Out Of Office Alerts Are Killing Telework Teleworking

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This topic contains 31 replies, has 30 voices, and was last updated by  Steve Cottle 8 years, 11 months ago.

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  • #155464

    Stephen Peteritas

    Sending a newsletter to 50,000 people on a daily basis means I get my fair share of out of offices, every morning in my inbox. I understand receiving vacation, sick days and even being at an off-site meeting as reasons to put up an out of office message in your email.

    What I don’t understand is the out of office messages that say “I’m teleworking – out of office”. Of course if you are teleworking you ARE physically out the office but that doesn’t mean you aren’t working or answering emails does it?

    It’s little things like this that make telework such a hard sell. If I see an out of office message I pretty much assume you are not working the way you normally work i.e not working at a full capacity that particular day. Associating those assumptions with telework makes it easy to see why the concept of telework can leave bad taste in mouths of human resource officers and bosses.

    What do you think? When should an out of office be used? Is telework a valid excuse?

  • #155526

    Steve Cottle

    This one has always baffled me! I could see leaving a note on my physical desk to inform co-workers I’m teleworking, but otherwise try keep things as business-as-usual when I’m working from home. I find that between phone, e-mail, and chat it’s so easy to stay connected that people are sometimes surprised to find out I’m at an alternate location.

  • #155524

    Stacey Swanson

    I am going to chime in on this from a perspective of Results-Only Work Environment, or ROWE. If you are working, and are responding within your usual timeframe, there is no need to put on your out-of-office. And putting on the out-of-office when teleworking, it reinforces the belief that the office is where work gets done.

    Even when telework is an option for people, most do not use it because telework is a policy that’s trying to fix a problem. But, the solution isn’t on target because implementing a policy doesn’t remove any of the culture barriers for people to use the policy. Call it telework in Gov’t, flexwork in the private sector, it doesn’t matter. ROWE gets at the heart of change management and changing the culture, so people can work in a way that best achieves their results without being judged by others on where they are during the day.

  • #155522

    Agnes C. Wanderer

    Why would you put an out of office message up for telework? You are not out of e-mail, since you are supposed to be working in a way that is seamless, so why reply to people who e-mail you by saying you are not in your physical office? Who cares? The person e-mailing you is not standing in your doorway – he/she is physically somewhere else, so why would you tell him/her that you’re not sitting where you sit? You should be checking your e-mail the same way you normally do, so just reply instead of sending an out of office.

  • #155520

    Terrence Hill

    Amen Agnes! This is my pet peeve for teleworkers and, as Steve mentioned, damages the image of teleworkers. I make it a point to point this out to offenders. I don’t even use notes on my cubicle. That’s why we have MS Communicator, which tracks my “presence” and my work location. Let’s get it together people and make telework as transparent as possible. We aren’t on vacation. We are “in” the office and open for business.

  • #155518

    Todd M. Gemskie

    If you are working, regardless of where, you are never out of office if you have a blackberry tied in to your email. Anyone who sends you an email probably isn’t relying on you being at your desk. It’s really hard to think of a time to use “out of office reply” unless you are gone on leave that would render someone unavailable. So, the only real time that “out of office reply” should be used is when you’re NOT working, because you’ll still get email. Now, leaving a message on your office desk phone notifying people to contact you via mobile phone is appropriate anytime you’re out of the office. But that’s my generic outgoing message, “I’m out, so please call my mobile phone to ensure I get your message and can reply in a timely manner” So…unless on leave, you’re never “out of the office” with mobile devices as we have today…we carry our offices with us!

  • #155516

    Mike Thornton

    The only time I use an out of office is when e-mails will not get the attention they deserve. If I am not in the office (physically) I have my smartphone and still get e-mails. If I can handle it I will; if not I forward it to one of my staff and they will take care of it. Telework is not a reason for an out of office notice!

    I only use an out of office when I am not going to process any e-mails. I’ll probably have someone turn on my out of office when I die.

  • #155514

    Eric Erickson

    I would find this very odd. I only have a laptop for work, so it’s either at my office or in my home office. The sender does not care where my computer is when I reply.

    The only time telework makes a difference is if someone requests a face-to-face meeting where it would be difficult for me to make in a short period of time. In that case, they probably should have scheduled it more than a couple of hours in advance. They also should take advantage of the many conference lines available to make the meeting work.

  • #155512


    It should not be a valid excuse. The only time my regional contacts can tell I’m teleworking is if I tell them! At my former office, we had an internal calendar that we used to denote if we would not be working on-site–helpful in cases of emergencies. Otherwise, e-mail was business as usual. If you’re working from home to focus on a single time-sensitive project, one can list an alternate contact on an out of office message. It should never appear that telework affords you the benefit to ignore e-mails!

  • #155510

    Steve Ressler

    Nope…I honestly think only time for out of office is when on a vacation for an extended period of time. With blackberry/iphones, rest of time most people have quick enough turnaround

  • #155508

    Karen L. Jones

    When I telework, I put a sign on my door indicating that I am teleworking, and the person can contact me via my office number (which is forwarded to my home phone) or email.

    Out of office is used ONLY when I won’t be responding to emails when I am out of the office. My voicemail is also updated accordingly. I don’t have a Blackberry or smart phone for work (thankfully), so emails and phone calls during that time are directed to wait for my return or contact my supervisor for assistance.

  • #155506

    Michele Schwartzman

    A resounding NO…You are still working as all the posted before have stated. You are actually virtually at your desk. You even attend meetings, as required, In addition, teleworking is not an excuse for cancelling appointments.

  • #155504

    Michelle Bouchard

    My answer is, no, telework is not a valid excuse for an out of office alert. When a person is teleworking, they are working. Some employees here put their work schedule on the address line of their outgoing emails so others know when they are physically in the office. There are also offices here that have a central calendar and their schedules are kept in that calendar. The employees here have spent many years convincing management of the benefits of telework and some still are trying to convince their managers of the benefits so we might be more careful about how we telework. Here, we treat telework somewhat like being on official travel. We may have a message on our voicemails telling people we are teleworking and to call another number if we do not have ultra call forwarding but we never have out of office alerts while teleworking. Out of office alerts are only for when we are “off the clock” or in training.

    Unless my dog is barking at home, most people don’t even know I am teleworking. I respond to emails promptly and when people call my work number, it goes straight to my cell. The only difference is that I call in for meetings instead of being in the room.

  • #155502

    Mitch Ablove

    I only use out of office when on vacation or at a multi-day remote training session. Our entire I.S. department teleworks some days every week. On telework days, we send and email in the am stating we are remote and that’s it. With smartphones, IP softphones and email, all that is missing is our smiling faces.

    Since we started using softphones, some people don’t even know we are home.

  • #155500

    Ji-Hyon Mariano

    This is a perfect example of a clash of cultures. Telework/Flexiplace is still a new concept for gov’t employees, especially veteran employees, so I’m not surprised at all. We have a long way to go before things like ROWE (sorry to hear it ended) is a viable concept. But I’m hopeful 🙂 I’ve seen a real shift in attitude and acceptance about flexiplace. But I also still get the impression from managers (who put in 5 days a week at the office) that those who flex do no or very little work.

  • #155498

    Steve Richardson

    Chill, people. I could understand if the message was misleading – indicating the person was out of the office when s/he was really teleworking. But it could not be more clear. Some folks might assume this person is in the office unless they get an autoreply. I have a much bigger problem with people who go on leave and don’t indicate why they’re not answering calls and emails.

  • #155496

    Mary McKaig

    I use the out-of-office notification when I am going to be on leave from the office, or like last week when I had to go downtown for most of the day for a meeting. To use it for teleworking I don’t think is appropriate–an employee should be working the same from a remote location as when physically in the office… and I don’t think most employees would use the out-of-office assistant when actually in the office.

  • #155494

    Todd M. Gemskie

    It’s still a pretty simple shift in our paradigm of workplace, office or home or remote location. As long as we have access with the blackberry (or other smart phone) and able to send and receive email/text/phone calls, we’re basically never out of the office unless on leave and going to be unavailable. Shift your paradigm of “office” and don’t use auto-reply just cause you ain’t sitting at your desk. And if you’re one that feels the need to use auto-reply, better turn it on when you go to lunch, the bathroom, shoot the breeze at someone’s cubicle, etc. :o)

  • #155492

    Daniel Shapiro

    Although it is not the agency policy, my boss expects us to use the OOTO message on our e-mails when we are Working at home, or what we call Alternative Duty Station (ADS). Microsoft should possibly add a function into MS Outlook/Exchange that allows someone to use this function instead of the OOTO function. Let’s be honest for a minute though, when most people WFH, are they really at their computer for the entire work day or are they sometimes running errands? I am not trying to bad mouth WFH (as I used it twice/week), but not everyone usually does that full 8 hours. But then again, in the office, the average worker only works for 5 hours/day, plus constant distractions. So, if someone is WFH, if they put in a good 4 hours of work, then they have been just as productive as they would have been if they were in the office for the 8+ hours. Just my two cents…

  • #155490

    Linda Radford

    It is a shame that some people just don’t get it. Telework is just facilitating the ability to do your work in an alternative location. Where you work should really be invisible to your customers and co-workers. To me it is even more important to make sure that your work is getting done and people can communicate with you when needed. Unfortunately, messages like this simply reinforce the notion that folks are not working. Telework has been beneficial to governments, corporations, and employees alike but that is only true when everyone understands the responsibility that goes along with the ability to work in a flexible environment. I believe that we need to make sure we hold our co-workers accountable and make them aware of the damage they do when they are not responsive or continue to leave the impression that telework equals a day where work is optional. Managers need to also pay attention to employees that clearly do not understand and take appropriate action to correct the situation. For many workers and managers telework presents challanges but so do most situations that offer opportunities for growth and improvement. In the future a mobile workforce will be the rule not the exception so now is the time to learn to adapt.

  • #155488

    I am required to use OOTO and notify eveyone where I am working, when I telework. I am available by email, instant messaging, telephone. It seems rediculous to me to be required to post that I am not in the office when I am available and working.

    So when you get one from me, let me say in advance, SORRY!

  • #155486

    Emi Whittle

    I think it is fine as long as the message is clear. As we can see in the replies, some folks are mandated to use it when they are not physically in their office, and putting a note on your desk is great, but at our company we cannot forward the calls (and would not want to forward all calls to our personal, non-company paid cell phones), so the out of office message can indicate – “I am teleworking and available for work! I have access to email but if you need my attention immediately, please call my cell phone at…..” However, yes, when teleworking, we should all be responding to work needs just as if we were in the office. The one exception to this rule, however, I believe, should be impromptu telecommuting cause by something unexpected, like a sick child. We can always still accomplish work while said sick child is resting, but aren’t necessarily available immediately. Then the out of office message can indicate accordingly – “I am out of the office for a personal emergency but will be checking email and responding as soon as possible. Please contact (alternate) for immediate needs.”

    The point of the out of office message is to let folks who email you know when a reply might be expected, and if they don’t get said reply or decide to walk by your desk or call you, they are wasting their time….. so it can be a valuable time-saving tool when used to accurately communicate :).

    And, I do not like the idea that “teleworkers aren’t really working” – yes, I might run an errand on my lunch hour, or start a load of laundry, but if the phone rings or an email pops up, I attend to it immediately. If I have a project to accomplish, you can bet I will be sitting in front of my computer until it is done. From an ergonomic standpoint, we are all supposed to get up from our desks and walk around for 10 minutes every hour anyway, so at least if I telecommute, I can do something at home in those 10 minutes. There are indeed people who abuse telecommuting – and that should be addressed on an individual basis by their managers. Plenty of us really do work, and often accomplish more, at home – with better resources, no drive time, and no workplace distractions (ie-cube farm).

    There’s my two cents… thanks for reading! 🙂

  • #155484

    Chris Cairns

    It’s just a culture thing. The government has not developed a teleworker culture yet. Here are some reasons, I think:

    • The way in which performance is measured. A lot of times good performance is associated with looking or acting busy when it should be RESULTS against well-crafted SMART goals. The private sector has relatively mature systems for defining and tracking performance and they often don’t care where you achieve your goals — just that you do.
    • A remote workforce means that work must be broken down into concrete deliverables around which people can collaborate and communicate. One of the primary means for communication in this virtual environment is email, which means that people have to craft clear, cogent messages. Running over to someone’s cube and muttering is much easier.
    • Somewhat related to the previous points is that, in some agencies, the flow of work is highly unpredictable and erratic. Mobilizing resources in response to this type of work is much easier to do in-person.

    All this, and more, leads to the need to know where you are at all times.

  • #155482


    I’m definitely in the”no” crowd, but like some have said, there are indeed supervisors who for some reason require it. My guess is they have a hard and fast definition for “out of office”. One of my main beefs with it is that it’s an unnecessary addition to the already insane amount of thick and fast traffic in my Outlook.

  • #155480

    Adam Arthur

    We are required to say that we are not physically available (in the building or on campus) but available by phone (give #) and by email – using the out of office feature in Outlook. My notification says this:

    I am currently teleworking and will return to my office on ***day. I am currently available at ***-***-**** and by email. If you have just left me a business related email, I will get back with you as soon as possible.


    Adam Arthur

    Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC)

  • #155478

    Pattie Buel

    I like Adam’s message. I’m currently on a rotation at another agency and someone is acting in my regular job. I don’t have an OOTO message on my email but I do have a rather long VM greeting that says who to call if you want to talk about my job function and how to reach me if you want to talk to me. At the beginning of the rotation, I replied back to the senders who needed action explaining where I was and included the acting person, who I promised would take care of them in my absence. But on telework days, I don’t use an OOTO at all – mainly because too many people then think you’re not really working.

  • #155476

    This is a tricky one! I like for onsite people to know I’m out of the office, so they won’t waste their time trying to visit me in person or expect my attendance at a last minute meeting. If I don’t immediately respond to an email (if I’m currently in a teleconference, at lunch, etc.), not knowing that I’m out of the office could inconvenience others. However, I do understand the potentially negative implication that an out of office message may send in general regarding telework.

  • #155474

    Niva Kramek

    My agency seems to embrace AWS and teleworking more than many others I’ve heard about, and people frequently and routinely telework without anyone thinking that they are slacking off or taking a day off….. or so I thought. I recently saw in one of our offices a whiteboard with a grid, employees’ names, and magnets to move around and indicate if the employee was “in” “at lunch” “at training” “annual/sick leave” or “CWD/telework”. CWD = Compressed Work Day, or the day you get to take off as part of your alternate work schedule. I consider it equivalent to annual leave, or vacation. You’re not working, and not expected to. I would hope the opposite is true for telework, but clearly this office assumes they are the same.

    I echo the other people who see a culture or mindset that just isn’t used to the fact that you can work from places other than your office / cube.

  • #155472

    Carolyn Vreeman

    Think about it this way: The Out of Office agent is a communication tool that sends a message to others…what do you need people to know that will make your work or their work easier? Do they care if you’re not in the office when you reply to an email or do they just want the information they need to get their job done? Are you wasting their time by sending a message to them when they really don’t care where you are? Are you wasting time for yourself and others by focusing on physical location rather than work?

    If you’re using the agent, please think about what others need to know to get their work done…if your response time has changed and work would be disrupted, give them contact information for someone who can help them in your out of office response. If work won’t be disrupted, do you really need to communicate anything?

  • #155470

    Les Yamagata

    Never use out of office when teleworking. This privilege should be seamless to your agency (both internal and external customers).

  • #155468

    Steve Ressler

    LOL! I see this stuff…and it’s the funniest thing. Interestingly enough I stopped using the “out of office” feature about a year ago when my organization started going thru a “transformation.” I also did not use it when I was in I was in private industry either!

  • #155466


    I am at my desk, and this is the sound of my head hitting it. *Thump*

    Out of office replies have no place in this scenario.

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