Friday, September 26, 2014

Notes on the Rhetoric of Playing with E-mail Auto Response


The Auto Response Consensus

The consensus on writing automatic out of office e-mail replies says, when you search for recommendations on writing them, that to be professional, best be brief, polite, and to give enough information on whom your correspondent can turn to if they cannot await your return.

U Stand Out's "How to Write the Perfect Out of Office Auto-Responder Email" is a good example of the advice genre: it's smart, well-written, and if your goal is to present yourself as a serious and sober professional, accurate. Written by Diana Urban, the article observes there are two forms of auto-response: the out of office for when you will be, or hope to be, fully away from e-mail, and the slow to respond for when work events -- a sales meeting, a conference, a business trip -- will limit time for e-mail.

Urban goes on to offer smart tips too:
To do:
Keep it short and simple
Use non-committal phrases 
What not to do:
Say why you're out
Say when your first day out was.
Say when you're getting back.
Offer excuses
I loved reading Urban's advice because her list of rules, which I happily break, provides a useful structure for looking at auto-responses as a form of communicative play.

To Hell with Consensus

My out of offices are, well, I'm not sure. They still feel professional to me, for the most part. They're often tongue in check, sometimes done as parodies of other forms. I've used them to detail itineraries, comment on locales, tell stories, poke fun at my job, and to play. Faculty with whom I work often right back to say they enjoy them, one colleague encouraged folks to send me e-mail just to see one. So by and large they work, but some work better than others. What I do is moderately risky; I had one auto response my boss objected to (it's below, so you'll see why), and he asked me to change it.

Still, when one doesn't work, I do risk coming off as unprofessional. And even when one does work, I'm sure there are fussbudgets who get my auto response and think I'm a jerk, or a showoff, or a diva, or self-indulgent. I can be all those things, and no doubt some of the less successful auto responses I write display those qualities. Ah well.

It's just that the tool is too much fun to not play with because the genre, the stuff that comes from following the usual advice, results in messages that are dull. Granted, there's a reason for that standard advice, and there's a comfort in keeping to convention, especially in a business context, where so much that transpires relies on conventions. But here's what I noticed about the conventional out of office. I ignore them. I see someone is out, see a line or two at most and delete without reading. O.k., every once in a while I'll email a hand-off person if it's provided. But 99.999 percent of the time, I ignore the message because I want to talk to the correspondent. And people who write me, almost do so about things I cannot hand-off.

So what fun is there in writing a message that will go out automatically, that I don't have to manually send, if it's going to be ignored? And really, what fun is it for the people who are writing me to get an ignorable note? Sure it's efficient, these ignorable things, that keep the wheels of commerce turning like so much axle grease, but really, how boring is that? Who wants to be axle grease? I'd rather try to be something else besides axle grease. If a lubricant, then maybe a good cocktail (you can define that how you'd like). And so I play with the form, maybe even break it, and I sometimes flop in the execution. But flops are part of play (and part of learning for that matter), and all that's required is getting back up and playing some more. And as you'll see, when it comes to auto response e-mail, all I do is play.

Examples, Followed by Notes, of Auto-Response E-mail Play

Per Urban's piece, my auto responses do come in two broad categories: I will not respond until I get back or I may not respond as quickly as usual while I'm away. But I notice other tropes creeping in as well: the parody, the jealous or angry inbox or e-mail program conceit, the access sucks or doesn't exist excuse, the happy travel itinerary, long travel itinerary, among them.

Two notes before proceeding. 
First: I don't save my out of offices -- the ones I have captured here I found in replies and email strings. I've been playing at this for several years now, and some old gems (and groaners) are lost. Though if you're reading this, and have gotten an out of office from me and saved it for amusement or because you wanted to show folks what not to do, feel free to reply and post it.

Second: I only use auto response from my work e-mail address -- nick.carbone@macmillan.com. The greater volume of e-mail in my life comes to me via Gmail, an account I use for reading and posting to a half dozen or so academic e-mail discussion lists.

The Parody

Out of Office as Absurdist Play
Playbill

Macmillan Higher Education and Microsoft Outlook Present

Out of Office

A play about travel, delayed responses, and a lonely inbox looking for relief from the backlog of unaswered messages.

Starring Nick Carbone's e-mail as the forlorn messenger letting you know Nick will be gone pretty much for most of March as he sojourns to the CCCC conference, then to campuses in KY and WV.

Co-starring Nick Carbone, as the absent e-mailer, whose whereabouts wends and wanders on the winds of work and workshops.


Says Frank Rich: Gripping. Makes Waiting for Godot look like an appointment kept.

A song parody
I am going to San Francisco
And I'm gonna meet some gentle people there
I am going to Davis, CA too
And I'm gonna meet with teachers who care
I am going to Napa Valley
And I'm gonna see faculty who share
I will cross the nation, to get this research sensation
That comes from the smart notions
Of reflective teaching devotions,
A new generation of learning explanation
Apologies to Scott McKenzie, but at least you didn't have to hear me try to sing this. Though I will tune into your email when I get a chance, maybe even with a flower in my hair.
An academic conference program session parody
All Modes Lead to Frostburg: MultiModal / MultiMedia Travel in the Age of Conference Going.  
Session Z-28 
On this trip, speaker 1, your absent e-mail correspondent, will explore three modes of travel -- air, rail,  and road -- via three media -- train, plane, automobile. The discussion will focus on conference readiness and how much reading and writing can be accomplished via each mode and media. In creating an argument for productivity while conferencing, using the theories of William Least Heat-Moon, Sissy Hankshaw, and the Geese Concept in Fly Away Home, this session will look at whether getting to #cwcon (http://siteslab.org/cwcon/2013/welcome-page) and being at #CWCON counts as work, or whether, because so many of the attendees are friends and colleagues of long-standing, because so many of the sessions will simply rock, the conference time will be too rich and refreshing to count as work much less to get work correspondence done. The hypothesis is that while being there will be great, airlines, airports, the TSA, and other travel issues will make the getting there hell. Each mode via each media conveyance will bring its own special burden; for example, interrupting the ability to compose  during taxi-ing and takeoff, getting inconsistent wifi during railing on the train, and incurring too much swerving trying to write e-mail on the road. That is travel media and conference sessions will dismediate the speaker, causing a precipitous drop in e-mail response time. Findings will be revealed on Tuesday, June 11 at 9 AM upon speaker 1's return to his garret under the stairs.
Of the three samples, the first parody worked best, the second better than the third. The third was off-key.  The use of Playbill and the Playbill font used in the first line singled a theater signals the direction the message will take and sets up the conceit that play's at hand. Note the role given to the e-mail program. That's a common trope in these examples -- the inbox or e-mail program as forlorn, jealous, plotting. Though the parody does follow the advice to be vague about when regular e-mailing will resume, it gives no dates, no specific locations, just enough in the description of the e-mail program's role to set up the alliteration in the description of the Carbone role.

The song parody, with the apologia, gives no dates as well, but does offer a places I'm going brag. I really like visiting campuses, and enjoy meeting teachers and their students, and so frequently the messages will celebrate that. Now in normal circumstances that might unprofessional, but that element of giving a shout out to the campuses I'm visiting, and the joy in the visit, is both heartfelt and, for the company I work for, a good thing.

The third just didn't work that well. I was going to an academic conference, and thought it'd be fun to do a conference session parody. The entry is dense, like some academic conference session descriptions can be. During the time at the conference, a preponderance of e-mail I received was from people for whom the conference program session description was not a regular read.

Contra Urban's advice, the conference parody offers excuses -- travel woes, sorry wifi; the "Going to San Francisco" parody boasts about the places I'll be and for me the fun I would be having (I enjoy those kinds of trips).  Speaking of trips, travel is the premise of the next examples.

The Itinerary

Where I'll Be
I'll be:  In the desert. Las Vegas mostly, but still the desert. For the Conference on College Composition and Communication. From Tuesday, March 12, when I drive to Vegas from LA until Sunday, March 17, when I drive back to LA. I look forward to the desolate desert driving -- five or so hours of no phone, no radio, just road, sand, and a place to be.

I'll be:  In LA for three days -- March 18 - 20 -- visiting campuses and the professors who teach there. LA's not a desert.

I'll be: At home, working from there, March 21 - 22, where work is defined as recovering from 8 days of conferencing and campusing. Home is not a desert.

I'll be: In Norfolk, VA, March 25 - 27.  Like LA, Norfolk sits by an ocean; unlike LA's ocean, Norfolk's is best for sunrise. Norfolk is not a desert.

I'll be: In the office. Eventually. March 28 I reckon, though who knows. The office is not a desert.

I'll be: In the desert, then not in the desert.

How Long and How Far
It's a good thing I don't have plants in my office. They'd be dead by September 2 when I get back. 
I'm about to embark on a national travel odyssey that will take me from Boston to Council Bluffs  and back, to Atlanta and Athens, GA and back to Boston, to Hartford, CT and back to Boston, to Fort Lauderdale, Miami, maybe Palm Beach, then to Memphis and Oxford, Mississippi, then to San Francisco, San Jose, Palo Alto, Napa Valley before coming back to Boston and then driving to Beverly, MA. Sadly, it's not one airline so there won't be rewards club boost. 
Here's the break down in case you frequent airports and want to catch up with me f2f. You may want to print this: 
August 7: From home, writing lesson plans and course designs and workshop materials and teaching advice and other things I need to take on, or have completed before going on, the road. 
August 8 - 10: I fly to Omaha on 8/8 so I can drive to Council Bluffs, Iowa, home of the raiding Reivers at Iowa Western Community College where I'll be doing a workshop on Saturday 8/9. The workshop will show teachers how to create assignments so captivating that to students, marauding Omaha's bars instead of doing course work will seem as exciting and rewarding as waiting for ice to melt in a snow storm. After picking up the key to the city from Omaha's mayor and a thank you share of Berkshire Class A stock from Mr. Buffet, I fly back. 
August 11 - 13: I get home August 10 and then head out again August 11, with a visit to UGA to see MARCA progress and then on to Georgia Tech for TA orientation with Brittain Fellows, some of the smartest scholars and teachers in the country where we'll look at strategies for teaching with an online handbook, followed by the all important wine and cheese, which the scholarship on teaching and learning shows binds new ideas to memory. I get back on March 13. 
August 14 - 15: Thursday Aug. 14 I drive to CT to work on a book project, returning the 15th to rest on the 16th before flying out again on the 17th to Fort Lauderdale. And no, I won't stay at hotel on the beach, even though August rates are low. I'll abode near the highway where the rates are really, really low, but where the bar across the fishing museum has a good happy hour. 
August 17 - 27: After arriving at FLL the day before, I wake early on  August 18 to visit Miami Dade Kendall via that convenient highway near the hotel to talk about differentiated teaching in college writing courses where first year courses now include learners who in the past would have been in developmental courses. 
Tuesday, 8/19 a fun day at the University of Miami for a workshop on teaching multimodal composition, with a look at Web tools for creating compositions and a discussion of how to integrate assignments into the fyc course in safe to take steps and on how to assess work that includes more than words. After the workshop, we'll have dinner with some of the UM faculty because research shows that dinner after a workshop, while it doesn't help memory, does increase the stamina needed to multimodal compose a multimodal writing assignment. Once the hangover lifts. 
August 20 it's off to Memphis for a drive to Ole Miss and TA orientation. I'll talk about trends in technology and compostion, followed by one hour conversation with friends who run the program about digital teaching and learning, followed by dinner and libation. 
August 21 I leave Memphis early and land in San Francisco, where I'll be operate out of until August 27, moving around a bit to stay in hotels that are under the company per deim for a big city. I start out of the gate on landing at SFO, where I grab a rental car and breakneck down to San Jose State for a workshop I'm really excited about: showing faculty how to use one of our online handbooks in ways that are fun, teach students how to use the handbook on their own after the course, and that take advantage of the book being Web-based. The workshop will be followed by an exercise in faculty bonding, hosted by the local rep, at bar just a short walk from campus. August 22 is split between San Jose State for follow up meetings faculty and department heads. Monday it's CCSF and Napa Valley, and Tuesday,  a visit to a potential software partner in Palo Alto, literally in their garage, to talk about teaching, writing, and student learning and how that can all be done better with their tools combined with our content and faculty development programs. 
August 27 is a day in airports and planes for the flight back east. A JetBlue kind of day, a direct flight day, but one w/ no Wifi on board. So it'll be a day of writing and annotating a manuscript. 
August 28  or 29, tbd, is Endicott College with one of our authors, Jeff Ousborne, to help in a workshop on teaching critical reading, writing, and thinking in a first year experience cost. Whichever day is not Endicott will be a day of laundry, local errands and some sleep catching up. 
Then comes the Labor Day Holiday weekend, and so back in the office September 2.   
Where even the dust will have died from neglect.
Phew. That second one is long, isn't it? And it includes typos too. Like most of the missives, it was done in one draft. I think it's the longest auto response I've ever used, so long I suggested printing it. One of the reasons for doing it long and listing the places and dates was simply so people would know, if they needed to know, where I was. So my boss, my family. Most people I figured wouldn't read past first two sentences, which form a traditionally brief out of office if taken alone. If you got the message on the 1st of August when it went live, the dead plants stuff makes sense.

What surprised me when I caught up with people at the locations where I was heading, people whom I was responding to on logistics, was how many of them read through and enjoyed the whole. Peppered in there are several references to bars and drink, a fantasy about Berkshire stock, more drinking as the week goes on. Then a full circle close back to neglected office.  I was surprised the long one worked as well as it did, at least for some correspondents.

The first example lead one friend to write me back after getting it thanking me for the poem. The "I'll be:" and "is not a desert" repetition made it seem poetic to her. I'd been going for a spare, bare bones effect, and the repetition just sort of emerged as a way to do that. Maybe the thought of being in a desert put me in a laconic mood. But looking back now, I do kind of agree with the friend who called it a poem. Cowboy poetry maybe? I don't know. I should get points too for keeping to Urban's advice about being non-committal about when I'll be back.

The Long Goodbye

In Great Expectations, Joe Gargery says to Pip, "life is made of ever so many partings welded together. . ." This auto reply recognized a departure.
Merciful travel will keep me out of the office for some time, which means the irregular checking of e-mail. 
I have back to back conferences, first in Pullman, WA and then Minneapolis, MN. After that, meetings in New York, NY.  So the earliest I might, just might, get back into the office is Monday, June 23rd.  I'm not in any rush to get back, though the air conditioning in July is a plus. 
I'm in no rush because the office won't be the same.  It will lack Denise Wydra's laugh. Denise had been with Bedford/St. Martin's a few days shy of 20 years when she resigned, making her last day in the office May 30.  
She had been Director of New Media, Editorial Director, President of Bedford/St. Martin's, and after a reorganization of Macmillan Education converted Bedford/St. Martin's from a company to an imprint, Denise departed as Vice President, Editorial for the Humanities. 
So back to the laugh. Denise's laugh punctuates not only the room she's in - loud, happy, ready, generous -- but carries. It's distinct, and though my office sits a floor down from hers, there's an open stairwell by mine. When her door was open and mine was, every once in a while during the day, if we were both in the office, and even though we wouldn't be meeting, I'd hear her laugh. 
I'll miss that laugh because I had 14 years to come to enjoy and look forward to it. It signifies what made her a good boss (in all my years at Bedford, I always reported directly, sometimes obliquely in practice, but always directly, to Denise): she did what she could, given my strengths and weaknesses, temperament and habits, to give me projects that I could be passionate about, which often meant creating roles that didn't exist before. 
I don't know of another college textbook publisher that has, for example, a Director of Digital Teaching and Learning or that would hire someone and at their start let him call himself a New Media Midwife. Denise rolled with that kind of thing, supported it, and made working for her what good learning should be: hard and important (getting teaching and learning right) fun. 
And so Denise is gone from the office, resigned from Macmillan Education and on to better things, well-deserved new challenges and joys.  
I'm just happy to be traveling and gone from the office now too for a while. The road takes me away from her absence, an absence I'll adjust to for sure. Not by forgetting but instead by learning to live with, when I am back in the office, the presence of her not being there.
Unlike most of the other replies, which try toward some sense of humor or wry observation, this one is a straight up song of praise that resonated most for people who worked in the office. I had thought to set the auto reply so that the full message went to only folks in the office, and one truncated to end after the second paragraph went to people outside the office. In the end,  I let it go out to all correspondents as is, a song of praise, thanks, and farewell. I tried to sketch a quick portrait, a micro profile of Denise, enough so that people who did not know her would get the reason for the sentiment.

Nearly all the other auto-response examples try at some degree of humor. The humor may or may not amuse -- see the next category -- but it's usually clear that humor is intended, which puts people at some ease. The farewell above was unusual for me in that it was heartfelt, and maybe in a way that put people at some slight discomfort. After all, what do you do with that kind of note if you don't know me well nor Denise at all? The other discomfiting element, of course, is the melancholy. All the other examples describe a moment when I'll be back in the office, ready to respond and work normally. This one doesn't paint a happy to be back picture; it focuses instead on getting used to someone being not part of your day any more.


Stuff That Didn't Work
This One Didn't Get Sent -- And You Can See Why
Thos Oot of Offoco os brooght to yoo bo tho lottor 'O' 
O woll bo oot of tho offoco from now untol Mondoy, Soptombor 15. 
O woll not hovo normol occoss to omool, whot woth boong on plonos, on cors, wolkong tho holls of focolty offocos, ond othor joornoys whoro ot woold bo onsofo, ompossoblo, or jost rodo to olso bo on omool.
Ond woth tho tomo zono dofforonco from oost to wost coost, bo tho hoor O got bock to mo hotol room, mo oost coost corrospondonts woll bo osloop, mo control zono froonds woll bo on tho woy to bod, mo moontoon tomo pols woll bo comong homo from thoor fovoroto bor, mo wost coost compodros woll bo workong no doobt, bot O'll bo so torod from jot log, thot O'll hovo no idoo whot tomo zono O'm port of.
So most lokoly, O moy not got to yoor mossogo ontol O got bock oost to Boston ond hovo mo normol sloop ond work pottorns bock. Whon O om bock, O'll roply to yoor mossogo boforo ony othors bocooso yoo oro tho bost.
Nock
This One Got Sent and Then Pulled Back
I am out office not attending the Macmillan Higher Education national sales meeting (NSM)  in Philadelphia until August 8.

On August 8 - 10, I will continue to not attend the MHE-NSM becaue instead of just being out of the office, I will actually be on the road.

I fly to Omaha so I can drive to Council Bluffs, Iowa, home of the raiding Reivers at Iowa Western Community College where I'll be doing a workshop on Saturday 8/9.

Though I have normal access to email and phones and things until 8/8's airporting, since I am out of office not attending the MHE-NSM, I will be on NSM e-mail patterns by pretending to be at the NSM. You see, people who don't see me at the office will think I'm at the NSM. My bosses at the NSM will think I'm at the office, working quietly away in the emptiness. And being at the NSM, they'll be too busy to send me e-mail, much less to read the out of office if they do send.

Only you and I will know I'm out of the office not attending the NSM, and then out of office defending Omaha from reivers by showing teachers how to create assignments so captivating that marauding seems as exciting and rewarding as waiting for ice to melt in a snow storm.
The first, or should that be forst?, message can be deciphered, but it takes too much work. And the payoff wasn't there, just pretty standard fare. So I didn't use it, and am glad of that.

The second e-mail went out; it's the one my boss asked me to pull. He was at the national sales meeting (a gathering of editors, marketing managers, and sales representatives to learn about the books and media to be sold this in the fall term) the e-mail references, and I suspect the message put him on the spot with his bosses; he was nice about it by the way, and I was happy to change it for him. The message started out by miming all the out of offices that I was getting from people who were in fact at the NSM, a meeting I do normally go to but skipped this past August because I had the trip to Omaha to do, which required me to travel during the heart of NSM. 

Here's why I think it didn't work. It opened with a NOT inserted. But since I was out of office and NOT at the NSM, where was I? I could have said nothing, or just the truth that I was home prepping materials needed for the trips about to ensue, but I thought it would be fun to make fun of myself as stupid enough to give away in writing that I was pretending to be in two places at once for different audiences. "Only you and I will know" is patently false, but maybe not patently enough to work the intended effect, a laugh at my expense. Instead it came off, unfairly to him, as a laugh at my boss's expense.

The thing about the failures and the ones that don't work too well is that they come from my own slips as a writer, misreading either what the bulk of readers will understand, or on one occasion, what an important reader or two thought. I got a reply to the NOT nsm message from a professor who called it a classic,so it did work for some readers. But as a writer playing with this stuff, I had to do a better job of assessing how it would play to other readers. And I misplayed the NOT one. But a misplay is no reason to quit a game.

Of late, the most successful attempts have been auto responses like the ones which follow, where it's me versus the technology. 

It's Not Me, It's the Technology, Damnit!

Once Upon a Time
Once upon a time, from now to July 1, in a far away land called Outlook, an intrepid editor named Nick left the office, going on a journey that took him away from the comforts of his laptop and its expansive keyboard that Nick knew so well. 
Nick could clickity clack on that keyboard, writing fast replies, long replies, replies with egregarious typos, replies too, though, with sly asides and curmudgeonly preferred names for products he works on. 
But on this journey away from office and the power bequeathed by a full keyboard, Nick goes forth with only his wimpy Blackberry 9300 and its browser so crappy that it cannot load images without crashing, its company plan so cheap, there's no texting included, its email screen so small that even short messages seem long as he scrolls and scrolls and scrolls. 
And even more, this journey out of office with Blackberry 9300 only will be on a road where signals and cell towers connect tremulously, with intermittent fidelity, ready treachery. 
And so it is a journey bereft of timely reading and ready wording, a journey where email will be left largely behind, leaving Nick to wander the off line world untethered and adrift from the good ship Inbox. 
We pray that Nick, on 1 July, when he returns to laptop and full keyboard, is safe, sane, and able to find your most precious message before all others.
Soap Opera
Today on As Nick's Out of Office Turns . . .  
Nick takes a one day trip to an off line writing project, an assignation involving hard copy, face to face discussions, and other collaborative intimacies that will leave him no time for Outlook's Inbox. 
Meanwhile, the dormant hard-drive on Nick's laptop whispers to Inbox that maybe this isn't just a one time trip, an innocent project. Maybe Nick likes working directly and shoulder to shoulder instead of by e-mail. 
When Nick comes back to the Inbox on Monday, will he find turmoil in e-mail? 
Will spam have been answered instead of blocked, leaving Nick with e-mails from a Nigerian Prince offering profuse thanks for having been given Nick's social security number and bank routing codes?  Will Nick in response wait, as instructed, for the five million dollars to arrive in his bank account the following Monday? 
Will messages from regular correspondent have been marked as spam?  
Will filters that send certain messages to certain folders be scrambled, sending messages hither and yon? 
Will email that comes in marked by the sender as HIGH priority be transmogrified to LOW, with the subject line changed to Fwd: fwd: fwd: fwd: LOL cats vs. LOL dogs!!! - You gotta see this! 
Or will Outlook Inbox withstand the Iagoian whispers of hard drive and simply send you this message, telling you all is well but that Nick's in CT writing something with someone and won't be online much until Monday a.m. when he's back in the office again. 
Both of the above venture into light parody, the first evokes a fairy tale at the start and kind of morphs into a prayer at the end, with an implied finish that closing with an impossible over promise -- that the individual sender getting this message has the most precious e-mail in the inbox. The closing line, like joke in the  NOT nsm auto reply that was pulled, spins on the obvious. It's also nothing but an excuse, where I blame my semi-smart phone and connectivity for not replying.

The second sample parodies the what-will-happen-in-the-next? tease that soap operas like As the World Turns employed (Is that show even on any more? Do soap operas still use the question tease?). The second also echos a move used in the Playbill example -- ascribing feelings and intent to the e-mail program. Like a movie trailer that gives away the plot, the final sentence gives away the answers to the teaser questions.

Both make fun of technology and its discontents, a safe terrain for humor, and increasingly a go to move.

Playing Against Conventions Results in Conventions



Looking at these samples, using Urban's advice as a frame, it's clear that the play is defined by the genre I am playing against. Each example has features of the traditional out of office, whether of the won't respond or will be slow to respond types that Urban identifies. Their success depends on those hooks, on the need to start somewhat recognizably and then move off into a different direction. And there's an emerging set of tropes -- travel locations, the nature of visits; occasional commentary on place or events (drinking asides,hotel types); travel travails; connectivity and access; e-mail conventions; the personification of technology; the use of parody; and the use of repetition within the notes -- that give shape to these missives.

I know a lot of folks who do not bother setting an out of office, even when they're on vacation, let alone when they're doing business travel. Because they're always able to connect, they find it easier to just keep up with their e-mail. 

Myself, I look forward to using the auto-response; I travel a lot so I have plenty of chances to do so. It's too much fun not to.  And too, for me, it's necessary to do so. In closing, from an out of office used just a week or so ago, here's why:
I am out of the office.
Again. 
I know what you're thinking.
It's either, why have an office if you're going to be so much out of it? 
Or it's, if you're going to be out so much out of it as to nearly never be in, then isn't an out of office message pointless, what with the wonders of wifi on planes, in hotels, in coffee shops?
Here's what I don't mean by out of office -- 
I don't mean out of the empty space I have as an official office at 75 Arlington Street in Boston, a space -- http://tinyurl.com/o4humtc -- I've stripped down to nothing but a table, chair, phone and empty bookcase. 
I simply mean away from email access. Because if you're reaching me via my work email, then from your point of view this Inbox you send to is my office, and I'm out of it, not checking it as normally I would. 
So out of office really just means not reading AND/OR not responding to email with the alacrity I would were I sitting at my home desk or office table. 
Now, I do have a Blackberry, an old cranky one with a browser so wretched I have to set it to not load pictures, scripts, media or else it crashes.  Email is text only it, attachments cannot be read, long messages cannot be followed too easily, and detailed replies are hard to write, especially if other things need to be consulted, as oft is the case, things like Web sites I cannot see, files I cannot read, or messages deeper in threads I have not on the devilish little device. 
And so while technically with a BBerry the Inbox is always at hand, I'm not really IN when I have to rely on the Blackberry. It is to reading and writing email what driving is to being in a car with no gas. I can sit in it, maybe coast down hill, but I ain't going far.   
Out of office means I'll be off a regular computer a lot, almost all business hours and most non business ones too this week. In planes, cars, meetings, and workshops instead. 
Out of office means away from the right tools and quality time for reading and writing email. 
And if I cannot give your message the quality read, the quality response, the quality thinking it deserves, you should know that it is because:
I am out of the office.
Again.

2 comments:

Ann Amicucci said...

Brilliant, Nick! I hadn't considered the 'out of office' e-mail as a genre and am delighted to read your discussion of it here.

Ann Amicucci said...
This comment has been removed by the author.