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Out of Office in an Always on World

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What’s the meaning of “Out of Office” in an always on world, anyway?  Does anyone really use that notification anymore with the adoption of smartphones? I don’t.

It used to be you’d set this notification in Outlook when you were out at a conference for a day or locked in an all-day meeting, or god forbid, you took a vacation!  Today, tuning out doesn’t seem to be an option or even a goal. Many of us can’t live without our smartphones. It’s our life line to our work, our friends, our family and the world.

And, because it stores our music, photos, games, contacts and communication channels to everyone we are connected to, it is ok if we bring it to a meeting or tote it along on our vacation.  It is no longer considered rude to check email on your phone in meetings and your spouse doesn’t know if you are working or playing Angry Birds, so work can go anywhere and because of this, the idea of being “out of office” is irrelevant.

What does this mean for this previously useful feature in Outlook? Will Microsoft change how it functions in this age of “always on”?  Since work is no longer a desk, four walls and a phone, will the name of this feature change to “Roaming But Connected”? Will Microsoft give users the option to change the label of this feature along with the personal message you present?  Here are a few labels I’d consider using if they were available:

  • Finding Peace – Disconnected Temporarily
  • Tuned Out from Work, Tuned Into Fun
  • Multi-tasking On Hold Temporarily
  • Response Time Delayed

I know Google and Apple want to know where I’m at each moment of every day but given I can work anywhere, I don’t need to tell my vendors, colleagues or random soliciting sales people that I’m not tied to my office today.  What’s the point when you have all the tools you need in portable devices – including your smartphone, tablet and laptop – and integrated applications. With my ShoreTel Communicator and ShoreTel Mobility I can be just as productive at Starbucks as I can in the office so “Out of Office” is now out of date.