Setting the out-of-office is the virtual equivalent of slipping on the flip-flops

Hannah Jane Parkinson
Photograph: Getty Images

It might seem a little odd to be writing about the joy of composing one’s out-of-office when, thanks to the pandemic, most of us are already out of office.

But the thought that foreign holidays may be a long way off is making me ache for one. I just want to sit on a beach somewhere. Swim in the sea. Not worry about a spike protein penetrating my lungs.

When one thinks of the glorious anticipation of a holiday, packing comes to mind. But, being a perennially disorganised person who would probably have made the journey to Mordor with the ring and nothing else – in fact, possibly not even the ring – this is never a key part of the prep for me. I’ll make sure I have swimming gear, or thermals; whichever is required. Mostly, I will be faff-free.

There are things that set the vacation pulse racing; letting the passport off its desk-drawer leash, for instance. But there is only one virtual equivalent of kicking off the brogues and slipping on the flip-flops: setting the out-of-office.

There are many different styles of out-of-office (to those in marketing, it is always the OOO). I’m sure there exists a magazine quiz: What Does Your OOO Say About You?

If you are someone with a proper job, your message probably includes contact details of other people to bother in your absence. These people will not be thrilled. Some out-of-offices are very blunt: “I am away and back on x date. I will be deleting all messages sent in the interim”, being a particular favourite I’ve encountered. Others are circumspect, in the “I can’t get to the phone right now” landline-voicemail vibe of yore. In case someone tried to… hot desk? Steal your charger?

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My own used to read politely that I was not around and gave the date I’d be back looking at emails. But… people still email. People will never not email. Just checking in again!!! Just circling back!!!

Now, my out-of-office is simply: me <------ distance------> the office. My auto-reply might as well be a photograph of me in a hammock. Which is actually quite a good idea.

It is entering those dates, that sliver of calendar year, that marks the true coming of the holiday spirit. Bury the inbox in the sands of the Sahara. Drown it in Lake Garda. Chuck it off the Cornish coast. Nobody can “reach out” now. You are safe.