Out of Office Assistant

An Out of Office Assistant (OOF) allows you to set an automatic reply message when you are away. How to enable this depends on which Outlook version that you are using and which mail account type that you are using.

While this is primarily an Exchange account feature, there are several workarounds for POP3, IMAP and Outlook Hotmail Connector accounts as well.


Connected to Exchange

If you are using an Exchange account, you can set the Out of Office Assistant (OOF) to have the Exchange server reply with a specific message while you are away.

  • Outlook 2007 and previous
    Tools-> Out of Office Assistant
  • Outlook 2010 and Outlook 2013
    File-> section Info-> Automatic Replies

Since the Exchange server sends the Out of Office message you can close Outlook and shutdown your computer and it will still send the message.

Out of Office Assistant (OOF) in Outlook 2007 and previous. Out of Office Assistant (OOF) or Automatic Replies in Outlook 2010
OOF in Outlook 2007 and previous. OOF/Automatic Replies in Outlook 2010.

Note 1:
The Out of Office message will only be sent once to each sender, even when they email you multiple times during your absence. To reset, simply turn the OOF off and then back on again.

Note 2:
By default, Exchange does not allow Automatic Replies and OOF messages to the Internet. Your Exchange administrator can enable this on the Exchange server in the following way; Allow Automatic Forwarding/Replying to the Internet

Web Mailbox

If you are not in an Exchange environment, your ISP might provide Out of Office functionality in the web based mailbox (ask your ISP for the web address to check your mail via a browser if you do not know this).

Usually you can find an Out of Office setting in the Options section. Some have named it “Away message”, “Holiday notification”, “Automatic response” or something like that. The benefit of setting it on-line is that you can close Outlook (and shutdown your computer) and people mailing you will still be getting your away-message.

Outlook.com and Hotmail accounts

The Outlook Hotmail Connector or EAS accounts don’t allow you to set an Out of Office message from Outlook, but you can still set it in Hotmail or Outlook.com itself.

  1. Log on to Windows Live Hotmail or Outlook.com.
  2. How to proceed depends on whether you use the Outlook.com or Hotmail interface.
    • Outlook.com interface
      Click on the Gear icon in the top right (left from your name and picture) and choose: More mail settings.
    • Hotmail interface
      Click on your name in the top right corner and choose Options, followed by clicking on “Mail” on the left side.
  3. This direct link might work for you as well; Hotmail/Outlook.com Options
  4. Under “Managing your account”, click; Sending automated vacation replies
  5. Select; Send vacation replies to people who email me
  6. Under the vacation message, you have the option to reply to your contacts only.

Setting a vacation reply in Outlook.com. (click on image for the full Options page)
Setting a vacation reply in Outlook.com. (click on image for the full Options page)

Gmail

If you are using a Gmail account, you can set a vacation responder in the following way.

  1. Log on to Gmail.
  2. Click on the Gear icon in the top right corner and choose Settings.
  3. This direct link might work for you as well; Gmail Settings
  4. Scroll down the settings page and some near the bottom (under your signature settings), you can select “Vacation responder on” and specify your message.

Settings vacation responder in Gmail. (click on image to enlarge)
Settings vacation responder in Gmail. (click on image to enlarge)

Emulate in Outlook without Exchange

If your ISP doesn’t provide Out of Office functionality either, you can create a rule that replies to all e-mails. The downside of this, is that you’ll need to have your Outlook open all the time for the rule to process. Make sure you set some exceptions, for instance based on the subject field so it will not reply on subject with e.g. reply, failed, undeliverable, etc…. If you do not set any exceptions you could create endless mail loops between two mail servers and those can be a real threat to the mail servers and can leave you with a lot of cleaning up to do when returning!

The rule could end up looking something like this;

Apply this rule after the message arrives
(set no conditions to reply to every mail)
reply using a specific template
except if the subject contains specific words

Emulate by using an add-in

DS Development has an Auto Reply Manager which lets you easily set lots of auto reply settings.

Auto Reply Manager allows you to easily define and send auto email replies right from your desktop, notifying your contacts that you are away, confirming incoming email messages or simply sending custom email templates.

Which mail account type am I using?

To check the type of account that you are using (Exchange, POP3, IMAP, Outlook Hotmail Connector/MAPI) is revealed in your Account Settings;

  • Outlook 2003
    Tools-> E-mail Accounts…-> View or change existing email accounts-> Next
  • Outlook 2007
    Tools-> Accounts Settings-> tab E-mail
  • Outlook 2010 and Outlook 2013
    File-> Account Settings-> Accounts Settings…-> tab E-mail