Out of Office but not out of touch

I’m on the plane back to San Francisco following a week’s vacation. As little as five years ago it used to be quite common for people on vacation to drop off the grid entirely for a week, sometimes two. We used to debate whether it was better to triage email while on holiday or to log off and let it await our return. Before that, we used to leave a contact number in case of emergency.

This has now changed. Communications have become so fast, that to most dropping off the grid would be unconscionable – it’s integral to how they express themselves, connect with friends and family and do business. Smartphones have made it much easier to read and reply while away from base. Our Out of Office replies now apologize for sporadic access to email, rather than zero contact.

As our work and personal lives blend, this change was inevitable. The technologies are now there to avoid the jarring return to work, an overflowing inbox, fizzing issues and catch-up meetings. Instead, we can slip straight back into the flow of work.

The skill now is in knowing what to respond to when out of the office, and for our co-workers to know when to elevate things to our attention. Recreation is re-creation, and that can’t happen if the icy finger of our work pressures repeatedly reaches out to grab us. For me, it’s more relaxing to know things are under control and that I have fewer than 200 emails to consider on my return. Others may prefer to be more active while on vacation or hands-off. I’d suggest setting an expectation with your team about the types of issues you want to be involved with while away so they know your boundaries and expectations. Then you won’t miss something vital or be pulled into minutiae. Perhaps that’s what we should be putting in our Out of Office replies?