Every week or so I sent out a newsletter. Which means that every week, I get back a couple of dozen out of office auto-replies. And it’s staggering how they all sound the same: ‘I am away on annual leave until [date]. I shall respond to your email upon my return. If your query is urgent, contact [this person] instead.’
They make me sad. What a wasted opportunity! That little auto-reply email is speaking on your behalf hundreds of times while you’re away. You don’t need to be a self-obsessed Insta-influencer to see how you can use it to create a memorable little moment that will raise a smile, and help people see you differently. (or yes ‘build your personal brand’, if you want to be a bit of a w*nker about it.)
And it really does work. A client I used to work at once admitted that it was our agency founder’s rambling ‘It’s Friday so I’m off looking after my kids’ out of office missives which prompted her to hire us. I know a chap who found love via his out of office message. (She said she liked his out of office, he said what are you doing after work, and they had several happy months together. Then she broke up with him by text. Which was cruel, but strangely fitting.)
But I get it. You don’t want to come across all smug with one of those ‘I’m off to the Seychelles with my beautiful family hashtag so blessed’ kinda messages. So what are your options? Here are five killer out of office strategies you could use this summer:
1) Add mystery and intrigue. Tell people nothing at all about what you’re doing, and you’re dull. But say your silence is because you can’t tell them? That’s different. A while ago, I was working on a project with a tight NDA, in a windowless basement office. My auto reply said:
Today I’m in a secret bunker, working on secret things, in secret. I’ll probably be back tomorrow. But I can’t talk about it.
Suddenly I was an International Man of Mystery, and people started emailing me wanting to know what was going on.
2) Tell people something they don’t know. ‘I’m travelling for work’ is boring. But tell people something about where you’re going, and they can come along with you. The quirkier the better. I got this Out of Office from someone years ago:
I’ve gone to Loughborough for a meeting. Admit it, you’re already thinking of that joke about how Americans call it ‘Loogah-baroogah’ aren’t you?. Well, were you also aware that Loughborough is the home of Ladybird books and is home to the world’s largest bell foundry? Now you have three Loughborough anecdotes. You’re welcome.
3) Give people something else to do instead. They’d emailed hoping to hear back from you, and now that’s not happening. So why not give people something to occupy them by auto-pinging them a rabbit hole to fall into. This tip comes courtesy of this recent piece about OOOs in the Guardian:
While I’m away, you can browse Wikipedia’s list of inventors killed by their own inventions.
Aaand now they’re just a click away from losing half their morning reading about Franz Reichelt, the ill-fated inventor of the ‘coat-parachute’…
4) Tell a whopping lie… We live in Fake News times. Our Prime Ministers and Presidents blatantly say the most outrageously untrue things every single day. So why not just make stuff up?
I’m spending a week farming llamas with Barack Obama, then a few days hot air ballooning over the Arctic, before rounding off my holiday with a short cheese-tasting trip to the moon. I won’t send you a postcard because stamps have been made illegal. This email will now self destruct unless you hug the photocopier.
OK so perhaps a bit riskier in a more corporate office, but hey.
5) … or be radically honest. You could go completely the other way, and just say the truth:
I’m away for two weeks. Realistically, I’ll still be checking emails on my phone until around Wednesday, so you might get a response until then. After that, I’ll either finally wind down, my battery will run out, or Rob will confiscate my phone. When I get back on 18th August, I’ll most likely take one look at the four zillion unread messages in my inbox and just delete them all. So best to re-send your email after that date. Good luck.
5 ½ Or throw a curveball, and set your out of office even when you’re not out. This is my favourite. I quite often set my out of office even if I’m in the office and working. Sometimes it’s so I can turn my email off for a few hours and concentrate, sometimes it’s just because. In fact, if you email me right now, the chances are you’ll get an out of office reply saying… well, you’ll just have to email me nick at thatexplainsthings dot com and find out.