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Is the ‘out of office’ email obsolete in a hybrid world?

Posted on: 12th October 2021

Reading time:  4 mins

Is the ‘out of office’ email obsolete in a hybrid world?Is the ‘out of office’ email obsolete in a hybrid world?

In a hybrid world where many of us are no longer at the office every day, should we find a different way to manage expectations during periods when we’re unavailable?

There was a time when ‘out of office’ auto response emails were essential – in the not-so-distant past, when we were away from our desk, this really did mean we were unable to respond because we didn’t have access to a computer.

For people commuting to an office, it was common to only be online from about 9am to 6pm – and not in the evening (unless working overtime) or at the weekend. If you were heading off on holiday for two weeks or travelling for work, setting an ‘OOO’ reply was vital.

However, then along came laptops, smartphones, 4G and WiFi, and we started a gradual transition to being able to work from anywhere, anytime. With the ability to check emails from the train, while cooking or even on a mountain top, now we are always in a ‘virtual office’.

“Digital technology puts into every white-collar worker’s hands all the tools they need to do their job. The shared workplace only ever existed because it contained the materials and equipment workers needed but didn’t have at home: typewriters, computers, photocopiers and filing cabinets to store countless kilometres of paper,” says IWG Founder and CEO Mark Dixon.

With this in mind, in a hybrid world where remote working is the norm and traditional offices are being used less, how necessary is the ‘out of office’ auto response and what does it even signify?

For hybrid workers who can fulfil their responsibilities from home, a coworking space or an overseas hotel, it’s fair to say these messages are old-fashioned, so what would it mean if the out-of-office evolved into something new?

For most people, an OOO is not meant to be taken literally, but rather as a warning to people trying to get in touch that it may be a while until they receive a reply. Our ‘always on’ culture means it is vital to draw a line between work time and downtime, so managing expectations and delineating work from leisure is important (arguably now more than ever).

In France, about four years ago the country gave citizens the ‘right to disconnect’ after hours, allowing people in companies of more than 50 people the option to ignore emails they receive in the evening or on holiday. The law was introduced to deliberately discourage people from working after they left the office.

When you think about it, an OOO-style auto response can help us achieve better equilibrium between work and play as it takes the pressure off from feeling we have to get on top of our inbox throughout the day. Setting up a ‘going offline’ or ‘do not disturb’ reply can be a good way of demarcating your professional boundaries.

When we know we have alerted others to the fact we’re not checking emails, we relax more and don’t worry as much about rushing to reply, especially when we are on vacation. Knowing that anyone trying to get in touch with us will receive an acknowledgement allows us to get some peace and quiet – even if just for a little while.

For those who still think the phrase ‘out of office’ is anachronistic, there could be scope for a more honest response such as ‘NWN’ (not working now), ‘away from my desk’, or simply: ‘I’m on vacation’. However, for some people, an auto response like this might not actually be enough to stop them from checking their emails (it can be addictive, after all).

As many people discovered during lockdown, working from home full-time can make switching off even harder. Luckily, the option to spend part of the week in a shared local flexspace can help restore a balance between being ‘on’ and ‘switching off’, so at the end of the day people can down tools and truly leave work behind.

With office solutions in thousands of neighbourhoods all over the world, find out how Regus can help your employees achieve a better work/life balance

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