How To End OOO In Work Calendars – and Why It Matters

If there’s one thing I’d like to see removed from shared work calendars. it’s OOO – the ubiquitous calendar filler that stands for Out of Office.

I was speaking with a former human resources executive at Goldman Sachs, and he said in passing: “There is so much power in the calendar.”

I couldn’t agree more. He practiced it and it made a difference for his team, at a company not otherwise known for promoting work-life harmony.

Ending OOO is an easy first step.

First off, in a hybrid world, it has no meaning. No one puts ITO, or In The Office, on their calendars.

But OOO’s lack of descriptive power is the problem. What looks like privacy is really unnecessary mystery.

If what you’re doing is Personal, then say so. If you feel saying it’s a doctor’s appointment is too personal, that’s up to you. I’m not a TMI person.

If you’re taking time for Self-Care, then say so. Being more specific might be unnecessary – golf, tennis, fishing, high school reunion, reflexology – but if you’re in senior management it would set the tone that people have lives outside of work.

If you need to Care for someone else, then say so.

For working parents it’s powerful to see senior executives put parenting duties on their calendars – and by these, I mean real parenting, not event-parenting, duties. (Though this is one instance where I’ll give those Event Dads a pass – putting on your calendar that you’re going to an event for your child is better than OOO.)

For caregivers of ageing parents, spouses, or friends, your openness can help others. Put it in the calendar.

While this next one may get criticized as performative, blocking out time where you’ll be working outside of a traditional hours would also be effective. You’re working in blocks with your team; you’re living your life; you’re doing asynchronous work when it makes sense.

Why end OOO? As a leader, you should lead honestly. I had a conversation with Nick Bloom, Stanford economist and expert on work-from-home, who flat out said hybrid is the way of the future. He predicts companies will settle on 2 or 3 days in the office. Those who resist are fighting a losing battle that will cost their companies money and talent.

I’d like to see senior executives using their calendar as a management tool. They’re showing that they are still getting their work done and they’re being human as well.

Is every executive going to do this? No. Some are going to continue to beat their chests for 5 days in the office and keep up a rigid separation between work and whatever else they do.

You can’t change everyone. But there is a vast group of managers in the middle who could lead the change and began to move their companies toward what the working world will look like in the future – which will hopefully be free of OOO.

What do you think?
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