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  • Writer's pictureAdeleine Whitten

Has WFH made OOO obsolete?

In the “before” times, working meant getting out of bed, putting on real pants, commuting to an actual office, and doing your job until it was time to go home. Sure, there was the occasional late night downtown or after-hours phone call, but for the most part, you had to be at your job in order to do your job.

But even before March of 2020, the 9-to-5 working world was shifting into a format that allowed employees to work from just about anywhere. And while the lack of commute and never having to change out of sweatpants make working from home seem like the greatest thing to happen to office life, it’s made stepping away from work more difficult than ever.

When I started my first office job in 2018, I had the option to add my work email to my personal phone. I remember going back and forth about it – I wanted to show my new team that I was reliable, I wanted to be available in case there were any emergencies, and I wanted to stay in the loop on things that happened after-hours that may need my attention.

But at the same time, I didn’t want that responsibility. I could show my team just as well that I’m reliable by getting my work done when I was supposed to be working. I wasn’t getting paid to worry about things after-hours – I was getting intern money! And what marketing emergencies could there possibly be that needed the intern’s attention in the middle of the night?

I ended up settling for keeping the work email off of my phone but adding my personal phone number to my email signature. I figured if there ever was an emergency that necessitated an immediate response from me, it would be there. But I quickly realized you can only expect people to follow the boundaries you distinctly set for them.

I vividly remember removing my phone number from my signature one afternoon after getting a barrage of unimportant texts while I was in class. Nothing needed my immediate attention, but it became clear that if the phone number was there, people were going to use it.

Another trend I’ve noticed is the evolving reaction to getting an OOO automated response. When I get that “Thanks for your email, I am currently out of the office…” kickback, I either change my project timeline or engage someone else because I assume I won’t be hearing from that person until they’re back. For others, however, that kickback means something different depending on who it’s coming from.

“Steve is out of office, but he checks his email when he’s out, so we can expect a response by tomorrow.” Translation: Steve checks his email while he’s on PTO, so we feel entitled to his time off.

In a world where work is work and home is home, maintaining separation between the two places comes naturally. But in today’s world – where work is home and home is work – it’s important to set clear boundaries, both with yourself and with the people you work with. You can’t expect others to respect your time when you rarely respect it yourself.

These days, I do keep my work email on my phone – but nobody besides myself and the IT department would ever know it. Because if folks see one email signed Sent from my iPhone, I’ve permanently blurred that boundary between OOO and WFH.

And the positive reaction to you responding during your time off will never outweigh the negative reaction to the one time you don’t.

Adeleine Whitten | Professional, kind of

is a marketer by day and writer by night, weekend, and sometimes lunch break. You can often find her with a good book or in the Taco Bell drive-thru.

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