Out of Office Responders

by Dave Michels

I have stated many times that out of office responders are nonsensical, at least in name. Not long ago – a decade or so – being out of the office was the same as being dead. Inter-office envelopes stood unopened. Expense reports and other paperwork piled on the chair. No representation in meetings meant either no contribution or sometimes no progress. However, there was no way to avoid out of office occurrences, so we accepted them as a necessary evil of real life.

As we moved into virtual times, namely email, it became necessary to extend the physical concept. After-all, a person sending email has no way of knowing if one is or is not in said office. The Out of Office (OoO) message was born – an automatic response to all emails that effectively conveyed:

“Thanks for sending me your important note, this out-of-office auto response is to inform you that your message will sit in my mailbox unread. If it is important, find someone else because the realities of workflow prevent me from being responsive or productive while away. “

For the past decade or so, we have been playing up mobility in UC with work anywhere any time on any device. Therefore, the out of office response is obsolete. At least as an explanation. The idea of alerting someone of unavailability remains as valid as ever – it’s really just the ‘out of office’ as an excuse. There are indeed times were we are unavailable, but location has very little to do with it.

The concept of location as a productivity inhibitor is really a bit of a joke. It’s like asking someone for the time and being told, sorry, I have new shoes. Who cares? Stating “I am out of the office” is a perfectly legitimate response to “are you in the office?” but that’s about it.

The problem (opportunity) is that many people still believe being out of the office  is a perfectly complete and useful explanation for a slow response. The reality is “out of office” actually begs more questions than it answers. That’s why I thought I would share this recent response from my friend Mike at Data Network Group. He still calls it an Out of Office message, but cleverly includes a FAQ. I’ve included it below slightly edited to protect his privacy.

Mike’s Out of Office FAQ

Where is Mike this time?

Mike will be in Mexico relaxing on a beach for a week and then at an industry conference and board meetings in Orlando for another week.

When will you be back?
Monday the 17th.

So are you connected? Are you reading email? Responding to phone calls?
While he tries to stay connected when possible, the main purpose of being away is to separate him from the office and focus on the task at hand, whether that be spending time with family or business development. He is always available for emergencies; however service is unpredictable so the best bet is to always contact the office.  He will in all likelihood be checking his email.

I need technical help! My computer is on fire!  My network is being attacked by escaped zoo animals!
First of all, if you are emailing him directly for technical support you are already starting with the wrong person.  We have an excellent team who is much more proficient than he is and can better help you.  To contact technical support:

Email support@ or call 303-nnn-nnnn

For emergencies, calling is always the best option and will route you properly after-hours.  Plus, the support team has fire extinguishers and tranquilizer guns on hand.  If there is still something that only he can address, it may need to wait until he get’s back.

You will only get this message once while he is out, so please save it if you need the contact information.   Plus, if you are still reading and haven’t fallen asleep or passed out from boredom, he hopes you weren’t expecting some sort of exciting climactic conclusion.

For technical matters, XXX is your best contact.  He can get you to the right resources to get your problem solved.  He can be reached at [email protected] at 303-nnn-nnnx.

If this is related to new business, YYY  is your guy.  You can reach him at [email protected]  or 303-nnn-nnxy.

What I particularly like is, of course I’m still reading email, but don’t expect a quick response. I’m always suspicious of people that say they will not be checking their email.