A risky thing – and a return to the out-of-office reply

I did a risky thing this summer – I didn’t use an out-of-office reply.

Apparently, it was much better to be available to personally break the news of my absence. It would make me appear responsive, committed and client-focused.

But actually it just meant that I had to keep checking my phone in case I needed to be there to say I wasn’t there. Which doesn’t really sound like much of a holiday.

And then of course I’d feel bad having to say that I wouldn’t be here all of this week or all of next week (because I was taking a PROPER holiday) when I was quite obviously lurking very close to my phone and jumping at the chance to engage in a spontaneous bit of correspondence.

At this point I should clarify that I do great things in my work but I don’t save lives.

From now on, then, I’m back to using an out-of-office reply. It’s my equivalent of closing my study door very firmly, putting the ‘closed’ sign up, and then walking quickly away.

But here’s the thing about out-of-office replies: they don’t need to be just like everyone else’s. And even if the words ‘I’m away on annual leave and will respond to your email on my return’ were first written by a human, they’ve now lost all trace of humanity.

Happily for me, every time I read those words it reminds me that the world needs me. (But no, not necessarily this very second.) Or, to put it another way, it re-intensifies my purpose.

Because that little automatic reply will land with all sorts of people – past clients, current clients, potential clients – so it’s your chance to sound like you rather than everyone else.

At this point I was going to give you a few suggestions on how to go slightly off-piste. But then I dug out an old article on the subject by Nick Parker, and my own approach now feels positively corporate. So I’ll give Nick the last word.