Do I Need An Out-Of-Office Message When Working From Home?

Whilst working in a traditional office environment, there’s a clear line between what time is for working, and what time is for you. In most cases, once you leave the office on a Friday afternoon, you likely won’t even have access to any unread work emails, and won’t usually be expected to continue any work-related tasks over the weekend.

However, when working from home, it feels a little more complicated than that. There’s an element of worry, maybe even guilt, that comes with leaving work out of sight and out of mind each weekend when you still have access to all those emails, tasks, and to-do lists in your free time.

Does working from home mean you’re expected to be reachable in your own time for work-related correspondence?

Considering that working from home blurs the line between your working hours and free time already, it’s important to try to maintain a clear distinction between the two when the days tick over and you reach the weekend. Treat your weekends as you would do in a traditional office-working week, otherwise, you risk letting yourself forget that your free time is just that – free to do whatever you like with. If you allow yourself to give in on a Saturday night to the unread emails and uncompleted tasks that you’d normally just leave until Monday morning, you’re bound to end up feeling overwhelmed.

Do I need an out-of-office message when working for my usual employer?

Unfortunately, some employers and clients may automatically expect an increased response rate when you have access to your business correspondences at all times.

In the first case, it might be worth having a conversation with your employer and discussing what they expect from you in this regard. However, remember that as soon as you begin completing work tasks in your free time, you should be being compensated – if your employer isn’t willing to pay you for those extra hours of availability, then they should not be expecting them from you.

Fortunately, the majority of people I know who have been working from home in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic have still been allowed to maintain the same work/life balance that they always have, and there hasn’t been any issues with increased expectations from employers – that’s not to say it doesn’t happen, but it seems to be a minority of cases.

So, if your employer is happy that your working week and weekends remain the same during the time that you are working from home, then don’t allow yourself to succumb to the urge to respond to those business emails!

Keep that line between work and home as clear as you can. If you haven’t already been using an out-of-office over the weekends, you probably don’t need to now.

Do I need an out-of-office message if I’m self-employed?

In the second case, where you are self-employed and working with clients, you may have been working from home already, but may still be feeling that same guilt when not responding.

Remember, whether you are self-employed or not, your working week shouldn’t be seven days long, with no clear work-free time to unwind.

However, unfortunately, being your own boss does come with your fair share of clients who may not understand the importance of this routine.

In this case, I would recommend setting an out-of-office message for your vacations (possibly weekends, if your business’ website or social media doesn’t state your weekly working hours), so that anyone who does try to reach you knows when to expect a response, and you can rest easy knowing that you aren’t leaving them completely ignored.

What should I set as my out-of-office message?

Your out-of-office should be:

  • no more than a couple of sentences long
  • should include an acknowledgment of the sender’s email,
  • and the earliest date that they can expect a response.

Of course, the tone of your message should also reflect the nature of your working role. For instance, if you work in law, finance, etc., your out-of-office will need to be more formal and professional. Something such as;

Thank you for your email. I am currently out-of-office but will be available to respond on (insert return date here).

Thank you.
(insert name/company here.)

Something clear and simple, which lets the potential/current client know that their email will, eventually, receive a response.

If you’re on vacation and there is an associate that your client can contact in the meantime, include their details, too. For instance:

If your matter is urgent or requires immediate response, please contact my associate (insert name here) on (insert email/phone number here).

However, if your business/role is more light-hearted or creative in nature – for example, bespoke crafts, fashion, family photography, etc. – then your out-of-office should reflect this. Don’t be afraid to be a little more friendly and add some personality. For example:

Your email is important to me, but I’m out-of-office at the moment! I’ll be available from (insert return date here) and will get back to you as soon as I can.

(insert name/company here.)

Whatever the nature of your work is, be sure to reflect the tone you would usually use during your email correspondences or the tone you use on your business’ website/social media pages.

For instance, if your social media presents you as being a friendly, family-run business, and a potential client emails you, only to receive an out-of-office that feels incredibly formal, it could be quite jarring and put them off.

A final note: be sure to let current customer/clients with whom you already have an ongoing correspondence know that you will be unavailable in advance, as it could certainly seem rude or unprofessional if they were to be sent an out-of-office out of nowhere, especially during an ongoing work/client relationship they may have with you.

Overall, you know what tone suits your business and clients best, but whatever you set as your out-of-office, just be sure to make it clear that there is a response coming – it will just have to wait until you’re back at your desk.