Stepping away from the computer

Here we are at the pointy end of the year. In just a few weeks  many of us will be stepping away from the computer for a well-earned break.

For many that means an unattended inbox. There are a few ways to handle this… some are heaps better than others.

The best way to handle an out-of-office reply is to make it work for you. Write something that will add to your client relationship — make your message on brand, and memorable.

If you have spent all year nurturing a relationship with a client, it makes no sense to end the year with a generic ‘I’m out-of-the-office‘ email. That’s not going to make anyone feel special. (As an aside, ‘good’ clients should never be surprised by an out-of-office message, they should be well-informed of your availability. Best you contact them early to share the dates you will not be available and discuss any ramifications. Maybe it’s an alternate contact or negotiated deadlines. And good clients will respect your need to take leave.)

Being memorable

Most of us work in a crowded marketplace and most of our marketing energy is spent trying to separate our services from others by communicating well and often with clients, by identifying and communicating our onlyness, and honing our website so it stands out from the crowd.

After all this work it makes no sense to set up a generic, monotone out-of-office message.

I am on leave until xxx. Please contact the office (telephone here) for any matters needing immediate attention. Thank you.

Especially when there are so many great alternatives.

How to step away from the computer leaving a smile

This out-of-office popped into my inbox a couple of years ago from the Creative Director of a small to medium agency in South Australia:

I am currently out of the office taking an extra long, long weekend.

I know I’m supposed to say that I’ll have limited access to email and won’t be able to respond until I return — but that’s not true. My smartphone will be with me and I can respond if I need to, and I recognise that I’ll probably need to interrupt my day from time to time to deal with something pressing.

That said, I promised my hubby that I am going to try to disconnect, get away and enjoy our long weekend as much as possible. So, I’m going to experiment with something new. I’m going to leave the decision in your hands:

If your email truly is urgent and you need a response while I’m away, please resend it to* and we’ll respond as soon as humanly possible.

Otherwise, I’ll respond when I return…

What’s not to love about that? The agency website says they pride themselves on creating a ‘difference’ so this email response was a way of practising what they preach. I can’t think of a client that may be offended. Most would be left with a grin from ear to ear — it’s cheeky without being rude, explanatory without sharing too much information. I feel sure it would add to any relationship.

Out of office examples

Here’s a few more that I’ve heard…

These I might send…

So here’s the thing: I’m not in the office right now. I’m — well, I know you don’t want to hear this as you’re probably working, yourself, but — I’m actually on leave. In other news, I will be back at my desk on [DATE]. If you need someone today and that’s it, there’s no convincing you otherwise, then please email [EMAIL].

They say the grass isn’t always greener on the other side of the fence. I am currently testing that theory. Wish me luck.

I am out of office and returning next week. I have incredibly easy access to a phone and email, but I assure you it will not be used for work purposes.

I am out of order until further notice.

I can’t respond to my emails today. Something has crashed on my computer and the mouse is missing.

At the beach. No laptop, no Blackberry, no iPhone. Returning [DATE].

Shoot, you just missed me. I wrapped up everything at the office and am off on holidays until xxx.

These I probably would not send but are smile-worthy

I am on annual leave until dd/mm/yyyy. I will allow each sender one email and if you send me multiple emails, I will randomly delete your emails until there is only one remaining. Choose wisely. Please note that you have already sent me one email.

ERROR 405: Could not reach copywriter. Soz. Haha! What a brilliantly geeky joke, that. But in all seriousness, if you’re wanting something done, no can do.

I will be away from work for one week while training. When I return, don’t expect any improvement.

You are receiving this automatic notification because I am out of the office. If I was in, chances are you wouldn’t have received anything at all.

Your message contained 15 characters too many for our system to accept at the present time. Please re-format and re-send.

I will be out of the office from [DATE] until [DATE] without access to email. If this is an emergency, call 000.

I will be unable to delete all the unread, worthless emails you send me until I return from holiday on [DATE]. Please be patient and your mail will be deleted in the order it was received.

Hi. I’m thinking about what you’ve just sent me. Please wait by your PC for my response.

And these are my favorites

Thank you for your email. Your credit card has been charged $5.99 for the first ten words and $1.99 for each additional word in your message.

I’m away from my desk at the moment. My cubicle and computer are still here, but someone took my desk. I’ve gone off to look for it.

On leave. Hoping to win the lottery and never return.

I’m currently out of the office and can be reached by waiting until I return.

One last absolute favorite

This was written in tune to eighties pop star Rick Astley’s hit Never Gonna Give You Up.

It went – you can sing along if you want – like this:

“Never gonna give you up, Never gonna let you down, Never gonna run around and desert you, Never gonna make you cry, Never gonna say goodbye, Never gonna tell a lie and hurt you.

“I’m also never gonna reply to your message until xxxx as I’m off on holiday.”

Take away

Good clients understand the value of leave, so don’t ever apologise for stepping away from the studio for a well-earned break. But don’t take a great client for granted either. Personally contact those clients with whom you have a great relationship – they should never be surprised by an out-of-office reply. And if they do inadvertently email you, along with others in your network? Greet them with an out-of-office response that will bring a smile to their face so they remember why they work with you. And better still, it may make your ‘average’ clients stop and think differently about you.

As always, happy to discuss further, just email.

I’m off to write my out-of-office reply 😉 Greg and I are take a well-earned break from Jan 1 — January 31
Thanks for your support this year, it is very much appreciated.
Take care,

Carol Mackay

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These articles serve as good reminders to why a good ‘out-of-the-office’ reply is so important:

  1. Do clients look at designer’s websites
  2. Do clients think designers are proactive or reactive?
  3. What clients want to hear in a pitch
  4. How clients find designers
  5. How clients prefer to meet designers


After 30+ years running a graphic design firm, I pivoted from client-focused projects to consult to the design industry. Now with the Design Business Council I use my experience, and research, as a design mentor and coach. I help designers build robust, sustainable businesses, and help businesses integrate, and profit from, design.

The core of the DBC is the building a design community – over 85% of designers work in businesses with less than 5 employees, many less than 3. That means designers don’t have the same support network of other professionals. The DBC’s solution is supplement paid gigs with research, mentoring breakfast meet-ups, informative UNseminars and practical workshops in Melbourne, Perth and Sydney.

An archive of my previous career is at
My current work can be viewed at and

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