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Out of Office Alerts are So Out of Here

Dennis Dayman

Do Out of Office alerts these days serve a purpose anymore? They seem to work well a decade ago when you were really out of the office and your computer sat under your desk and you couldn't check email till you got to it.

Today, we as an industry and as individuals now have laptops, iPads, Smartphones, Wifi, WiMAX, etc. keeping us 100% of the time on the Internet at one time or another. And you know we all at one point throughout our days whether or not on vacation or after 5 PM check email as part of our everyday lives. The unfortunate thought here is that we as people are so wired(less) today that in our minds we think that we have to answer email as quickly as possible or expect an answer in a few minutes when we send one.

Some of us have used Out of Office alerts (OOO) to tell people we are:

1) On vacation
2) In meetings for 5 hours on day
3) On the other side of the world and will have a time difference before answering email
4) Not with the company anymore

I know that when I see someone's OOO vacation alert I can always expect a second response from them on their mobile device (which is their normal phone too) to my original email because it is always with them.

I know that when I am in a week long quarterly company meeting that I will be responding to emails that same day I get them

I know what even though I am aboard in the EU that I am going to respond to emails ASAP because I have the ability to no matter where I am.

So why the OOO alert then? Is it because we put such an importance on email and the need to make sure we are NOT ignore you as the sender in this immediate email gratification world we live in?

Why can't we just give each other a break and just plain and simple say to ourselves that I will send this email to this person and give them a few hours if NOT days to respond at their leisure. Maybe we don't really need the OOO alert except for vacations? Maybe we don't need to let everyone know I went to a long lunch meeting and will be back later?

Many of you don't know it, but I stopped using OOO alerts this year. Why? cause I am always going to respond to your email whether I am in the EU or out for the day or just a few hours in a meeting. I have my laptop, iPhone, and iPad with me. I am always near an Internet connection. When I have the free time I will be checking email. Now a few sales people would disagree with me response times, but hey can't win them all ;). I have successfully been able to still make people think I am responding to their email in a timely manner. Go figure.. Nothing changed! I am still answering emails when I can just without the OOO alert.

Also, I am noticing that it for me it can be a security risk to my family when people know I am gone for long periods of time or in far way places. Sort of like PleaseRobMe.com. All a criminal needs to do is see my OOO alert and if they are smart enough find out where I live and rob or harm my family.

We unfortunately live in a world of over sharing and need to be more cautious and courteous to others about this. I can't tell you how many times I send an email to one of my email marketing or privacy lists and over half of the OOO alerts are just a plain "I am in a meeting today" alert. I just filled my inbox up with 100 new emails that I now need to delete. *GAH*

All I am saying is think about it next time that you want to turn on your OOO. Do you really need it? Will you will be answering email while it is on? Will it impact you negatively without it? Will it throw off the timing of your email responses by that much without it? Will you overload people who don't need it? Are you creating a security hazard?

If you do have an OOO alert for vacation (which I do recommend), please don't make it one (1) page long. One (1) line/sentence is all that is needed saying who to contact in your absence. I am just as guilty for this in the past. Treat it like a marketing message. What is my call to action? You only have 3-5 seconds to tell me why this email is important before I trash it ;)

Give it a try like I did. Turn off OOO alerts if your traveling for business one week or will be in a long meeting. I guarantee you it will make no difference other than removing the unwanted email out there and possibly creating a change in your mind that you DON'T have to be online 100% of the time.

Like I tell my wife late at night, close the laptop… email and the Internet will be there in the morning waiting for you.

P.S. I will be on vacation sometime this summer so if you don't hear from me I will get back to you ASAP ;)

Personal note from me: Take a REAL vacation this year. Don't create an OOO alert saying you will be check email for high priority issues. A vacation in the simplest definition I found on the Internet is this, leisure time away from work devoted to rest or pleasure. Go rest! Get away from the hussle and bussle of email. Take a vacation from the Internet. Don't turn on your device(s) for work. Use that iPad instead to find the nearest theater to spend time with the kids or the nearest restaurant to take your family to dinner while on vacation.

By Dennis Dayman, Chief Privacy Officer. More blog posts from Dennis Dayman can also be read here.

Related topics: Email, Spam


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I have not used an OOO message Justin Scott  –  Aug 04, 2010 3:42 PM PDT

I have not used an OOO message in years aside from vacation notifications.  I do still use vacation notifications because even though I can check that e-mail while I'm on vacation (usually), I specifically choose not to.  Even if I do check it, I will only perform basic maintenance such as deleting junk mail or filing things I won't need to act on.  I will not, however, reply or act on any of those messages until my vacation is over.  The OOO message lets people know this and provides an alternate contact who can take care of them in my absence.  Specifically, I don't want to create a precedent where people "expect" that I'll still be answering their e-mail even when I'm on vacation.  In some cases, I'm on vacation in a place where it's either difficult if not impossible to check my mail (such as hiking on the Appalachian Trail where I'm saving my phone's battery for an emergency and it's turned off otherwise, or I'm on a cruise ship and not paying for Internet access to do work while I'm supposed to be relaxing on the Lido Deck).  So, I believe it still has a place, but only if you're really going to be away for an extended period and you need to provide alternate contacts in the interim.  I do still like to get copies of those messages so I can follow-up when I return and ensure that they were taken care of.

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