Brighten up your Automatic Replies (OOF) for the holidays with icons, colors and emoji

The weather doesn’t really seem to play along this Summer; it’s either lots of rain or draught, no sun at all or a bit too much sun and of course, for some of you it’s Winter now! But even though the weather might be a bit gloomy, it doesn't mean that your Automatic Replies (OOF) have to be the same.

While you can maintain a serious business style OOF message for the outside world, how about a more cheerful notification message for your colleagues hard at (doing your) work?

Automatic Replies buttonLike most of you, when writing a message, I’m usually not the person to go “all out” with fancy colors, flashy emoji and other screaming attention seeking methods. This is ok, since most of the time, you’ll only end up annoying the receiver.

But on some occasions, it is also ok to go a bit over the top and your internal Automatic Reply (OOF) message is a willing victim here.

Note: You can set an OOF in Outlook 2007 via Tools-> Out of Office Assistant and in Outlook 2010 and later via File-> Automatic Replies.
This option is only available when you are connected to an Exchange server. For other account types, log on to your mailbox via webmail and see if your provider has an “Away message” or “Holiday notification” feature or something similar.

Internal vs External OOF

You probably have already noticed that you have the option to set a different OOF reply message for mail coming in from inside and outside of your company’s mail organization.

This allows you to keep a professional external OOF message, or none at all, and a much more personal message for your colleagues, possibly also revealing some more details about your whereabouts and the internal structure of your company and… some creativity!

Character Map

Character Map buttonAnd this creativity can start by adding a couple of icons from an icon font such as Webdings and Wingdings or even emoji. Especially Webdings has many icons suitable for basically any occasion or holiday.

To easily view which icons are available, you can use Character Map. To start the Character Map application, simply type “Character Map” in the search field of the Start Menu (Windows 7) or by simply starting to type after opening the Start Menu (Windows 8 and Windows 10).

You can also find it in the Application list of the Start Menu under “Windows Accessories”.

To insert an icon into your OOF, set your font in your OOF message to the correct font and press the Select button in the Character Map. You’ll now see which character you need to type to get that icon or simply use the Copy button and paste it into your OOF message.

Character Map - Webdings - Tropical Island
Inserting the Tropical Island Webdings icon via the Character Map.

Color and increase your icon font

After you have inserted the icon, it will still look a bit boring. You can greatly improve its effect by giving it a color and increasing the font (size 28 works well).

Automatic Reply (OOF) message with Webdings
Be careful not to go overboard with it, or…?

Colorful Emoji

Emoji in Outlook buttonAside from using an icon font, you can also use emoji in your OOF message.

A quick way to insert them when using Windows 10 is to bring up the Emoji Panel via the Windows logo key + ; (semi-colon) keyboard shortcut.

Emoji Panel on Windows 10.
Emoji Panel on Windows 10.

Unfortunately, the emoji will not show in color while composing the OOF, but they will be shown in color when it is received. The only requirement is that the receiving client must also support these emoji.

For more info about emoji support in Outlook see; Emoji support in Outlook; 3 common questions answered.

Extra tip: MS Outlook font

Did you know that there is also an MS Outlook font? It features some old style calendar icons which might come in useful some time.

MS Outlook font character mappings
Only a few capital letters are linked to icons.


Important! buttonBe careful with what you write about your availability not only in your public OOF but also on public Internet pages such as your blog, Facebook, Twitter and other popular social media tools.

When you have them set for anyone to see (or friends of friends) and you write that you are away for some time, you might actually end up inviting some unwanted people to your home… Burglars can suddenly be quite “social” that way.

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