Key aspects of being a successful professional is being Able, Available and Accessible. I am therefore constantly shocked by how many people do not think about Availability and Accessibility when setting up their Out of Office (0-o-O) messages. This is a key sales message to clients, contacts and colleagues. It immediately says volumes about you, your office and your systems.
Some people admittedly do not use it, fine, if you are regularly and frequently checking your Inbox and replying, otherwise you risk people feeling you are ignoring them.
Most people will have to use it sometime, either, for example, through work commitments, vacation or illness. How then to approach your message? My fundamental point is that your O-o-O must say (1) when you will be Available and (2) how you are Accessible in the meantime. Let’s examine these principles briefly.
Availability: say when you will be back in circulation or can reply. Be as precise as you can, and stick to that deadline.
Accessible: meantime how can you be accessed? Should they leave you a voicemail? Write a fuller email? Contact your secretary or colleague. Give contact details. If away for a prolonged period, perhaps a colleague in the firm who can deal. Remember you have both internal and external O-o-O so you can be more open perhaps in the internal one. Above all make sure the people you name on your O-o-O know they are on it and will respond in time frames you find acceptable.
If you follow these principles, I believe, you will give out a positive message about you and the firm: You are there for your clients, contacts and colleagues and the firm is there for you.
Consider the reverse, here is an example I came across recently:
“Thank you for your email. I am on holiday until Tuesday 3 May, and will not be picking up emails regularly or at all. I will respond to any emails as soon as I can on my return from holiday.”
That O-o-O fails, in my book, for so many reasons. It effectively says: “I am out of the office and you cannot contact me, I might read your email but I might not, I will get around to replying when I come back at some indefinite time. In the meantime you are unsupported, cannot contact me and I have no colleagues who can help you if it is urgent.”
Sure, we are all entitled to go off the grid at times – but leave a backup, leave an alternative, for your sake and the sake of the firm. Think about your O-o-O a few days before, get your contacts geared up, read and re-read your O-o-O to make sure your clients, contacts and colleagues feel looked after and supported. We live in a frenetic world, make sure the impression you give is the right one.