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Set Out of Office Replies (Vacation Response) in Office 365 / Exchange Online

Tech How-To Set Out of Office Replies (Vacation Response) in Office 365 / Exchange Online
By James Hart | Posted in Microsoft Office, Tech How-To

Introduction

When going on holiday or away from work for a period of time, it is common practice to set up an out of office on your email account. This is an automatic email response for anybody trying to contact you. Typically this will include the dates you expect to be away and who to contact instead if the email is urgent.

Scope

These instructions apply to the majority of our clients who use Microsoft Office 365 (also known as Exchange Online) for email services.

Some clients use Fastmail – your instructions can be found here.

If you’re not sure, just get in touch with us and we’ll be happy to help.

What NOT To Do

Chances are you’ll be using Outlook, but some clients use Apple Mail. There are a number of tutorials on the web which advise users of Apple Mail to set up local Rules within their email program to achieve an automatic Out-of-Office reply. The rule is configured in the Mail > Preferences along the lines of “If I receive a new email before January, send the following reply automatically…”

This looks perfectly logical but please do NOT follow these tutorials. They have two fundamental flaws. The first is that your Apple Mail program needs to be left running for the entire duration of the holiday period in order for the auto-reply rules to work. This is obviously impractical.

The second flaw is that certain tutorials’ instructions routinely cause every one of your existing emails to receive a direct reply with your Christmas out-of-office message. Needless to say this is rather annoying, especially when the same, regular correspondent receives many hundreds of emails from you.

We need to be setting the rules on the email system itself so that auto-replies can be sent accurately, sparingly and reliably, even if your computer is not running.

Method to Set Out of Office Replies in Office 365 / Exchange Online

Here is how to set up an out of office auto reply (also called a Vacation Response) in Office 365’s Exchange Online service:

1. Sign into your Office 365 email account via https://outlook.office365.com – you will need to know your email address and corresponding password.

Tip: If you cannot remember your email account password, see the section below titled “A Shortcut For Outlook Users (or if you don’t know your password)”

2. Click the Settings Cog icon in the top right.

Out of office auto reply. Settings screenshot.

3. Click on the ‘View all Outlook settings’ link at the bottom of the Settings sidebar
4. Select Email > Automatic replies, then turn on automatic replies using the switch (this will turn them on permanently)

Out of office auto reply. Automatic replies screenshot.

5. Assuming you only want them to send during a set period of time, a week’s holiday for example or over Christmas, tick the box below “Send replies only during a time period” and enter the times and dates you want the automatic replies to be sent between.

Note: you can set these to start way ahead in the future, if you know exactly when you’ll next be away from work.

6. There are two separate text boxes for the replies, depending on whether the recipient is within your organisation or external. You must complete both boxes for all senders (inside and outside) to receive your auto-reply.

7. You can edit the message in the lower box if you want a different message to be sent to people outside of your organisation. Of course if you want it to be the same, simply copy and paste the same message from the upper box.

Out of office auto reply screenshot.

8. Finally, click on Save to make the changes live.
Following these steps should ensure that you have set up your out of office responses correctly. Your computer will NOT need to be running for the replies to send automatically, because the email system itself is going to handle that for you.

A Shortcut For Outlook Users (or if you don’t know your password)

If you are using Microsoft Outlook on your computer AND you are using Office 365 for your emails, it’s possible to set your Out of Office reply from within the Outlook application itself.

We recommend the steps above to ensure it’s set totally reliably, simply because your email program needs to sync the out-of-office instruction to the email system, which introduces a possible point of failure. But perhaps you have a working Outlook but you can’t remember your email password to log into Webmail – no problem, you can use Outlook to set up your Out Of Office.

Simply click the Tools button in the ribbon and then Out Of Office, then follow the steps above to understand how to fill out the form correctly.

Screenshot 2019 12 17 at 10.16.18

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