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It’s Time to Stop Saying You’re Out of the Office (Guest Article)

Guest Article by Loryan Strant - Microsoft MVP Office Apps & Services

While the workplace and technologies are changing how we work, some habits refuse to die. While some appear trivial, it all comes down to perception.

One of these habits is the out of office reply, sometimes referred to as OOF.

For many years staff had to come into the office to access their email due to technological limitations. This was largely due to one of two scenarios:

  • Email was hosted on a server behind the corporate firewall with no simple way to access it
  • Email was hosted by a server hosting provider (before we called it cloud) – you didn’t want to have it on multiple machines as the protocols didn’t allow for synchronizing between them, meaning you would end up with lost emails or a broken conversation history

Back in those days we didn’t have email on our mobile phones, so the practice became that if you were out of the office for more than a day; you would configure an out of office.

Going back even further before the times of Exchange Server, back to the 80s the term “OOF” came about due to the naming of the auto-reply feature in the Xenix email system. The term meant “Out of Facility”, so while “Out of Office” should be written as “OOO” it is still referred to as “OOF” purely from habit.

But history lessons aside, why do people still say they are out of the office in their automatic replies?

This is commonly seen when people are at conferences, all day workshops, holidays, travelling, etc. While technically they are out of the office, does this mean they are less able to access their email than when they are in the office?

Mobile access to email has been with us for a long time. BlackBerry made it commonplace in the early 2000s, with Apple then making it mainstream in the late 2000s with the popularity of the iPhone. Back in those days a lot of mail systems still resided on-premises, and behind a corporate firewall so connecting the Outlook desktop client to a remote server was not necessarily as easy as it was for a mobile phone.

However, in this era of commonplace cloud services such as Microsoft 365 (formerly Office 365), it makes virtually no difference if you are in the office or out of it – when it comes to being able to access your email.

So why do we still have the habit of setting up automatic replies that say things like “Thank you for your email. I am currently out of the office attending a conference.”?

In fact, specifying that you are in the office these days is almost an embarrassment – as it shows that your organization is not progressive enough to support a flexible work style.

The message that automatic replies are trying to convey is that the recipient is either busy or offline for periods of time, and as such won’t be responding to emails as quick as normal.

The reality is that if you send an email to someone and get an automatic reply but need to talk to them – try an alternative contact method such as calling or text messaging to convey the importance. Perhaps if it was such an important message, it should have been a phone call in the first place?

We have different expectations on emails. Some people like me are generally fast to respond, while others are incredibly slow to respond or don’t at all. There is no accepted service level agreement for email response times.

So, if you’re unable to check and respond to emails because you’re busy – even if it’s for half a day let alone several days or weeks; say that. But don’t say you’re out of the office, because in general we don’t care where you are.

About Loryan Strant

A no-nonsense, forthright technology-guru, Loryan Strant is an independent consultant who brings close to 25 years of IT experience to his clients.

A pioneer in the technology industry, Loryan’s love for technology and what it can do for him and for his clients truly shines through his work as an independent consultant, author, webcaster, blogger and public speaker. With the desire to advise his clients to become technologically self-sufficient, Loryan’s focus is to provide them with the skills they need to become aware of their technological needs and acquire the unequivocal confidence to execute a solution and change their technology ways.

Loryan is considered a subject matter expert in the Microsoft cloud area, specifically Office 365 and has been recognized as a Microsoft Most Valuable Professional for Office Servers and Services since 2011. He has developed models around productivity transformation, continual technology adoption, and building raving fans within organizations.

Loryan works with all varieties of organisations from SMBs through to Enterprise, private ownership, public sector, education, and not-for-profit.

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