A few Friday afternoons in the past, a colleague in London acquired an out-of-office message from a person saying he was unavailable as a result of he was “working winter hours today”.
Anyone needing him urgently might name a cell phone quantity included in the notice, which ended: “I will reply to your email on Monday. Have a good weekend.”
My colleague, like me, was nonplussed. What on earth had been “winter hours”?
I made inquiries. It turned out the man labored for a worldwide firm which determined that employees who had labored every week’s price of hours by 1pm Friday, which most had, might take the remainder of the day without work and luxuriate in what was left of the winter daylight.
The firm went straight into my file of Businesses Behaving Well in the Pandemic.
Then I realised I wanted a brand new file, as a result of that was in no way the solely uncommon out-of-office message I’ve seen over the previous 12 fraught months. Together, they inform a narrative of a yr of working life that nobody anticipated to begin, and which typically appears as if it’s going to by no means finish.
The first lot got here quickly after the first lockdowns started early final yr and reeked of the shock of the new. All had been from younger working mother and father who had out of the blue develop into a instructor or childminder on prime of their full-time job. “Thanks for your email,” they might begin, earlier than explaining that due to the Covid outbreak, you may need to attend for a reply.
Then there could be a proof of a private life nearly fully absent from the pre-Covid out-of-office message. “I am balancing work with the care of two children at home, so response to emails will be slower than usual,” learn certainly one of the first I noticed. Like others that adopted, it listed particular hours between 8am and 8pm when the sender could be accessible.
Good for you, I assumed, questioning if I’d have been courageous sufficient to ship one thing like that had I been of their place.
It would clearly assist should you labored for a spot like the University of Sheffield. It advises employees to jot down simply such a message in a particular out-of-office electronic mail template it has created for workers thrust into Covid distant working. But not everybody has such a wise employer.
As the pandemic has floor on, new out-of-office variants have emerged that say one thing like: “Because of home-schooling I am working flexibly and may send emails at all hours. Please don’t feel you need to reply at once.”
This is considerate, particularly if the sender is extra senior than the recipient. As it occurs, Sheffield advises its employees to say the identical factor.
This yr nonetheless, as contemporary lockdowns returned for hundreds of thousands in a northern hemisphere winter, a tone of OOO defiance has develop into extra evident.
My personal auto-replies are a living proof. I used to say I may very well be texted for pressing issues and would reply on my return. This was each unfaithful and idiotic. In reality I’d not reply to a whole lot of electronic mail on my return and pretending that I’d was needlessly tense, which was silly. A yr of Covid has snapped me out of it. When I used to be final away I merely stated: “I am on leave until March 8. If you have an urgent query, please text me.”
Others have taken a extra emphatic method. “I’m away and not checking my email,” introduced the topic line in an electronic mail a good friend acquired earlier this yr.
Another man I do know is much more forthright. “I will be out of the office and NOT checking email until I return,” says his newest out-of-office message. “Because of the volume of emails we receive, please assume that yours is likely to be unread or even deleted.”
I approve of each approaches. They are easy and, for these on the receiving finish of huge quantities of unsolicited electronic mail, they’re obligatory.
I’m deeply in favour of common electronic mail civility, particularly at a time like this. And I’m pretty positive that if I had seen any of those auto-replies earlier than Covid, I’d have discovered them shocking and presumably jarring. Now although, when time without work has to imply actual time without work, I simply discover them refreshing.