I'm sure you've heard or read the saying "I'm not here. When I get back before my return, please tell me to wait for me." It's usually printed on colorful, funny postcards, which you like to give or show to someone in case you don't want to be disturbed.
So this simple saying directly represents a "note of absence" - what a name for short, concentrated snippet. Also known as Out-of-Office Message - at least here the abbreviation is simpler (OoO).
But is the absence note really as trivial as it sometimes sounds? For me the creation of such a note is rather highly complex. After all, you want to briefly tell someone that you're unavailable at the moment, that you can't reply to the matter, but that you will take care of it upon your return, and that you can possibly give a contact who might be able to take care of it immediately. If you now refer good email marketing practice, your hair will stand on end. At least 3 important information, if not even 4 should be accommodated in a 2-line. And even are, see the following samples:
Why are such small snippets treated so criminally? Probably because they are not seen as part of the overall marketing mix and strategy. Every communication should be attractive, active, friendly, binding and based on the company codex. In some of the following examples, however, one could question which company the sender belongs to. Or worse, which image the company aims to transport internally and externally - if taken the criteria mentioned above.
Are those copies appealing to you? Sure some samples make me smile - but not really laughing. It's rather a shame that these snippets receives so little attention from the sender and that the recipient has to read them. If I will got such an email without having contacted the sender before, I mark it as spam. Enough nagging - what can you do?
The following ideas are mainly addressing German out of office messages. However, if those might also be relevant for English OoO, maybe even partially - fine with me.
First of all, it is important to define exactly what the main message is - probably that the customer's request cannot be replied to immediately (believe me - it's not about you being out of the office). Is there an interim solution except that the mail is not forwarded.
So it could be something like this:
Good day to you and thank you very much for your message.
I am not in the office at the moment, but I will answer your request as soon as I return.
Wishing you a good time.
Hello and thank you very much for your message.
I am currently not in the office, but will answer your request immediately after my return (*possibly with the note: at DD.MM.YY). If your matter is urgent, please contact XYZ (email).
Thank you very much for your understanding.
Thank you very much for your message.
Too bad you can't get hold of me. I will be happy to answer your questions after my return. If your matter is urgent, please contact XYZ (Email).
I am looking forward to your email.
With best regards
*Consider carefully whether you want to include personal data in the absence note. This may violate the DSVO or at least company guidelines. In addition, is it adding value to tell that you are still on holiday or business trip for 2 days?
Maybe you are someone who takes several short vacation instead of a long one, the question can pop-up, how much vacation you have. Or how often you are on business trip instead of being in the office and why you don't check your email remotely.
Is the out of office note really business critical? Probably not directly, but subconsciously it contributes to the corporate image. Besides, why shouldn't this communication being friendly and polite, or even funny.
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From time to time everyone will ask themselves whether what they do every day is really fulfilled. Or if the skills are somewhere else and they are not yet exploited. This is often followed by the thought of further exploring when time permits. Now either the idea of a sabbatical can occur or the displacement mode is switched on - until the next vacation.....
Sure, who likes to reflect when trapped in the daily routine. And yet there is an entertaining and interesting possibility to rediscover or get confirmed your own skills. The Life/Work Planning (LWP).
Admittedly, it’s not a new method. But let's be honest - what is really fundamentally new today. It is more and more about transforming existing methods into the current situation. And this can also be achieved with LWP.
By definition, the LWP is mainly called a job search method. But it can do so much more, because it is about getting to know yourself better, reassessing or confirming yourself. And that can and certainly is valuable in all stages of life. The LWP is all about finding an environment in which you feel comfortable, can contribute appropriately and meet people with whom you can develop further. It can also help individuals and teams in agile working environment. Especially, when new heterogenous teams must be built or new things must be tested, it can be helpful to review and adapt own individual skills.
Thus the methodology is suitable for all people who would like to re-focus themselves, are looking for a voluntary position, would like to build up a new network - or are simply curious about new things.
1. What can I do, what do I want?
2. Where do I want to get involved? Where can I find like-minded people?
3. How can I link 1 and 2 to achieve my goal?
In the first step it can help to sit down with people who you don’t know. For example, tell a story from your life in which you had a objectives and let people play back which skills you unconsciously used in this situation to solve it. You will be amazed at which skills will be discovered.
Then, in the second step, consider which environment would fit to your skills. Do research, talk to friends, family, foreigners, in order to use their assessment and experience.
In the third step you search for like-minded people in the selected organisations, companies and networks. The lowest common denominator here is the entry into a conversation, possibly at events where you get to know each other or through recommendations. And so you learn more about the environment in the conversation and can assess whether it really fits in with your own planning.
These are not new ideas, you might say. True, as already said - I always find it exciting to adapt existing methods and strategies to the current situation - and to think outside the box. And so you can also use LWP beyond the actual definition. And to be honest - especially the 1st step can open your eyes and help you to try something new. And it can create a comfortable situation in heterogenous teams to also add individual strengths and skills.
Of course, this way does not lead to paradise either, compromises always have to be made, but the less the better, right?
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Commuting is always exhausting, you will say now. It takes time, costs money and often you can’t rely on getting through smoothly – whether by car or public transport.
That’s right, and yet you can take advantage of commuting time or business trips. Don’t you think so? I couldn’t believe it either – until I had a job with an office in Cologne, travel within Germany and private life in Frankfurt.
Until the beginning of 2017, I never thought I’d prefer train travel to flying. But, as soon as I sit on a seat, I can determine the time myself. I decide whether I read a book, a newspaper or my emails. While I do this, I am driven from A to B without having to worry about the way. And honestly – I don’t have that at home or in the office!
People like to travel, at least privately. This is what they do to discover something new, to learn more or simply to leave everyday life behind them. Why are these attributes rarely used for business trips actually?
For more than 20 years I’ve been traveling mainly on business – and have also experienced many private moments. I still see traveling as a privilege. Yes, sometimes it’s stressful and very tiring. Not only when time differences really determine a journey, but also with overcrowded trains in Germany, long queues at the security check, delays, rain, wind…. just to name a few imponderables that can make traveling unpleasant.
On a journey there happens always something unexpected, be it a person you are allowed to get to know, like the lady on the train „Cologne – Frankfurt“, who suddenly told me about her daughter doing educational work for women in India. Or a train crew who burst in a good mood and let all passengers take part in the farewell of a colleague whose last journey ended in Frankfurt. Or a lady who happened to notice that I was on my way to a job interview and just wished me good luck.
In addition, business trips always mean meetings with colleagues with whom I work on projects. And which I seldom see and therefore always have a lot to tell.
This possibility to meet other people and characters is a big advantage of traveling. You learn to see things from different angles, you can use your travel time to think about them and to classify them.
Of course the private life with family and friends suffers. The frequent absence from home poses great challenges to everyone, the traveller but also the family and friends. It’s important to experience the time together consciously, and to plan and shape it carefully.
In times of permanent availability it’s at least possible to call each other daily or to see each other via facetime or skype. And yet the feeling can arise that one no longer participates in the life of the other. It’s tiring to have to get involved with new environments and people again and again, or also the fact of always living out of a suitcase.
There is certainly no general recipe, because it depends on the respective personality and the individual environment.
Travel or commuting is exhausting – no question. However, one’s own attitude can help to reduce the stress and to take away the positive aspects of the travel time.
In that fact, wishing all of you always many experiences and positive impressions on your trips – business and private.
Posted in General
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It’s often been said, especially in a digital and agile working environment, that leaders of today need specific skills.
However, I wonder if soft skills should only be expected from leaders? Or if these soft skills have even been required in past projects?
An article by Computerwoche listed 11 Soft Skills considered as most relevant for HR professionals. This list is a result of a research that had been conducted by the writers Gabriele Peters-Kühlinger and John Friedel while working on their new book "Soft Skills".
It is my opinion that the following soft skills build upon each other – independent of any working environment. Individuals who know their strengths and weaknesses have many attributes. They can empathize with others, are interested in new things, share very openly, enjoy engagement with teams, support others development, deliver constructive criticism for self-development, analyze conflicts for pragmatic solutions, facilitate control of emotions and finally convince others.
Knowing yourself, your strengths and weaknesses. This enables you to notice strengths and weaknesses of others, leave them as they are without assessing or trying to change them.
Empathize with and understand emotions of others, their thoughts and their circumstances only enables sustainable personal interactions. This requires that you know your own emotions and handle them consciously. Empathy can help to find consensus with others.
Someone on who you can really rely on in critical and/or confidential situations. A reliable person is taking responsibility, pushes others and is true to his/her words. This is an essential must-have to build a team and develop others.
Courage to leave old ways and review new methods, being open to all perspectives and interested for others contributions. Interest promotes creativity.
This competence drives clear and targeted communications that should always be respectful and open-minded for the exchange of knowledge and self-development.
Working in a team always requires constructive engagement, respect, tolerance, motivation and appreciation. The team and the common goal are always the first priorities, however everything can be questioned and explored.
Criticism – give fair, factual and respectful at all times, ability to accept criticism as well. Often such teams which share feedback and criticism, are really successful and self-developing.
Fast grasping of situations to react accordingly. This competence helps to quickly react to challenges, identify solutions and together, with the team, adopt the project strategy and goal, if appropriate. The analytical competence can also help to solve emotional situations.
Control your emotions and keep focus on facts rather than get controlled by feelings. Only those who are self-controlled can negotiate and convince pragmatically.
Accepting others’ rationales and helping them find compromises to solve conflicts. Team, project and eventually every involved individual will benefit from this competence.
To be convincing rather than forcing. Reliability, empathy and self-confidence drive innovations, especially for those new ideas that can’t be based on any experiences yet.
Let’s now see if the 5 Agile Values (Courage, Respect, Commitment, Openness, Focus), can be derived from these 11 Soft Skills:
Soft Skills consist of all competencies, skills and qualifications that can’t be gathered by any professional education. They rather relate to personal competencies, social competencies and methodical competencies. Plainly, a summation of talents, character, personal education, circumstances and experiences.
Independent of any working environment and/or size of projects or teams – Soft Skills are required everywhere. Teams can only be successful and sustainable when everyone is bringing those Soft Skills – whether in either agile and waterfall projects.
Going back to the initially listed requirements for leaders, it’s pretty clear that only those living such Soft Skills naturally will become the best leaders. What do you think?