It’s important to leave behind an out-of-office messages, when you’re absent or too busy to take calls. You can either prerecord a voice message or have an automated email sent to the person who is contacting you telling them of your absence. But how do you start or finish this one-sided conversation?
An ambiguous message will only invite confusion and repeated calls or attempts, from those who need to get in touch with you. Like Will Schwalbe has so beautifully said, “An out-of-office message stops them from freaking out – and it keeps their paranoia down to a dull roar.”
Truly, these messages can be used as alibis to keep you out of trouble for a while, till you finish with your work and/or other priorities. It all depends on what you want others to make out of your absence. The trick is to be creative and not to put people off; sometimes keeping it simple yet helpful is also advised.
Greeting for the Out-of-the-office Message
The greeting should be generalized for anyone who may try to contact you. For phone calls, a simple ‘hello’ should suffice. Do not use good morning/evening etc., unless you are sure about when you will return to the office.
~ Dear Recipient
~ Dear Sir/Madam (for your customers)
Ending for the Out-of-the-office Message
In some cases, especially if you are a service provider or have something pending with the contacting party, your absence might not be well-received. So, ask for patience at the beginning or towards the end of the message. You can use ‘thanks’ instead of ‘thank you’, for casual messages.
~ Thank you for your message.
~ I am sorry that I cannot respond to you immediately.
~ Thank you for contacting me.
~ I am sorry, but I would not be able to get back to you right now.
~ Thank you for understanding.
~ Please leave a message, and I will get back to you as soon as possible.
~ Your patience is appreciated.
~ Your inconvenience is regretted.
Specifying the Period of Unavailability in the Out-of-the-office Message
Specify the period of unavailability, including dates of absence and/or return, clearly if you are going to be out for a while. Be sure to use the appropriate date format – the middle-endian format (US style, MM/DD/YY) may be confused with the little-endian (UK style, DD/MM/YY), and vice versa. In such cases, it is preferred to use DD-MMM-YY, where MMM stands for the first three letters of the month.
You could also include the day of the week (Friday, Sunday, Monday, etc.) for days you’re most likely to not be around (this could be very useful on weekends etc., when the representatives of your company are unable to respond to clients). If you want a set message to be delivered at a specific time of the day for when you won’t be available for example, after office hours, mention this as well. If your recipients are from different countries, you can mention the timezone you are in. The worst scenario is when you will be out for an undetermined period. In this case too, mention this important bit of information.
~ I will be out of the office starting [DD/MMM/YY] and will not return until [DD/MMM/YY].
~ I am out of the office on vacation till Friday, March 24 [or day of the week, month] and unable to receive any emails.
~ I’m out of my office for an undetermined period of time due to [mention reason in this case]
~ I’m away at [place you are at: Venue for business trip, industrial project etc.], returning to the office on August 22 [or month, date].
~ I am currently out of my cabin for lunch [time it takes to return].
~ Messages sent after 6 p.m. [office closing time] or at 9 a.m. [office opening time], will be responded to on the next working day only.
People to Contact During Your Absence in the Out-of-the-office Message
On similar lines as those mentioned in step 4 above, you can give contact numbers of people who can attend to clients, answer queries and solve issues in your absence. List email addresses for general queries, and phone numbers only when you know some serious issue might pop-up, or when your stand-in does not have access to mails. Also, let your stand-in know you have mentioned him/her for the job so that he/she will not be annoyed at getting unsolicited mails, but reply to them promptly.
~ In my absence, please contact [name, phone number and email address].
~ Please contact [someone else] for emergencies [landline extension].
~ If this is an emergency, please call my assistant at [phone number].
~ For any urgent matters, please contact [name] at [email address].
~ If this is regarding [specify project you’re working on/problem], please call our help desk at [number]. They are available Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. until 7 p.m. Eastern Time [timezone].
~ If you need immediate assistance, feel free to contact [details].
~ Should the matter be important/should you have further queries, do not hesitate to contact [email address] in my absence.
Mention Reason for Absence in the Out-of-the-office Message
Mentioning a reason for absence, though not necessary, can be very beneficial especially if you are on an official visit. It will inculcate respect for you, since people will find out about the importance you give to your work-related commitments. However, do not use lengthy explanations because it might convey that you’re trying too hard to make an excuse. You can say that you are on vacation too if you do not want to be disturbed. Also, giving too much information to strangers that may call, can be risky. Remember you do not always know who might be trying to contact you.
~ I am away on a business trip…
~ I’m overseas on holiday…
~ Due to medical reasons…
Possibility of a Reply in the Out-of-the-office Message
Mention if you will be able to revert to the issue, if the matter remains unsolved. If not, make it all the more clear!
~ I’ll only have occasional access to emails. I will review your message upon my return.
~ I will respond to your email as soon as I return.
~ Unfortunately, I am away from my email right now, but I will reply to you on my return.
~ Using punctuation marks excessively or using SMS slang can be considered inappropriate in a corporate setting.
~ Do not make jokes while writing a formal message.
~ Remember to keep messages for family and friends separate.
~ It is extremely important to check short messages for grammatical mistakes, lest they be misinterpreted.
Closing Lines for the Out-of-the-office Message
The closing lines before your name/signature should be very polite. It is always necessary to have an overall positive effect on the recipients. Do not add quotes in the signature if you are not sure how people would react.
~ Hope you will be able to find answers to your queries from the sites listed [or from the contacts mentioned]. Best regards, your name.
~ Have a nice day (for voice mails).
Auto-reply Feature for the Out-of-the-office Message
Various email services offer an auto-reply feature that you can use, to send out a common message to clients, coworkers etc. You have to be prepared in case you send an automated message that reaches someone it is not intended for. In this case, you can add a line mentioning that the correspondence is self-generated.
~ [THIS IS AN AUTOMATED MESSAGE – PLEASE DO NOT REPLY DIRECTLY TO THIS EMAIL]
~ “Note: This is a self-generated message. Replies to this message will not be answered to.”
Remember to delete expired messages once you’re back. Outdated messages can put others off. Worse yet, you might lose out on clients if they continue to think you are unavailable.
You can always have templates ready at hand to use for varied occasions which cater to different sets of people. These will save a lot of time as well.
Sample Out-of-the-office (OOTO) Automated Responses For Email
Thank you for your message. I will be out of the office from [date] until [date]. I will be checking emails [once a week, every day, etc], but may not be able to respond immediately. For assistance about [the program, feature,etc.], please look at the website at [website address]. If you need an immediate response, contact [name of stand-in] at [phone number] ext. [phone number; extension] or by email at [email_id].
Thank you for your email. I am out on a business conference from Monday, [date] and your email will not be forwarded. Should the matter be important, please contact [email address] in my absence.
We are presently on an exciting business trip for an undetermined amount of time, that deals with a company expansion venture. Delays in responding are apologized for in advance. Meanwhile, you can check out our website [website link] to know more about our latest plans. Hope you find all the information you need.
Your Name and Designation
Sample Out-of-the-office (OOTO) Automated Responses For Phone
In case you avoid answering phones at your desk, have a voice message ready. When recording such a message on the phone, keep it short, sweet, and to-the-point.
If you are working at a place where direct interaction with clients is required, you might get pesky calls or bulk messages (e.g., orders, requests, contest-entries, etc.). Even in these cases a voice mail is really helpful. Voice messages can be a little more personalized than mails.
Hello. You have reached [your name] at [your company]. I am currently out of town and will return on [date]. If this is an emergency, please call my assistant at [phone number]. Otherwise, leave a detailed, confidential message after the tone, and I will call you back when I return. Thank you.
Hi. This is [name] at [department, organization]. I will be out of the office until [date] but will be checking messages [not possible, often, occasionally]. If you need immediate assistance or information about the process, please visit the company website at [website link], or contact ABC at [phone number; extension]. Thanks for your call.
Hello, this is [name of department]. I will be out of the office all day, but I will be checking in for messages later in the evening. So do leave a detailed message and I will return your call within two days. If you need immediate assistance, please press “0” [redirecting number, if any] to reach [contact]. Thank you.”
Hi. I received a great opportunity to work on an exciting [project]. I’ve asked [professor ABC] to take your classes in the meanwhile. He’s brilliant at his job. I hope you will be as excited to work with him. Thank you.
Now that you know the format, keep these go-to samples ready for every time you are out of the office and want to inform others about it.