The Holidays. The time of the year where you have recharged your batteries with a series of family and in-law soirées. If you were at work and had to send emails, you most likely experienced quite a lot of today’s topic: Out of Office Vacation Auto-reply
Out-of-Office Messages are a fixture of the modern work environment. We have accepted them as a standard business practice. Without questioning it, we integrated the vacation auto-reply in our habits thinking: “Well, if everybody is doing it, why shouldn’t I do it.” While in good faith, as one do not want to give a perception of unprofessionalism, this practice is just not efficient. Worst yet, it can be downright harmful to your company.
Numerous websites promote how to set up an Out of Office responder or how to write it in a fancy manner, from the entertaining to the whimsical. However, no websites question WHY we set an auto-reply.
At its core, the auto-reply warns the sender that the recipient is out of office. Nothing inherently wrong with that. The problem lies with its disruption of the information flow.
In its Email Statistics Report, 2015-2019, the Radicati Group Inc note: ” In 2015, the number of business emails sent and received per user per day totals 122 emails per day.” During the holidays or vacation peaks, a sender will receive multiple Out-Of-Offices messages. For an average sender, this creates two problems: 1) loss of efficiency 2) email pollution.
A typical auto-reply will include the date of return of the recipient and a notification to forward your emergency to someone else. Nonetheless, not all emails not qualifying as an emergency are unimportant. If you have a request or information that still needs attention, you will most likely have to wait for the recipient returns or forward it to someone who may be unfamiliar with the matter at hand. Plus, amongst all the vacation responders received, how can you remember that X recipient will be back on Y date! In our fast-paced business environment, loss of efficiency should not be tolerated. Tools exist to circumvent the limitation of the Out-of-Office messages such as Email delegation and Email forwarding, but very few use them. Everybody needs a back-up, and we should not shy from encouraging this notion at all level. If you are about to go out of the office for an extended period, the effort could be spent on maintaining business continuity rather than writing a witty auto-reply. Identify who can manage your emails and delegate. You will not only ensure emails and requests are responded to diligently, but also avoid any loss of information.
Email is one of our primary communication tools, and unnecessary emails are the rust it is collecting. One can question the value created when you receive three out-of-office messages from an email sent to five persons. This example is the type of pollution or abuses your inbox receives daily. Emailing etiquette in and out of the workplace can already be challenging with endless email ping-pong and redundant information. Why add an inefficient notification that your sender will simply delete on top of everything else? A corporation should thrive for a leaner and to-the-point communication. Which results has more value per email? Learning the date of your recipient return via an auto-reply or getting the answer to your request via an email from your recipient’s back-up.
The start of a new year is always a good time to pursue how we can do things better. In 2017, we can challenge the norm a bit and evaluate the pertinence of a function almost as old as the email engines themselves. It has served its purposes, but better solutions are available. It’s only at a small step outside the comfort zone.