If you’re a freelancer or small business-owner who’s about to leave for vacation, chances are good that your out-of-office reply is the last thing on your mind. After all, you have to make sure that the ship will still run in your absence, that everything is lined up the way it needs to be, and that your vacation plans are all taken care of and that you and your family won’t wind up stranded in the middle of nowhere because you forgot to book a car.
But whether it’s a “gone,” a “be back soon,” or something much more lengthy, your out-of-office reply is just as much a part of your branding as anything else you’d put in front of your customers. After all, every single person who emails you between now and when you get back will see it, whether it’s a potential client, an investor, an employee or your mom. You don’t have to spend hours agonizing over the proper wording, but it might be wise to spend about five minutes reading this post so you can whip something up that will indeed let you be out of the office, not worrying about what’s going on at the office from 3,000 miles away.
1) Honesty Is the Best Vacation Policy
If you’re going on vacation but know you’re still going to check your email from your phone, but also know that you’re not going to reply to anything unless it’s urgent, but also know that you will reply to things that are urgent, say as much. Try something along the lines of, “I’m away from the office on vacation, but will do my best to respond promptly to anything urgent.”
If you’re really not going to respond to anything even if your office building is burning down, say that. Try, “I’m on vacation and off the grid until [fill-in-the-date.] I look forward to catching up with you when I get back!”
Either way, resist the temptation to leave your cell phone number for people to call “in case of emergency,” because you know and I know and everyone knows that you actually do not want to be called.
2) Do You Actually Need an OOOR?
In an oldie-but-goodie at the New York Times, writer Emily Gould explains what happened when she set up an automatic reply letting colleagues and clients know that she was on maternity leave. As a freelancer, she said, within weeks of turning it on, she quickly went from “being appalled that anyone was asking me to do anything to being concerned that no one would ever ask me to do anything ever again.”
Gould wound up taking down her OOOR sooner than she planned, because in truth, she was actually checking her email every single day. In some cases, it might make more sense to leave your OOOR off and remember that pretty much no one expects you to reply within milliseconds anyway. Plus, if it’s that important, they’ll follow up. And, sadly, it’s better for them to think that you’re really busy than that you’re on vacation (that’s the world we live in, folks).
3) Pay Attention When You Tweet/Insta/Facebook/Snapchat
Okay, listen closely. If you’ve set an OOOR, and you then Instagram a photo of yourself sitting at your laptop and drinking coffee while still in your pajamas, you have played yourself in a massive way. Not only are you clearly not out of the office, but you were too dumb to even realize that someone who got your OOOR might also follow you on social, and thereby realize that you are full of baloney. So if you’re not actually out of the office but are instead playing hooky, please be smart about it. Maybe stay off social altogether that day; it keeps up the impression that you’re traveling, or busy, or otherwise not, indeed, in your office.
4) If You Do Decide to Set Up an OOOR, Here Is Some Inspo
Craft your message in a way that is light-hearted, respectful, and clear. Travel+Leisure offers this very helpful structure, which includes a carefully crafted greeting, an open and informative description of exactly why you aren’t there, and a few useful pieces of information to include for those who may really need your assistance while you’re gone.
If you’re able, try writing your OOOR all in emojis, like this gal. Remind them of the genius they’re missing when you’re gone.
People also seem to really like going the literary route, in which they reference bits of literature or poetry or theater or film to describe where exactly they will be going. For instance, this nod to Field of Dreams, or this long-winded-yet-still-amusing dive into something that is (we think) supposed to resemble turn-of-the-centrury science fiction.
Whatever you decide to do, remember that the idea is to be as worry-free as possible while you’re on break, so you can actually recharge and come back better than ever. If you’re stressing about what people are reading from you in your absence, you won’t be able to enjoy your hard-earned and well-deserved time off. So pay attention to the details, then set sail for more golden shores.