How to Master the Out of Office Message

I would be able to go on a permanent vacation if I had a nickel for every time I received this out of office reply (or some variation):

Hello, I am out of the office, returning on February 2. I will respond to your message as soon as possible. 

Best,
Cait

This standard out of office is not only boring, but also a wasted opportunity. Here's how to master your out of office on your next vacation.

Out of Office Basics
First and foremost, put an out of office up if you're going to be on vacation. Nobody wants to be left hanging. Your message should include:

  • Out of the office dates. You might find this obvious. Unfortunately, it's not. But it is the absolute, bare minimum. 
  • Point of contact. Ask a coworker in advance to be your email point of contact so he or she is prepared in your absence. You don't want to point emailers to someone who doesn't know the answer or put a coworker in a position where they don't feel prepared. If you have multiple projects, provide the relevant contacts and be specific about who the go-to is for each project.
  • How to reach you. Raise your hand if you've put your out of office up, but then responded through vacation anyway. Keep your hand up if you provided an alternate means to reach you on vacation (phone number, text me, etc.) Be honest with others—and reasonable with yourself—about your accessibility while you're away and when you will return. If you think it will take time to respond after vacation, give yourself that buffer in your response date.

Out of Office Mastery
Now that you've got the basics down, consider stepping up your game.

  • Highlight your vacation plans. Don't be afraid to include your vacation plans in your message. It's not bragging; it's setting an example. 
  • Share something to tide them over. Whether it's relevant to your work or providing a moment to pause while you get in your time away, add a link to an article, video, or website you find interesting. Since I often receive media inquiries and partnership requests, I like to highlight a finding from our research in my message to share the latest news from Project: Time Off. I have a friend who shares a fun fact about his vacation destination. 
  • Avoid oversharing. Your out of office message is still professional correspondence. Strike the balance between fun and TMI.
  • Go extreme: delete your email. The top reason people don't take time off is the fear of returning to a mountain of work. Say goodbye to that fear and the mountain of work by using an email deletion tool. Trust me, you can do it.

Template
Don't complicate things! Use this as a starting point for your next out of office. 

Thanks for your message. I'm [insert detail about vacation such as where you're going, what you're excited about, who you're with] from [date] to [date]. While I'm out, I won't be checking emails. Don't fret, [name] is available for urgent needs at [email address and/or phone number]

In the meantime, did you know [insert fact]? I recently read about this in [Source]; take a look.

I look forward to connecting when I return on [date].

Cheers,
[Name]

Starting from scratch? Use this list of out of office message dos and don'ts

January 30, 2017