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3 reasons you shouldn’t use out of office emails

Mailbutler looks into the reasons why you shouldn't use out of office emails when you're away, and offers some better solutions.

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    By James

    James has seven years' experience as a Content Marketer, bylines on Left Foot Forward, Submittable, and INOMICS, and a Master's in History. In his free time he likes to read, play guitar, and write for his personal blog.

    No one really wants to get their inbox filled with useless emails; in fact, we've written about the importance of cleaning up your inbox in order to improve your workflow and professional life.

    It can be especially annoying when the emails which are flooding in aren't even helping your business, but are simply out of office (OOO) messages from someone who is currently on holiday!

    So what’s the purpose of using OOO emails when the message does nothing for the recipient, but rather, annoys them?

    Deciding whether to use an out of office email response depends on a number of factors, including how long you're away for, whether anyone else can answer your emails for you, and if OOOs fit your company's brand.

    So before you start sending out of office replies willy-nilly, consider: do you really need them?

    Below are some of the most relevant things to keep in mind for why you shouldn’t use out of office emails in your Outlook, Gmail or Apple Mail inbox.

    You're unavailable just for a short period of time

    Going away for a couple of days (or even less!) is not a strong enough reason for you to start sending out of office emails. Recipients receiving OOO emails when they know they can simply message you after you're back from your long weekend will only get annoyed.

    Think of receiving an out of fffice reply when the email sender is away just for the day delivering a keynote talk, or when they are in a meeting. Would that be of any interest to you?

    It seems unlikely. Sending an OOO message for short periods of unavailability comes across as unprofessional. Shutting down or limiting all communication for a few days is not considered less professional, but sending unnecessary OOO messages most certainly is.

    Out of office emails aren't fitting for your company

    Out of office emails are standard for businesses, but ask yourself: is external communication important for your company? If the answer is yes, then you should consider not using OOO emails.

    They can harm your business and create an overall bad experience for the customer.

    Imagine someone is working in customer support, leaves for 2 weeks, and starts sending out-of-office replies Would you as a customer be satisfied with that company's services? I would assume no.

    This unpleasant experience might reflect badly on the company and scare customers away. Knowing they have problems and there is no one in the whole company taking care of them could make them rethink their decision of using the services provided by that company.

    The better solution to an out-of-office reply when it comes to customer support? Having someone else take over customer communication.

    For example, at Mailbutler, our info email address is shared by multiple employees, meaning that when one team member is unavailable, another person can take over their incoming communication.

    Finding a replacement to manage incoming inquiries for employees on vacation or for those away for work purposes ensures your customers have a pleasant experience with your company.

    Your Inbox, Smarter

    Designed for business owners and freelancers using Outlook, Gmail and Apple Mail.

    Of course, if your company consists of only you, and you aren't available for more than two days, you need to let clients know that during this time support cannot be provided. In this case, you have no other option but to use out-of-office emails.

    Out of office emails can be bad for security

    There is also the issue of security. If you have any contact information (e.g. your email address, work and phone number, supervisor contact info) or your signature added to the out-of-office reply, it could help scammers piece together the elements needed for identity theft.

    When your auto-reply is turned on and someone sends you a message, your mail server will send the OOO reply back to the spammers, confirming that your email address is a valid one.

    In turn, they will get confirmation that their spam reached a real live target. Your address will likely be added to other spam lists as a confirmed hit.

    Moreover, by replying that you are on vacation, you are offering vital information to others. It's possible - though perhaps unlikely - that your message might get sent to someone who then knows when the best time is to break into your home or company.

    Imagine letting everyone know that all company employees are away for one week during the holidays, or that you and your family are not at home because you are flying out for two weeks of vacation. Better safe than sorry: no out-of-office emails, no risks!

    If you want to avoid putting yourself at risk and creating an unpleasant experience for your customers, it's better to talk to one of your colleagues to see if they can take over your external communication while you are gone.

    Of course, if you are away for a longer time period and no one can take care of your emails, then you'll need an out of office email. But keep in mind when composing your OOO message that strangers, spammers, and scammers may see and crawl your automated OOO messages.

    Don't put any personal info (e.g. phone number, address, name, etc.) in your email if you normally wouldn't give it to strangers.

    Cultural Perspectives on OOO Emails

    Different cultures have varied perceptions and etiquettes surrounding communication, including the use of OOO emails:

    • Japan: In Japanese work culture, dedication to one's job is highly valued. Not informing colleagues and clients of absences, even short ones, might be perceived as inconsiderate. OOO emails are a way to show respect and professionalism.

    • Scandinavian Countries: With a strong emphasis on work-life balance, OOO emails in countries like Sweden or Denmark are not just common but expected during vacations or public holidays.

    • Silicon Valley Tech Culture: In the world of startups, the lines between work and personal time can blur. Here, OOO emails might be less about informing of vacations and more about signaling when someone is truly unreachable, like during a digital detox.

    When OOO emails worked wonders

    While the article primarily focuses on the drawbacks of OOO emails, it's essential to recognize their potential benefits. Here's a more detailed exploration:

    • Building Trust with Transparency: OOO emails can foster trust by setting clear expectations. When a client or colleague knows you're away and understands the reason, it can prevent misunderstandings and potential frustrations.

    • Emergency Situations: In unexpected emergencies, an OOO email can serve as a quick way to inform contacts about your unavailability, ensuring that urgent matters are redirected to the right person or department.

    • Mental Health and Work-Life Balance: OOO emails can be a testament to a company's commitment to employee well-being. By encouraging employees to set OOO messages during vacations, it emphasizes the importance of disconnecting and recharging.

    Future predictions: The evolution of OOO emails

    The evolution of OOO emails

    As technology advances, the way we communicate and set boundaries in our professional lives will inevitably evolve. Here's a speculative look at the future of OOO emails:

    • AI-Powered Responses: Instead of generic OOO messages, AI could craft personalized responses based on the content of the incoming email. For instance, if a client emails about a project deadline, the AI could provide a status update in your absence.

    • Smart Calendars: Future email systems might integrate seamlessly with our calendars. If someone tries to contact you during a time you're marked as "unavailable," the system could automatically suggest alternative times for communication or meetings.

    • Virtual Assistants: Beyond just sending OOO messages, virtual assistants might handle basic tasks in your absence, like scheduling meetings, providing resources, or even answering frequently asked questions.


    Are out of office emails necessary?

    It depends. If you are a freelancer or an entrepreneur who works alone, setting up an out-of-office email reply when you’re away for longer than a few days is absolutely necessary.

    However, if you are a part of a large company, then asking a colleague to take over your email communication while you’re on a business trip or family vacation is a much better option. This way, you avoid coming across as unprofessional and losing important clients.

    Are out of office messages safe?

    Out-of-office email messages present a safety risk if you include personal information in them like your phone number, email address, and secondary contact details.

    Scammers can try and use these pieces of information to steal your identity. What’s more, if your out-of-office email message reaches the wrong person, they might attempt to break into your home or office while you’re away.

    Luckily, some email clients allow you to choose to send your out-of-office reply only to your contacts. If you aren’t sure whether your email provider offers this option, the smartest thing to do is not use OOO emails at all.

    What should I put in my out of office email?

    If you decide that using out-of-office emails is the right choice for you, you should make sure to include the following pieces of information in them:

    • The exact dates when you’re away (a time range)
    • The reason for your unavailability (sick leave, business conference, family vacation, etc.)
    • Your delayed response times (when you’ll be able to get back to the email sender)
    • Secondary contact details (a teammate’s email address and/or phone number, but only if they’ve agreed to it)

    Out of office emails summed up

    There are a lot of reasons to not use out of office emails: security threats, irrelevance for your company, and the simple fact that they aren't necessary.

    On the other hand, there are situations when an OOO message is really needed for your Outlook, Gmail or Apple Mail inbox.

    So, if you really have to send out-of-office emails and are not exactly sure how, read our guide on the dos and don'ts of writing out of office replies. If you want to send out of office emails, at least send good ones!

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    Comments (2)

    1. If you are in a client facing role (especially at a consulting firm), Out of office messages are an important tool if you properly use them.

      Indeed you can tell all your client contacts who to direct issues, questions, etc to but it’s fairly common for those folks to “miss” or forget about those kinds of messages. Plus, they will need to remember the dates as well? An out of office is a brief reminder as well as guidance on who someone can go to if they cannot await your return.

      24 Jan 2019
    2. CJ,
      You push the action caused by *your* absence to the *client*. That sounds wrong. Have a delegate watch and prioritize your mail and you give the customer a better service while at the same time avoiding the security risks OoO messages imply.

      18 Apr 2019

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