Tips for leaving a good out-of-office message

by ianmckenzie on February 6, 2012

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Whether it’s time to get away from the office on vacation or business takes us on the road, the influx of email or phones messages rarely stops.

A little bit of preparation before you leave will ensure less to worry about on return. A good out-of-office message is a must. A well-prepared message can go a long way to decrease the backlog of messages waiting for you when you get back to work.

A good out of office message has three parts:

  1. Dates of your absence. Let the contact know when you are out of the office. It helps them decide what their next step is going to be; whether to wait for your return or to direct their request elsewhere.
  2. Reason for absence. I like to let my contacts know whether I am on a business trip or vacation. A business trip means I am connected to the office in some way and might be able to respond to a message. If I’m on vacation, I’m out of contact range.
  3. Who to contact in your absence. I try and leave contact information for alternate contacts when I am out of the office; a minimum of one up to as many as are needed.

Just because you leave an out-of-office message, it doesn’t mean that you have communicated to the sender. There are three things you should keep in mind when composing the message. It should be:

  • Complete: give all the detail necessary. Don’t say, “I’m out of the office” or “I’m gone for two weeks.” Make it precise. “I am away from the office starting July 1 and will be back July 15. The same applies to your alternate contacts. Let the sender know who to contact and how to get a hold of them.
  • Concise: keep it as short as possible while still making it complete. Use short, bulleted phrases. People don’t want to be able to read a novel during your out-of-office reply.
  • Clear: make sure it’s easy to understand. Don’t use abbreviations, job titles or internal jargon that will not be understood by everyone sending you a message.

Rather that coming back to a packed e-mail in-box and a full voice-mail box, spend a few minutes crafting a useful out-of-office message and people will be able to redirect or park tasks appropriately.

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