Out of sight, out of mind - the out of office email

AUGUST is the beginning of the middle age of summer. 

Out of sight, out of mind - the out of office email

It’s all downhill from here. As school children we sensed it. The school holidays were more than half over. Shop windows, which used to have displays of buckets and spades, now featured dull grey slacks and shop signs that looked like blackboards. The rest of the summer melted away in a series of TV milestones — the All-Ireland semi-final, the Dublin Horse Show with that big wall thing, and the Rose of Tralee.

It is also the month of the out of office reply. Send an email now to a large group of people and watch your computer hum with all the instantaneous replies from people saying “Nope”/“Not interested”/“Not my problem” — it’s an email equivalent of “talk to the hand”.

In theory, those who compose an out of office should have prepared their colleagues for any queries in a process known as “handover”. Handover is supposed to be a comprehensive skills-transfer process which ensures continuity of service while simultaneously growing the cumulative talents of the organisation. In practice, it starts out with the best of intentions but becomes less of a handover more of a “throw it over a ditch and then drive off hoping there isn’t CCTV at that beauty-spot”.

Perhaps a Word document called “Handover” is created with a section outlining the background, history, and a comprehensive troubleshooting guide. Unfortunately time catches up with the holidayer and “Handover” becomes a hurried email written at 10 to five on the Friday saying “look just wing it. I’d say it’ll be quiet anyway”.

At the very minimum though you should check that the poor sap, I mean trusted colleague, is actually around themselves.

Sometimes you get to play Out Of Office Adventure Quest. This is where you receive an out of office reply from someone nominating a colleague you should contact in their absence. Then you contact the colleague and find out they’re also away and you have to look at their out of office reply to see who they’ve nominated.

This can go on a while as you tour the company meeting the automated replies of people who progressively give less of a shite. Your quest is complete if you eventually end up with an out of office reply nominating the person you were trying to contact in the first place.

Strictly speaking you should also have a different reply to those who emailed you from inside the organisation to those who emailed from outside. This is to avoid releasing potentially commercially sensitive information inadvertently.

“Hello, I am currently out of the office — If your query relates to Project ULTRON, our secret plan to convert pig-slurry into a devastating laser-beam that can target the world’s cities, MWAH MWAH MWAH HAHAHA, contact Brian in Tech Support”

If at all possible, avoid being too gleeful in your out of office reply. While it might seem like hilarious banter to greet everyone who contacts you with “LATER, LOSERS!” and a small animated picture of a man on a Li-Lo, this can seem to pall a little, if a mess you left behind makes RTÉ Radio’s Liveline by the time you come back.

And next week, we’ll discuss exactly what does happen when you come back from holidays. But don’t let that spoil your enjoyment of your few days off. It will all be waiting for you when you come back. I won’t be there myself but I’ll make sure it’s all properly handed over.

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