When we travel and will not have much time for responding to emails, we turn on the automatic ”out of office”-reply. Many use this simple yet valuable way of informing whoever is emailing us that we will respond to their message, but it might take us a bit longer than usual to do so.
We might do the same thing when we are attending a course, on holiday, home sick, taking care of a sick child, or in other situations when we are not at work.
There, but never ”here”
But surely we can regard ourselves ”out of office” even if we are at the office, since the ”out of office”-message is only intended to inform the sender that it will take a little longer than usual for us to respond, not necessarily inform of where we are physically at. Therefore, we can use this function when sitting by our desk as well.
Personally, I am usually ”at the office” when I travel and ”out of office” when actually in my office. I have recently written and developed a new course and a few new lectures, and if there is ever a time when I get tunnel-vision and become completely engulfed by a task, it is when working on these projects. It has taken me longer than usual to respond to emails in the last couple of days and I wish I had let those who have emailed me know that, which I will make a point of doing from now on. The person emailing us is most interested in when they might expect an answer from us — not where we are physically.
Let us therefore remember to also use the ”out of office”-message when our regular timeframe for responding to emails is prolonged for some reason — regardless if we are at the office or not.
If you think this sounds like a good idea, then try the following:
- Think about what typical situations you might be able to apply this tip to. When do you usually ”fall behind” on processing your email inbox even if you are not out of town or home sick?
- Now formulate a text you might use in these situations and save it wherever you keep your standardized texts easily available (I keep mine in a notebook in Evernote).
- If you can predict one or several situations due to which it will take you longer to process and answer emails, remind yourself of turning on the ”out of office”-message by writing a to-do-task that is due the day you know you will be busy with something more important than checking your inbox.
Being clear is always appreciated
If we make it clear to the sender when they might expect an answer from us and that it might take longer than usual before they do, he or she will know what to expect. They will not have to worry whether we received the email at all (because they do get lost sometimes!) or if we have read it, but can decide for themselves if the matter is so urgent that they need to try reaching us by phone or some other way instead. Clarity creates flexibility and makes communication run much smoother.
What’s your way?
How do you use the ”out of office”-function? If you have another idea than those mentioned here, let us know in a comment.