Out of Office Should be OOO, not OOF
Email clients have supported the ability for users to set Out of Office Notifications (OOFs) since the 1980s (here’s a history of OOF which explains why Out of Facility became the acronym). Essentially, an OOF is a response automatically sent by an email service when a message arrives in a mailbox. Modern OOFs, otherwise known as auto-reply messages, can have an effective period during which the server sends notifications, distinguish between external and internal senders, and only send a single notification per sender.
Anyone who uses email should know about OOF, but as some organizations move a percentage of internal communications from email to chat-based applications like Teams, it’s logical to assume that users will want to avoid having to switch back to an email client to set their OOF. And given that some very large organizations use Teams, I bet this was a common request to Microsoft. Being able to set the OOF in Teams is a small but useful update.
Update April 23: In message center MC252199, Microsoft says that the roll-out of the OOF feature will happen in May 2021 and be complete by the end of the month.
Setting the OOF in Public Preview
Which brings us to the latest round of public preview features released for Teams. Public preview is how Teams reveals some features due for imminent release to general availability. Organizations must allow users to switch the desktop client into preview mode to reveal the features, and when they do now, they’ll see they can schedule their out of office notification through the user’s status settings (Figure 1) or through the General section of client settings.
In either case, you end up with a screen (Figure 2) that looks very like the form used to set an OOF in OWA. The differences are:
- Teams uses a simple text editor where OWA uses the email editor.
- OWA allows a refinement of OOF sent to external senders to restrict the notifications to known contacts.
Remember, the OOF is an email setting, not a Teams setting, and details are stored in the auto-reply configuration in mailboxes. The status message used for Teams is different and is used within Teams messaging to advise other users about someone’s current status. There’s no reason why the text for an OOF and a Teams status should not be the same, but for now there’s nothing which links the two settings.
After a user changes their OOF in a Teams client, Teams (the middle tier, not the client) uses Exchange Web Services (EWS) to update the auto-reply configuration in the user’s Exchange mailbox to make the OOF effective, which then exposes the auto-reply configuration to Exchange clients like Outlook (Figure 3).
Updating OOF with PowerShell
For completeness, the Set-MailboxAutoReplyConfiguration PowerShell cmdlet is available to update the auto-reply configuration for mailboxes. Here’s an example of using the cmdlet to update a set of shared mailboxes so that customers receive a response to queries when support personnel are unavailable because of a public holiday. After updating the mailboxes, Exchange replicates the changes to Teams.
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