We've all switched them on as we rush off on leave, barely a thought going into them as we hurry to power down. On the other side, we've all received them when we've sent an email.
It’s the ubiquitous out of office email reply of course. Short, to the point, a little brusque and usually a bit of a dead end.
The disappointment that we feel when we get that short, usually very standard reply, can be frustrating.
But there is a different way
A few weeks ago I dropped an email to someone I was keen to get hold of.
A friend and a mentor and someone I always enjoy catching up with. Disappointingly, the immediate response led with a first line stating that he was out of the office for the entirety of August. Typically, I experienced the usual fleeting feeling of annoyance. Usually I'd hit delete and move on, but the unusual length of the rest of the email response had already caught my attention.
It went on to say that when he took up his current role several years ago, he had negotiated the ability to take every August off as he had a young family at the time with his co-founder. That it had been negotiated when they formed the company and they had stuck to it every year since.
It said that he was currently in Spain, the same country where they together had conceived of the company and built the business plan, strategy and fleshed out an idea into what is now their maturing business.
He stated that this time was particularly precious as the pandemic eases as he is again able to travel and to spend time with his family. His two favourite pastimes. Made particularly precious now, years later, since his children are now almost ready to leave home so family holidays all together have become even more important to him.
I find this incredibly impressive: marketing through storytelling
It was honest, informative, and actually quietly uplifting.
My friend had, in a few short sentences conveyed, so much information. That he and his business partner, many years previously, had built a progressive work and family friendly environment. Where it had been born. That their relationship was built from the outset on mutual respect and the company was led by co-founders who believed in committing to each other and trusting that effort should be rewarded.
Even when the company was young and scrapping for survival the two co-founders had stuck to their dream of being able to stick to these sorts of practices.
That he was a committed family man and that his family was then, as it is now, hugely important to him and that he can set aside his work for a whole month and that his colleagues have his back.
I had moved past the message to thinking deeply about the importance of this particular email and its strong narrative. This is the first one of this type that I have ever really encountered.
Only slightly longer than those that usually ping back to me, but well thought-out and written, sharing personal and company values, and those of his co-founder; it was a masterclass in describing values, culture, personal and business beliefs.
It had taken a mundane and all too common opportunity and used this to deliver an incredibly powerful set of messages to the reader.
How many other opportunities like this might we be missing? Little ways in which to communicate our values, vision or business and personal beliefs?
I would suggest if something so routine as an out of office reply can convey so much, there must be many more ways we can explore to improve our messaging to clients and the wider world.
The challenge will be in doing it as well and as honestly as my friend had.