Office Life

These are the 4 new rules of OOO

Clear out your inbox. Tidy up your desk (buh-bye, two-day old coffee cup). Send a note with next steps for lingering projects. Pick-up sunscreen on your lunch break. And set your out of office (OOO) — or not?

Preparing to be off the grid and dis-attached from the unhealthy relationship you have with your work phone usually feels complete once you turn on your out of office, signaling you’re unavailable for a hot second. After all, it’s the standard practice and corporate protocol.

“If you were out sick, on vacation or taking a leave, it was helpful to create the automatic response that would alert people you weren’t in the office and let them know whom to contact if they needed help in your absence,” Maggie Mistral, career and executive coach explains.

Relatively speaking, these reciprocal messages are a rather new concept themselves, since they only became necessary once email grew in popularity over the last few decades. Their purpose, of course, was to let clients, employees, managers, or other personnel you come in contact with know that you might not be as responsive as you typically are because you’re freed from your cubicle chains.

But in the new realm of working, where most assignments can be completed with a laptop and many professionals are expected to check-in even when they’re on a secluded beach in another timezone, have the rules of OOOs changed?

Here, a modern look at OOOs — and whether you need one at all.

They don’t have to only be for vacation

Since most communication transpires over email instead of good ‘ole fashion telephone lines these days, you probably have far more unopened digital messages than voicemails. For some digital professionals who conduct the majority of their business thanks to mail systems, an automatic response isn’t just reserved for when they’re traveling, but all the time. This helps to cut back on the number of ‘follow up’ or ‘confirming you received this’ pings that are often unnecessary and disruptive to workflow.

As industrial-organizational psychology practitioner and workplace expert, Amy Cooper Hakim, Ph.D explains, this OOO practice is useful in setting expectations on response time. While you might want to be mindful of your manager’s perception on this tactic, if you can make a case on why it saves time while ensuring clients or other teams in your company, you might find a more efficient balance.

They don’t have to be stuffy

From signing off with the right balance of friendliness and professionalism to the appropriate time to CC a higher-up, there are certain scripts we all follow in the best practices of corporate emailing. That being said, if your industry prides itself on creativity and is open-minded to transparency and humor, career expert Margie M. Mauldin says to have a little fun with your OOO.

Instead of the stuffy standard that dictates while you’re away from your regular working hours, consider a few one-liners that might incite laughter on the other end.

As an example, she suggests:
“Where are you? Vacation
How is it? Relaxing
Will I be happy to be home on [date]? Maybe
Will I be busy playing catch-up? Yes
Will I get back to you when I can? You bet!”

They can be unnecessary with new methods of work

Career expert and founder of the HR firm Gray Scalable Charlie Gray says the new lifestyle that blends work with life more cohesively is taking away the need for OOO. Instead, many people choose to be available, or at least, check-in, even when they’re touring Europe or backpacking through Southeast Asia. And since millennials are leaning toward remote work and more companies are offering unlimited vacation, most employees never go more than a day or two without responding.

They can be replaced with a virtual assistant

Depending on your email provider, Mistal says some out of offices can actually wreck havoc on servers, causing your address to go to spam for too much output.

As a way to avoid this, Mistral explains some professionals are leaning away from the standard OOO and toward virtual assistants instead.

“I’ve experienced an uptick in spam in the past after putting on an out of office because an out of office confirms your email address is valid. And valid emails are the ones solicitors want when sending spam. In lieu of an out of office message, I’ve had a virtual assistant check my email box during my extended absence and let me know via phone/text if something needs addressing,” she says.

A virtual assistant can save you the headache of worrying about missing an important email, because someone will be on guard to prompt you when you’re needed.

And when you’re not? Logging offline and picking up another margarita is encouraged.

Lindsay Tigar is a seasoned lifestyle and travel writer. When she’s not busy writing, she’s collecting another passport stamp, taking a boxing class or trying new foods. A full collection of her work can be found at lindsaytigar.com.