Many Outlook users in the corporate environment are familiar with the Out of Office Assistant and use the Outlook function to alert customers or colleagues when they are not checking email because of vacation or illness etc. As convenient as it might be, however, the Outlook feature requires your email server be a Microsoft Exchange Server, which for a small or home businesses isn’t typically available/reasonable.
Obvious problems arise when going on vacation or not checking email for an extended period; your customers or business partners may get upset, thinking you’ve been ignoring them for days/weeks. Fortunately, there is a solution for Outlook users who want to leverage the Out the Office Assistant despite the fact they don’t have a Microsoft Exchange email server. The process leverages Outlook Rules and Alerts to mimic the Out of Office Assistant functionality, and although it may not be as graceful or easy to enable, it does get the job done.
A few things to note about sending an auto reply in Outlook 2007 using Rules and Alerts:
- IMPORTANT!: Outlook must be running for this to work. Also required is that that the setting for “check periodically for new messages” be turned on.
- The “Reply using a specific template” rule used in this technique will send a reply to each sender only once, to prevent spam. To reset the list of those already emailed, you will need to close and restart Outlook.
Ok, with that said, let’s get right into the How-To details.
How to create an automatic reply template in Outlook 2007
1. Compose a New Message in Outlook. Under the Options > Format tab Set it to Plain Text. Then Type your own away message, this will be what people receive as an auto-reply while you are away.
2. After you finish your message, Click the Microsoft Office Button, and then click Save As.
3. In the window that appears, Type in your desired File Name. Next Select Outlook Template (*.oft) as your Save as type.
Great job! Stage one is now complete; let’s get started on stage 2.
Next, we need to define a rule to send an automatic reply in Outlook 2007.
4. Under the Tools menu, click Rules and Alerts.
5. In the Rules and Alerts Window, Click the New Rule button. In the Rules Wizard window that appears, Click Star from a blank rule > Check messages when they arrive. Click Next > to continue.
6. In the next conditions window, Select the checkbox for Sent Only To Me, then Click Next. The next page is the actions list, Select the check box for Reply using a specific template. After you have finished checking the appropriate boxes, Click the blue link to a specific template.
7. The Select A Reply Template window should pop up, under Look In: Select User Templates in File System. The template we saved earlier should appear on the list, Select your template, and then Click Open.
8. Name your Rule, make sure the Turn on this rule box is Checked. When done, Click Finish.
Voila! From now on everyone that e-mails you will get an automatic reply containing the custom message you set up in stage one.
I’m back in the office! How do I disable automatic reply in Outlook? <Very Important>
When you return to the office (or home), you need to remember to DISABLE or DELETE the Outlook Out of Office Rule, so people won’t continue to get your “I’m out of the Office” message.
9. Click Tools, Rules and Alerts.
10. Select the Out of Office Rule we created earlier, then either Uncheck the Rule, or Delete the Rule using the delete button. Click OK to save changes and finish
Note: I recommend you just disable the rule by un-checking the checkbox rather than deleting the rule. This way you can re-use it the next time your out of the office.
<phew> All Done!
The Outlook 2007 Rules and Alerts allow you to do almost anything with your email as shown in this groovy How-To Tutorial. What are some of the things you do or manage with your Outlook Rules?