Brighten up your OOF for the holidays

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 Out of Office messages (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 emoticons 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 Out of Office message is a willing victim here.

Note: You can set an OOF in Outlook 2007 and previous via Tools-> Out of Office Assistant and in Outlook 2010 or Outlook 2013 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

When you are using Outlook 2007, Outlook 2010 or Outlook 2013 connected to an Exchange 2007, Exchange 2010 or Exchange 2013 server, 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. 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 in Windows Vista or Windows 7 or open it (also in Windows XP) via;

  • Start-> All Programs-> Accessories-> System Tools-> Character Map

In Windows 8, you can also use the Start Screen search feature; just start typing  “Character Map” when you open the Start Screen.

You can also find it in your App list in the following way:

  • Windows 8
    Right click on an empty spot in the Start Screen and choose “All apps” in the bottom right corner and then scroll to the “Windows Accessories” group.
  • Windows 8.1
    Click on the down arrow in the bottom left corner of the Start Screen and then scroll to the “Windows Accessories” group

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
The Character Map reveals that the Tropical Island Webdings icon is hidden under J.

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).

Out of Office message with Webdings
Be careful not to go overboard with it, or…?

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.


Be careful about 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. If you have set them 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.