information in your out-of-office email. Better to give up a few minutes here and there than see a project plummet to its doom, but as always use your own discretion to discern when complete destruction is actually looming or when emergencies are really just overreactions.
When you work in a critical role: If you work in a critical role, such as healthcare, emergency services, or IT support, and your absence could impact the safety or well-being of others, including emergency contact information is essential. If someone’s life is on the line or your input could be the key to solving an extremely crucial issue, consider including a little emergency button in your out of office set up.
When you're traveling abroad: If you're traveling abroad, especially to a country where you may not have access to reliable phone or internet services, it's important to include emergency contact information in case of an emergency in your out of office email.
When you're the manager: If you're a manager or supervisor, and your absence could impact your team's ability to work effectively, including emergency contact information in your out of office mail can help ensure that your team has access to the resources and support they need.
In general, including emergency contact information in your out-of-office email is crucial if your absence could have significant consequences for others, or if you're working in a critical or high-stakes role. It's always better to err on the side of caution and provide this information if you're unsure whether it's necessary.
Should you forward emails to team members while you’re out-of-office?
Forwarding your emails to other teammates when you're out of office can be extremely useful if you want to ensure that important messages are not missed and that your colleagues are aware of any urgent matters that require attention.
Here are some factors to consider when deciding whether to forward your emails:
The urgency of the emails: If you receive a lot of urgent emails that require immediate attention, forwarding them to a colleague who can handle them is a helpful plan B. However, if most of your emails are routine and can wait until you return, forwarding them may not be necessary in your out of office email.
The privacy of the emails: If your emails contain sensitive or confidential information, you may not want to forward them to others unless it's absolutely necessary. In this case, you may want to set up an autoresponder that directs the sender to contact someone else in your absence in your out of office emails.
The workload of your colleagues: If your colleagues are already busy with their own work, forwarding your emails may add to their workload and cause unnecessary stress. In this case, it may be better to set up an autoresponder that directs the sender to contact someone else.
Your team's workflow: If your team has a well-established workflow and processes for handling emails and other communications, it may not be necessary to forward your emails. However, if your absence disrupts the workflow, forwarding your emails can help ensure that important tasks are not overlooked.
Forwarding your emails to other teammates when you're out of office is totally acceptable if it helps ensure that important tasks are not overlooked and urgent matters are handled promptly. However, it's important to consider the factors listed above and use your best judgment when deciding whether to forward your emails. No one likes to pick up on someone else’s slack, so try to put yourself in their shoes before doing so.