Work Wisdom: What does out of office even mean in 2020?

Grazia explores the Do-s and Don't-s of the OOO phenomenon
Work Wisdom: What does out of office even mean in 2020?

It’s 2020: time is a mystery, ‘summer’ is a mixture of melting days and suffocating humidity, unpeppered by recognisable clichés like ‘vacay with this one’ or ‘festival times with my faves’, and the office just a place you used to have to pay for lunch.

And yet, there is one thing that continues to plague us (especially in the month just gone): the Out Of Office. With most of us ironically actually literally OOO, but still WFH, emails have become a life raft, tying us to some semblance of a job/life we used to know. And the OOO message or auto-reply has therefore become even more of a key method of communication. It’s probably also become at least 76 per cent more annoying. So here’s what we’ve learned from OOOs: The 2020 Edition.

It’s still not possible to be genuinely funny
Most people understand that all you need from an OOO is dates and a forwarding address. The rest think it’s the place to show off that whacky personality. "Hello! I’m OOO – whatever that means in these COVID times!", "Hey! I’m OOO, by which I mean across the room providing childcare!", "I’m OOO for 14 days in the Bahamas – LOL, I wish, I’m in Skegness", "I’m out of the “office”, read: bedroom." When 2020 this much of a joke, there’s not much room for coronavirus laughs. So don’t try it.

Welcome to the August black hOOOle
What’s your score? Ours is five. That’s the amount of people we’ve tried to send an email to in an organisation, after following OOO messages suggesting the best point of contact… before finding out they’re also OOO and their point of contact is, too. In 2020, this is intensified by furlough, people being forced to actually take some annual leave after lockdown and filling in childcare around school holidays. And that if we’re going to have to holiday in the UAE this year, we’re all attempting to do it in the same 4-16 days that there might actually be cooler weather.

OOO still means OME (Off My Emails)
Every year brings the ghastly "Just popping this to the top of your inbox now you’re back"-ers. But the year 2020 has brought out their twisted cousins: the "I know you are OOO, but just sending in case you’re checking emails"-ers. Shudder. With work/childcare/holidays/life/friends/institutions/society collapsing all around us, there aren’t many boundaries. PLEASE just give someone their five minutes of annual leave without your electronic pestering.

We’ve lost it
"Hello! I’m just OOO for 13 minutes while I run to Spinneys, but I am available on my mobile and will be keeping an eye on emails apart from when I'm crossing the A road and will respond on my return." Never mind the fact we used to regularly do our whole family’s Christmas shopping on our lunch "hour", or gossip in the "meeting" room for 36 minutes about who’d left the shared kitchen in such a state – lockdown has left us feeling we need to be constantly accountable for our whereabouts. God forbid we don’t respond to a "PING" and someone thinks we’re slacking. Man, we miss slacking…

We need an IBJGMAS
That’s an "I’m Back Just Give Me A Second" auto-response. As we’ve necessarily had to become more glued to our computers to communicate, we’ve all seen our email admin load double, meaning the amount we need to wade through when we get back is huge. We need an email holiday after our holiday, before it’s reasonable people should expect a response. Thanks.

But at least we’ve stopped Insta-bragging
I’ve seen barely a quarter of the Instagram stories I usually see, of people taking pictures of their OOO with a dancing gif to match. So that’s something…

Photo: Emma Matthews at Unsplash