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January 12, 2010


I remember the transition between email and phone calls as the primary contact method in business. And what bloody relief that was!

Sorry, the whole point of email is that it is asynchronous. You deal with it when it is convenient to you. And *you* get to prioritise what is and is not important, rather than your caller. There are certain rules of courtesy behind that - probably not more than 24 hours if there's money potentially involved.

Imagine if every email you received was a phone conversation. When would anything else happen?

I am sounding very Victor Meldrew now and so shall shut up.

Hi Drew

Interesting topic. Can I add to my response above? Having worked at both a PR agency and in house, I'd say that setting out of office when one is busy isn't great client management. My former boss would never allow it, wanting to to reassure our clients that we were available at any moment. Now I'm on the other side (being the client) I have to admit I would probably feel a bit disgruntled if someone working on our account set the out of office message just for being busy. If you're the client, you want to feel like your agency's most important client - even if that's not true! Great post though - it got me thinking. :)


Kate Hughes

I think the main problem with people using their out of office in this way is that it leads to a massive ambivalence towards what your OoO actually says. I wrote about it here (shameless plug: http://toyboxstudio.posterous.com/the-death-of-downtime) - I've seen your out of office but I am too busy to read it and therefore my first reaction is to either a) call you anyway to check if it could possibly be true that you are actually really out of the office or b) move straight to pestering the next appropriate colleague who may not be able to help quicker than my return anyway. Especially if I am not actually "Out of the Office" but away from my desk in meetings for a few hours.

I try to get round this slightly by doing the very unlawyery thing of writing jokes in my out of office. Once people know this after a while they start to read them (RoI on an OoO, who knew?) and that in turn helps because they know how to deal with the cataclysmic fact that you're not there for a day or two. My last one, which was admittedly over Christmas giving a little more licence, was:

"Hi – I'm away from the office carrying out important goose fattening duties.

I'm back on 29 December.

I’ll have my phone with me, so if it really is a matter of (business) life and death, stay calm, send a text and I'll get back to you when I can. Yule (sic/hic) be competing with the sprouts though...

No point emailing xxxxx.xxxx@xx.com as we've left no one behind. We couldn't really, could we, it's Christmas.

Many thanks,

Toby Cummins Legal Counsel - Customer, Marketing and IP
xxxxxxxx Limited

Your email has not be forwarded"

I think that the main solution to the problem, given that behaviour is only ever going to accelerate and intensify, is that Microsoft should develop some alternatives in the next release of Outlook. For instance, how about:

Away in Meetings for an Hour or Two Assistant?
Nipped for a Sandwich Assistant?
Pester a Colleague Assistant?
Discussing Glee at the Water Cooler Assistant?

or maybe even:

Genuinely Out of Office Assistant?

A sad state of affairs really. Right, I'm off to get some breakfast. Worth an OoO?

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