‘Out of office’ in a remote working world

In the pre-COVID-19 working world, one of the most self-explanatory and welcome acronyms you could come across was ‘OOO’. ‘Out of office’ – a simple message on your email account. This lets co-workers and acquaintances know that you’d be away from your desk for a period of time. Setting it up was simple too; in Microsoft Outlook, the ‘Out of office’ assistant enables you to activate your ‘OOO’ autoresponder. This can be done in seconds, leaving you free to disappear on annual leave or travel outside of the office. It also removes the pressure of needing to check your email every five minutes.

And then coronavirus changed the world.

Now that the era of remote working is upon us, the term ‘OOO’ is a permanent description for many of us. As such, the way we use this tool has become ambiguous: Should you set an ‘out of office’ if you’ve been furloughed? Do ‘OOO’ messages mean anything now that we are regularly checking work email on our phones?

Here are a few tips on how to use ‘OOO’ now that we are all regularly working out of the office:

1. Use common sense when applying an ‘Out of office’ message.

Taking the dog out for a walk? Probably best not to let everyone that emails you know! If you are taking a few days annual leave or are going to be away from your laptop or home working space for an extended period of time, ‘OOO’ still works as effectively as when you were in the office.

2. Lunch breaks?

Use of ‘OOO’ for lunch breaks is increasing. But setting it up for the sake of an hour every single day can get arduous. It is also normally unnecessary to broadcast your lunch-break externally! If you’re using Microsoft Teams to collaborate, just change your status. Add a simple status message and set the ‘clear status message after’ to 1 hour (or longer if you’re taking an extended lunch)!

3. Check the status first!

Whilst on the subject of Teams, checking a colleague’s status before calling or messaging is good etiquette! Teams unfortunately doesn’t make it obvious when someone is OOO or on ‘Do Not Disturb’. So make sure you always check a colleague’s status before trying to reach them.

4. Company policy

Check your company policy on ‘OOO’ messages, and request a remote working edition if one doesn’t exist. Using templated ‘out of office’ messages saves time. It also adheres to company style and can save the embarrassment of spelling mistakes and inappropriately used humour. The policy should also cover the usage of ‘out of office’ messages for furloughed employees. There is no right or wrong answer as to whether employees should state that they’ve been furloughed; employees should adhere to company protocol.

 

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