Ah, the out-of-office message: The email equivalent of a dead end. Seeing as we're in the thick of a holiday season, my guess is you're either going to be setting one of these auto-replies up or seeing a whole lot of them bouncing back into your inbox.
Out-of-office messages are important, as you'll need to set expectations and ensure you don't leave anyone hanging ... but it does seem like we could be making them a bit more enjoyable, don't you think?
For inspiration, here are a few examples from people who took the out-of-office reply to a new creative level.
Should you do this? Probably only if you've got some spare time on your hands and if it fits the culture of your office and the people who you expect to be emailing you. But if so, we say do it. We all need a little pick-me-up in our inboxes.
First and foremost, be useful.
Before you get to the fun stuff, make sure you've got your basic responsibilities covered. If you miss on these, no clever wordplay is going to make up for it.
- When are you going to return?
- Will you be slow to respond or completely unavailable?
- Who can the emailer get in touch with if the matter is time-sensitive or an emergency?
Include a short video.
One winter, I received an out-of-office reply from a coworker with a bit of a surprise inside. Beneath the out-of-office subject, the message read: "Help! I've been captured by angry short people with serious demands ... I have no access to email/phone/SMS/web until their demands are met!"
Following the message was an adorable video starring her sons demanding a bat mobile and all the candy in the world or, as the video explained, "The iPhone gets it!"
The overarching message? Your email is important, but I'm cutting the cord to my work email this week to spend some time with my kids. It softened the blow a bit when I realized I wasn't going to get an answer instantaneously and reminded me that, sometimes, work can wait.
If video-making isn't your boat, you can always include a fun video from your company or a YouTube clip that allows sharing. For example:
Sorry I missed you. I'm on vacation until Monday and will get back to you at that point. If your matter is time-sensitive, you can contact my teammate John at Johnsmith@company.com. I don't want you to go away empty-handed, so here's a puppy to keep you company until then.
Note: If you do this, remember that most email clients won't allow embedding, so you'll want to take a screenshot of the video and link to where it is hosted for those wanting to view it.
Give them something fun to do.
The first thing people picture after receiving your out-of-office is the luxurious vacation you are off enjoying while they are stuck in the office. It's a bummer. If your out-of-office comes during a holiday week, like this one, the recipient is probably seeing a lot auto-replies, why not try to lift their spirits with a game.
Sorry I missed you. I'll be out of the office and slow to respond until Monday. While I have you though, help me settle an argument among my teammates and me:
While the above example is a lighthearted one, you can actually include a useful quiz that helps you jumpstart your work when you return. For example, you can ask emailers, "What topic should I focus my next blog post on?"
Just be helpful (and human).
Whether you realize it or not, you come with an inherent set of frequently asked questions. Think about yours. What is your prime area of specialization? What are the questions you get again and again in email? While you may not be present to answer someone directly, you could point them towards some resources that will give them a head start while you're out.
You'll have to tailor your OOO message based on who you get emails from most often: colleagues or outside clients. But, if you have a good grasp on that, this email response could help resolve some questions.
Hey, I'm sorry I missed you, I'm out at a conference until Monday and won't be able to check email or voicemail. Here are some resources that might be helpful while I'm out.
- Need a piece marketing collateral? Check this list of available pieces (insert link)
- Have a question about our product? Search these help-docs (insert link)
- Want to invite me to lunch? How Lovely! Let's get tacos when I return.
If your matter is time-sensitive, you are welcome to directly connect with my colleague John Smith at email@example.com. Thanks for understanding.
Until we email again,
Note: If you use Gmail for your business, you can actually designate an out-of-office message to only go to your colleagues rather than outside contacts. That way you can triage your client or customer emails from the conference while putting internal emails on ice for a few days.
You may have too many other things going on before you head out for vacation to put much thought into your out-of-office, but if you do have a few moments, a little creativity can go a long way with the people trying to reach you.
What would be useful or interesting to you? What ideas do you have on how to make the out-of-office bounce-back a bit less deflating?