An out of office message, also known as an OOO message or auto-reply, is an automated email response that notifies recipients you are out of the office and unable to reply to emails. These messages are incredibly useful for avoiding miscommunication and managing expectations when you are away from work.
Out of office messages typically include:
- Dates you'll be out of the office
- When you'll return and resume normal email communication
- An alternate contact if needed while you're away
- A short note about availability
"I will be out of the office from December 20 to January 5. I will respond to your email when I return on January 6. For urgent requests, please contact Jane Doe at email@example.com."
The key benefit of out of office messages is clarity. People understand why you are not responding and who to contact if needed. This prevents confusion and frustration.
When Should You Use an Out of Office Message?
Enable your out of office message anytime you will be unable to check or respond to email for an extended period during normal working hours. Common examples include:
- Vacation: The #1 time to use an OOO is when you're on vacation or a holiday break. Set the dates to cover the full period so people know when to expect a reply.
- Personal time off: Sick days, personal days, and mental health days are all good reasons to turn on your out of office message so colleagues know you're unavailable.
- Conferences and events: Attending an industry conference, trade show, or offsite meeting? Let folks know you'll be hard to reach.
- Team building and travel: Offsite retreats and work-related travel are other occasions that warrant an OOO message.
The overarching rule is to use an out of office message when you will be hard to reach during typical working hours. For short meetings or partial days off, you can simply indicate your lack of availability in emails as needed rather than a blanket OOO message.
How Long Should You Be Out Before Setting an OOO?
As a general best practice, you should set an out of office message for any absence of at least one full business day or longer. Anything less may not warrant an automatic reply. For example, you probably don't need an OOO message for routine half-day doctor's visits or being out of the office for a morning training. Simply mentioning you'll be out in relevant emails is sufficient.
On the other hand, a three-day conference across the country or week-long vacation absolutely warrants an out of office. Being 100% unreachable for a full business day is the turning point for when to use an OOO auto-reply.
Also, consider the volume of email you receive. If you get 50+ emails daily, even a half day absence may necessitate an out of office to avoid inbox overwhelm. Use your own discretion based on your availability and email load.
How to Write the Perfect Out of Office Message
Writing a great out of office message is an art. Follow these tips and examples to craft auto-replies that are professional, helpful, and personal.
Keep it Short and Concise
Brevity is key. Get across the necessary information as briefly as possible. People don't want to read paragraphs of text.
Stick to 3-5 sentences max. Include only relevant details like:
- Dates you'll be out
- Date of return
- Alternative contact if needed
Resist detailing why you'll be out or what you're doing. Nobody needs to know you'll be at your cousin's wedding in Aruba! A simple "I'll be out of the office..." will suffice.
Provide an Alternate Contact
Make sure to include an alternate contact person, email, or phone number if you have one. This gives people an avenue for time sensitive issues.
"If you need immediate assistance, please contact Jane Doe at firstname.lastname@example.org or 123-456-7890."
If you don't have a go-to alternate, simply leave this part out.
Set Proper Email Expectations
Let people know when you'll be back online and able to reply to messages. This gives them an idea of when to follow-up if needed.
"I'll respond to your email when I'm back in the office on Monday, January 30."
Giving a specific date prevents recipients from wondering when you'll return.
Use Your Unique Voice and Tone
While out of office messages should be professional, they also present an opportunity to inject some personality. This reassures people and sets the right tone.
"I'm away recharging my creative juices and will return on Monday ready to brainstorm."
A bit of light-heartedness and unique voice can go a long way. Just keep it workplace appropriate.
Thank the Sender
Close your OOO with a quick thanks or regards to acknowledge the recipient. This gives it a polite, professional tone.
"Thanks for your patience. Looking forward to reconnecting when I'm back."
A simple "Thanks!" or "Best regards" adds a nice human touch.
OOO Message Examples
Here are several example out of office messages covering common scenarios and tones:
Standard Vacation OOO
"I will be out of the office from June 1 to June 15 on vacation. I'll respond to your email when I'm back in the office on June 16. For urgent requests, please contact Jane Doe at email@example.com. Thanks for your patience!"
"I'm away at the Digital Media Summit March 8-10 and will have limited access to email. I'll respond upon my return to the office on Monday, March 13. Best regards."
Flexible Partial-Day OOO
"I'm out of the office today for a doctor's appointment and will be checking email intermittently. For anything urgent, please call me at 123-456-7890. Otherwise, I'll reply in full when I'm back tomorrow."
"Gone fishing to reel in new ideas! I'll get back to your email when I'm back in the office on August 30 tanned and inspired."
International Travel OOO
"I'm traveling to our London office July 20-29. Due to the time difference, my responses may be delayed. Please contact Mark Jones at firstname.lastname@example.org for immediate needs. Cheers!"
The key is keeping it short, direct, and actionable while adding a touch of personality. Think carefully about the tone you want to convey with your particular out of office message.
- Out of office messages notify people you are unavailable and unable to promptly respond to emails for a period of time.
- Use an OOO auto-reply anytime you are out for a full day or longer during typical working hours.
- Keep your message concise with key details like date range and alternate contacts provided.
- Set proper email reply expectations by noting what date you'll be back online.
- Inject some of your personal tone and voice while remaining professional.
- End with a thanks or regards to politely acknowledge the recipient.
With the wide adoption of remote work, out of office messages are more essential than ever. The above tips will help you write auto-replies that set clear expectations so you can truly unplug and recharge when away.
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