I’m starting my Christmas holiday today, and I will be having six straight days off. That’s the longest holiday I’ve had in over two years. I’m celebrating the occasion with a Flashback Friday to this newspaper story that I did on Christmas Eve eight years ago.
Summer means holiday and vacation, at least in Norway, where the country grounds to a halt for three weeks. Most people have been told to turn on Out of Office in their email when they go away. But should you? I’m here to tell you that no, you probably shouldn’t. Not unless you plan to not read your email.
I’m sure you are familiar with this situation:
You need a reply, urgently, from someone about an issue in an important project. Seconds after hitting Send, you hear a pling in your Inbox. But the email reply says: “John Doe is Out of the Office. Will return 32nd of February 2014. If urgent, please contact Jane Colleague.”
So naturally you contact Jane. She promises to look into your problem, but she’s not really familiar with the project, so she has to check up on things before getting back to you. Here’s the punchline: John brought his cellphone with him on holiday. And on this device he reads the email you sent. So he replies to your questions. These are questions Jane now is spending her valuable time finding replies to. Unfortunately she’s not able to come up with any answers, so she contacts another colleague and then he starts spending time on this.
The wheels are now in motion. The others don’t know that you are happy because John got back to you after all, and the company loses time and money because other people are working on providing you with something you already have. This is bad business.
My advice is therefore: If you are planning on being available via email, either via computer or a hand held device, during the holiday, do not turn on Out of Office! You are either offline or you are online. There’s nothing in between. Telling someone that you are out of office, but you will “read email sporadically,” is worthless info for when there are issues that can’t wait.
Second advice: If you have turned on Out of Office, do not reply before you are back at work! The people who have emailed you are not expecting a reply before you are back, because it’s stated very clearly in your Out of Office reply when you will be back (or at least it should be). And if it was urgent for them to get a reply, they must surely have been in contact with other colleagues of yours by now. Replying, even if you have stated that you are Out of Office, does not come off as being very professional.
Last advice: If you do turn on Out of Office, make sure you care completely offline! It’s ok to take a break and have timeout from your work. It’s your well earned holiday, and you are not indispensable. Making certain key personnel at your workplace know how to reach you (like your boss or project leader) by phone or other means is fine. But do not read your email.
A lot of people do not take Out of Office messages seriously any more because of what I’ve written above. So I will personally add an: “No, seriously, I really am out of the Office…” to my Out of Office message.
Have a nice summer, folks!