Out of Office Etiquette

Beach scene with surfers

Are you planning to be out of the office? Whether for business or on a personal vacation, it is considered proper etiquette to let those trying to get in touch with you know that you are away. There are a number of methods for handling this. Here are some tips:

Automate. Activate an automatic out of office message on your computer and on your phone. This may annoy some but will be appreciated by those that need your help. An automatic response is better than having an email or voicemail sit in your in-box until your return. You wouldn’t want the sender to feel they were being ignored. Point them to someone who can help if they can’t wait for your return.

Date of Return. When drafting your message, put your Date of Return and even a time of day if what you are responsible for is time critical. Let everyone know when you will be back at your desk and leave contact information for someone who can help in your absence. Be sure and indicate the date you will be back at your desk and ready to accept and return calls or messages. It may be confusing if you say something like, “I will return next Wednesday”. State the actual day and date of your return.

Security. It is also unsafe to put too many details in your away message, especially if you are traveling and will be away from home. In this electronic age it would not be difficult for someone to identify your home address. Your message, for example, should not say you are out of the country. It should simply state that you are out of the office and give a day and date for your return, noting the contact information for someone who can assist them in your absence. Even if you are traveling on business, it is better not to suggest that you are out of town.

Professionalism. Keep your message professional. It is improper to say where you are going and/or with whom. No one wants to hear you are on a sandy beach in Mexico enjoying a drink with an umbrella in it while they are at their desk desperately trying to get a question answered! Stating that you are “out of the office” is all they really need to know. If you want, you can let them know you are out of the office on business but it isn’t really necessary.

Humourless. You may be tempted to leave a funny away message, but don’t. You never know what may hit your inbox while you are away. Your close working associates or business partners may know your sense of humor but others may not. A funny message is good for a laugh, but will not project professionalism in the workplace.

Somewhat out of office. Perhaps you are out but may be available to respond to messages. If you are planning to check your messages remotely, say that on your out of office messages. Maybe you will check messages in the morning and evening. If that is the case, the person trying to reach you may rather wait for a return message from you than deal with your temporary replacement.

Exceptions. Depending on your computer software, it may be possible to state exceptions to your out of office message so that you do not respond automatically to certain people, groups or internet addresses. Automatic emails you receive do not necessary need a response and probably shouldn’t be receiving one. It is also possible to have an out of office message bounce once to a recipient instead of very time they send an email to you. When setting up your away messages, make them as easy to understand as possible.

Physical notice. Consider leaving a physical away message prominently displayed on your desk at work. Co-workers may just think you’re on break or at lunch and leave something important that requires attention, not realizing that you may not see it anytime soon. Leave a sign or something that reminds others you are not in the office and indicate on it when you will be returning. Suggest that the person covering for you in your absence check your desk daily, handling your incoming physical mail including all your business greeting cards.

Return reminder. We’ve all done it; forgotten to put everything back to normal when returning to work. Put a sticky on your phone to remind you to disengage the automatic out of office email and reinstate your normal voice mail message when you return. It is easy to return to your desk and begin catching up, forgetting to change your away messages.

The best advice is to treat others as you would want to be treated. If you sent an email to someone and they were unavailable for days, weeks or longer, what direction would you need from them in order for you to easily continue to carry on your business?