Dos and Don'ts for a Professional Out-of-Office Response

Because we’re so interconnected, and always reachable, it’s easy to feel like we need to respond to emails as soon as they come in from clients or colleagues. And often, they expect it. Having an automated professional out-of-office response will help you set and maintain boundaries.

What is a Professional Out-of-Office Response?

An out-of-office response, also known as an OOO, is the type of message you receive when someone you’re trying to reach is away from their desk. It’s a polite, concise explanation of how long the person you’re contacting is unavailable for, who to contact to instead and their expected return date. It can be used when you’re away from the office for any period of time—a day, a week or more. Depending on your clients’ expectations and communication frequency, you’ll know when you need to set up your OOO.

Here are a few reasons you may want to set up an OOO:

• Going on vacation

• Attending a workshop or conference

• Taking personal time

• Going to an appointment or professional meeting

• Taking leave (for example, maternity or sick leave, or sabbatical)

What to Include in Your Out-of-Office Message

Here are the elements to include when writing your OOO:

• The exact dates you’ll be away. Most email programs save your OOO so if you’re re-activating the message read it through beforehand and confirm the date range is correct. 

• The reason you’re away. While you don’t need to share personal details, the expectations change whether you’re away for a conference versus a family vacation

• Who to contact while you’re out. Even if you’re a freelancer, you can have someone “cover your desk” if you plan to be away for an extended period of time. If there are multiple areas then provide information for each person who would need to be contacted so clients know where to go for assistance

Your commitments and what your colleagues or clients may need from you while you’re away will determine how much information you include in your OOO. You may also wish to set up an internal OOO and an external OOO if your email program allows it.

What to Avoid in Your Out-of-Office Response

When crafting your professional out-of-office response there is a fine line between giving important information and oversharing. Here are a few things to avoid:

• Providing too much detail. There’s a big difference between noting you’ll be on vacation for two weeks and sharing your entire itinerary. That level of detail isn’t relevant or necessary

• Giving an exact response time. While you do want to state when people can expect to hear back from you, you don’t want to commit to a specific day or time since you don’t know what your catch-up workload will look like. Stating your intention to get back to them as soon as you can upon your return is sufficient

• Promising your colleague will respond at a specific time. If you’re including contact details for people to reach out to in your absence, avoid saying when they’ll hear back from this person. Also make sure they’re aware you’re including them on your OOO!

• Typos. Grammar mistakes and typos are not professional and a careful proofread of your out-of-office message will catch those before they go out in your absence. 

• Jokes. There’s a time and place for humor but professional out-of-office responses are rarely it. As much as you want to crack a joke in your OOO, restrain yourself

Examples of OOO Responses

Out-of-office messages are important as they confirm the email went through but that you won’t be able to respond for a period of time. Here are a few examples of what OOO’s can look like.

Example 1: Thanks for your email. I will be out of the office from [DATE] to [DATE] and will have limited access to email. If this is an urgent matter, please contact [NAME] at [EMAIL].

Example 2: Happy holidays! I’m taking a few days away from the office to spend time with my family so I won’t be answering emails as quickly as usual. You can expect to hear back from me after [DATE].

Example3: Thanks for your message. I am currently out of the office, with no email access. I’ll be returning on [DATE] and will get back to you as soon as I can.

An OOO response can help you keep clients and colleagues happy but what about leads? That’s where hiring a professional receptionist or live chat service can help you. This keeps your business running while you’re away, preventing lost leads and sales.


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