Did you set your "out of office" message?

I never thought I'd write a blog post about the amazing virtues of an "out of office" email responder. It hadn't dawned on me until recently to point out that you can change your outgoing voice mail message to indicate you won't be returning phone calls for some time. I had simply assumed everyone knew about these wonderful inventions. After this December, I now know what happens when you assume things.

Why is this important?
With so many holidays like Christmas, Hanukkah, New Years, and Festivus, December is obviously a time of year when many people take a few days off from work. When you are out of the office it is important to set appropriate expectations about when you might return a phone call or email. Otherwise, you may cause someone to anxiously wait for your response and even think a little less of you when they don't hear back.

This December, I estimate that only 50% of my vendors, clients, and colleagues who were out of the office had an out of office message. Those that didn't contributed to several delayed projects, multiple emails and voice mails, and a lowered impression. Plenty of others did provide out of office messages, and it was easy to know when I could expect a response from these folks.

What makes a good out of office message?
Email and voice mail out of office messages should all have a three key elements:

  • Inform the person you are not responding to email or voice mail
  • Tell the person when you will resume normal communication
  • Provide an alternative contact should the person have an urgent need

One quick tip -- be sure to turn off your email auto responder and change your voice mail greeting back to normal as soon as you return!