We live in the Era of Rapid Reply. For many, success in responding to email inquiries is about one word: speed. As soon as a bold message appears in the inbox, it’s time to hit the reply button in order to showcase a commitment to fast communication to the person on the other end of the screen. So when we’re going to be away from our desktops and digital devices for more than 30 minutes, there’s a sting of nervousness. What if that vendor needs more information? What if the boss asks for an update on that project? What if that new potential client needs some clarification on the proposal?
Enter the out-of-office message. Rather than leaving senders to wonder why it’s taken longer than an hour to respond to their requests, email robots deliver a message to make sure colleagues, business contacts and even spammers know why they aren’t receiving an immediate reply. While the out-of-office reply can certainly be useful for extended periods away from the office, you don’t have to include personal details. These are actual auto-replies I have received in the past two weeks.
“I’m sorry I missed your email. My son is home sick from school, and I’ve taken him to the doctor. I will respond to your message as soon as possible.”
“I am dealing with a family emergency, and I will respond to your message as soon as possible.”
While I appreciate knowing that I can expect a delay in response time, the reality is that I don’t need to know this information. We all have lives. We all have reasons to be away from work, and some of those reasons do not need to be anyone else’s business. In many cases, offering a reason can put the recipient in an awkward situation. Should I send another note expressing concern for the emergency? Or should I wait and ask about it when I hear from them? This can blur the personal and professional in an uncomfortable way.
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Auto-Reply Attack Risks
Outside of the personal side of out-of-office messages, there are serious dangers that can arise from including too much information. For example, Andy O’Donnell, network security guide at about.com, told Scientific American that including contact information for a supervisor or a colleague’s phone number may seem helpful, but it can put companies at risk and cause big damage. “It’s amazing what people put in them and reveal about themselves,” O’Donnell said. “My rule of thumb is, ‘If you wouldn’t tell a room full of strangers the information, you shouldn’t put in your out-office-reply.’”
Whether you’ll be out of the office for three hours or three weeks, think about the range of people who may contact you, and remember that you don’t have to give them all the details. Then, once you’re back in the office to catch up on all the communication you missed, be sure to follow the advice from “4 Tips For Better Business Emails.”