The lost art of the OOF

Some time ago, I posted about how the ".sig" has faded from grandeur. I’d like to add the somewhat terminal dryness of the OOF message to that list, and propose a solution.

OOF is a Microsoft term for Out of Office. It should really be OOO, but is stuck in the days of the predecessor to MS Mail and Exchange. See for myriad stuff on OOFs, and here (on why it’s OOF and not OOO) for one of the first – and for a while, most-read – blog posts on the Exchange team blog.

I’ve seen a lot of OOFs in my time, and many are of a hugely unimaginative nature. Some are kind-of smart in that they convey the most information in the shortest amount of characters (eg "oof til 7/1 – mail jbloggs if urgent") whereas some have clearly been lovingly hand crafted.

When I worked in the Exchange product group, I sent a mail to one particular guy (who is ex-pat Brit but had been over in Redmond for some time) on the 16th December. Turns out, he’d gone "home" for "the holidays" and I got:

I am so on vacation. By the time I get back, I expect things will look different. See you on 1/17/05. I probably won’t ever read your email. Sorry.

There’s something refreshingly honest about that – it’s admitting that he’s not going to be on email for at least a month, by which time, anything he got sent in email will be out of date. Brilliant. Helps build a case for Instant Messaging if you ask me.

Probably the best OOF I’ve seen came from a somewhat eccentric Canadian (who once replied when I mentioned I’d seen him the previous evening in New Orleans, clearly having a Nice Time), "oh yeah… any night when I don’t end up in jail has to be a good night"). Enjoy…

It happened. I knew it would happen some day, but never dreamed it would happen so soon. I tried to hide it from everyone, but word got out and boy did I catch hell for it. Yes, as embarrassing as it is, I must confess before God and country that I was caught, red-handed, Getting Productive Work Done In The Office!

People, please: do try to control your Shock and Horror. I know we used to do real work Long Ago, but we’ve moved past that, haven’t we? It was an honest mistake; an accident in the truest sense of the word. I did my best to hide it from everyone and thought I was successful around the children and my more-dense co-workers. But there is only so long one can live a charade, and in the end, like a house of cards in a hurricane it came down, down, down…

To pay for my egregious act of productivity and practical effort, I’ve been sentenced to two days of offsite meetings by a jury of my direct management.

Yes, kiddies, that is Two Whole Days of unbridled Tag-Teaming, Outlining, Problem-Solving, Situation-Analysing, Team-Building, Proactively-Leveraging, Federating, Brainstorming Facilitation and Group Contemplation. Unpack the markers and the big pads of paper, Martha: we is gonna have an offsite!!

Can you already feel the sweat drip slowly down ewers of water; the ice cubes grumbling with frustration at their inevitable doom in a pastel room filled with inoffensive Corporate Art? Can you see the elegant buffet of Northwest Grilled Salmon Medallions lounging in a Light Cream Sauce over chirping steam trays, accented by a tossed salad of Garden Fresh Greens? Can you hear that first person raise their hand to state, two hours into to the discussion, that "Before we go any further, we need to define the problem" only to be followed seconds later by another person wondering "what are the criteria for success?"

Do you get the idea that at some point on the first day, I’ll be screaming out "BINGO!" to a very confused audience?

Ah; they’re used to it…

A co-worker once told me you could solve any team problem with a case of malt liquor, an afternoon of skeet shooting and a strip club. He’s no longer employed at the company (something to do with an offsite of his own gone terribly awry near the Montana state border) but I think he was on the right track.

Where I am going, there are no visiting hours, and even worse: no conjugal visits. I might be reachable at <number>. Heck, if it’s really important, email or text me. Rumour has it the gardener can smuggle those in hidden in his watering can…

See you on The Other Side,


Now I ask only one thing. We must all put some degree of (professionally relevant) imagination into our OOFs. It’s only respectful to the poor sods still at work who’re sending us email whilst we enjoy a few days out, isn’t it?

Have a Happy New Year, everyone. And please, for the sake of the rest of us, make your OOFs mean something special. Or funny. Or whatever.

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