This morning I received an out of office auto-reply from someone on email that went a bit like this:
"Thanks for your email. I am busy in meetings today so might not be able to get right back to you...."
This is a rising trend that I'm noticing - to warn people that you don't sit on email all day so may not be able to respond quicker than, say, a business day. But since when was Email the same as IM? Is it right to tell senders that they should expect a slow response on a system that was never meant to be 'live'. As a consultant with clients and as an employer with a business to run, I think this is a bit strange.
But even though my gut reaction was negative, I have myself toyed with the idea of training my inbox in similar ways. Tell people better ways to get hold of you and you might win the battle of email overload.
So I asked Twitter the question so that I could put my mind to rest: Is it ok to set an out of office autoreply email for when you're just busy?
The responses were enlightening.
At the moment of writing this post I have received precisely 50 responses via Twitter.
- 19 said yes, they would set an out of office when busy
- 31 said no, they would not
In other words, based on my sample of mainly PR, marketing and media professionals, 62% would consider setting an email out of office autoreply for when you are busy as unacceptible. 38% consider it acceptible.
Looking into the actual responses, the feedback is really interesting. Here is a sample:
- From @sheilaparry: definitely not OK. That's just lazy ...
- From @katehughes: If you are working exclusively on one project and cannot respond, then ok. Otherwise no.
- From @lexlacey: It's better than just ignoring emails when you're really busy
- From @brittneybean: if you really need something, you should ring not email. people are WAY to impatient now
- From @giless: not ok. Just dont reply!
- From @twocubedconsult: I vote "no". If emailers are in need of an immediate reply, they should make a phone call!
So in summary, what are some of the ways we are changing the way we use email? Here are some of my ideas:
- IM: We expect live responses online now, mainly because of the way we have become accustomed to using instant messenger except many people it seems do not treat email like IM and prefer to wait until they are ready to respond. Result = friction
- Social: We have our own idea of etiquettette and expect others to understand how we use email, like on Twitter where everything is open and people pick up fast. Except email is closed, it's not like Twitter. We can't learn from each other openly. Everyone uses it differently and we still don't realise that
- Mobile: We are using mobile email more, but we think that means we always read everything
- Spam: We invite correspondence from certain people, like a business prospect, a journalist / PR person, a possible employer / candidate, but in the age of the lazyweb we attract all sorts of spam which renders our full to bursting inboxes useless
- Rules: We are all becoming adept at using rules in our inboxes to snaffle away good and bad things and process information faster, whether it's Microsoft folders, Gmail stars, or whatever AOL does. But abusing rules is like hiding your bills. You just don't see what's important as quick as you should - it doesn't mean it's not there.