I’ve long felt that the “out of office” message is ambiguous. Does it signify that someone is physically not present or does it mean that they are on vacation or have time off for some other reason. For example, I know some diligent folks who update their voice mail message every day, but I’ve never seen anyone who updates an e-mail autoresponder with a daily expectation of response time to e-mail or who activates their “out of office” on the weekends. Furthermore, I bet I’m not the only one who has received an “Out of Office” message from recipients saying they are unavailable only to get a follow-up e-mail shortly thereafter from that person. Truth be told, I’ve been guilty of such mixed messaging myself.
In an age of mobile communications, the “out of office” e-mail has often become an anachronism. This became clear during CTIA when I e-mailed several people who had the autoresponders on but were at the show fully equipped with the most capable mobile e-mail clients to date. That doesn’t mean that mobile handsets are as well-suited to composing the kinds of replies that one would compose on a PC and there may well be situations such as international flights, sky-high data roaming charges, and travel to remote regions that genuinely preclude response. However,I think the expectation has changed to a shorter or more variable delay more driven by choice as the technological barriers fade.