Do You Really Need That Autoresponder? Digital Communication Etiquette
Are we going overboard with autoresponders? Have we reached peak autoresponder?
These questions crossed my mind as I got an autoresponder from someone around 5:30pm on a Friday, alerting me that they were out of the office for the weekend, but would be back on Monday.
Is that necessary? Isn’t it obvious that they would be out of the office on those days? The email conversation was about our mortgage refinance, which is an industry that should be the poster child for being closed on the weekends. I didn’t need another email clogging up my inbox telling me something I already knew.
Autoresponding to Texts?
Being an avid Star Wars fan like myself, I recently sent my uncle a photo of a Star Wars shirt I got. Instantly, I got a text saying that he was driving, and that “no text is worth a life” so he’ll respond to my text when he’s done driving. Obviously, it was an auto-text, and I got a nice emoji that was a real response from him about 15 minutes later.
With these two scenarios, auto-responding to messages instantly is only raising people’s expectations of us. It’s setting the bar that even if you’re not immediately available to respond, you should be letting people know where you are, at all times.
I hate this.
The Flexibility to Work Anywhere
I don’t think anyone, except my husband and maybe my immediate family, should know where I am and what I’m doing at all times. Like Peter Shankman’s excellent post on working from anywhere, if I answer your email an hour after you send it, it shouldn’t matter where I am or what I’m doing at any present moment. I am able to be just as an effective worker I happen to be sitting at a lake cabin AirBnB working off a wifi card as I would be sitting in my own office. I’ve purposely built my career around that tenet of freedom.
Yet now, I am getting more and more autoresponders stating the recipent checks their email twice per day and will answer soon. It’s giving me anxiety that I don’t need. It makes me wonder if I shouldn’t have been wondering where they were. If I should expect my uncle to answer me immediately instead of forgetting about the photo I sent, because I sent it just to make him smile.
The bottom line is, we shouldn’t be expecting immediate answers from people through any form of communication unless it’s a phone call or video chat, and you are talking to them in real-time. Otherwise, when I send someone a text, email, voicemail, postcard, or carrier pigeon, I just assume it’s going to take them 1–3 days to respond. I send a piece of communication and go about my day. I don’t keep hitting refresh on my inbox, waiting for my colleague to answer my question about a Google Doc we’ve been working on. And unless I mark something as priority, or we’ve talked about it before and there’s a deadline involved, I send something and forget it.
To expect more than that shows a lack of trust and privacy. If I’m following up on something I sent 5 days ago, that’s good business practice. But if I send an autoresponder to their reply, then follow up again two days later, it’s just useless additional communication we didn’t need to have.
When it comes to handling communication, follow this rule — if the person is going to scan it and delete it (or delete it from the subject line or first few words alone), don’t send it. Save your efforts for words that really matter.
Photo via Pixabay.