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6 min read

How to set up an automatic out-of-office notification bot

By Krystina Martinez · July 6, 2021
This photo is taken from the perspective of someone lying on the ground inside a tent, looking through the opening. In the foreground, you can see their legs, crossed at the ankle. They are looking at a woman relaxing in a hammock next to water.

Sometimes it's a herculean task to step away from work. You need to overcome your own workaholic tendencies, wrap up loose tasks, and make sure your team is prepared to step in while you're gone.

We can be so focused on preparing for our absence that we assume everyone knows we're going on vacation. That might be the case if you work at a small company, but if you're like me—and have hundreds of coworkers—it's likely that my immediate team will be the only ones aware of my absence, unless they need something from me. 

You can alleviate the problems this causes by automatically making sure people know when you, or anyone else, is on vacation. Hopefully, it'll keep your coworkers from feeling you're ghosting them and you won't come back to an out-of-control notification situation. (You deserve that break.) 

Here's how to create a Zap—the automated workflows you create with Zapier—that will automatically share your out-of-office status with your team.

Zapier is a no-code automation tool that empowers anyone to automate workflows and move data across 5,000+ apps. Our automatic workflows—which we call Zaps—send data between apps you use so every person and business can move forward at growth speed. Check out this page to learn how Zapier works.

Before you begin

Hopefully, your business has a way of tracking time off, whether it's in a shared Google Calendar or your HR platform. If you don't have a system yet—or your HR platform doesn't have a Zapier integration with a time-off trigger—you can create a shared calendar in Google or Microsoft Outlook. This shared calendar should only be used for tracking vacation time. This will make it easier to set up your automated workflow. 

Worried about managing multiple calendars? You can take advantage of your calendar's syncing features or even create a Zap to copy calendar events. 

Here's what you'll need to create this Zap: 

  • An HR platform or shared calendar you use to track approved vacation time.

  • The team chat app or email you use to communicate with your team. 

  • A Zapier account. While it's free to sign up, we'll be creating a multi-step Zap in this tutorial, which you can create on our paid plans or during your two-week trial.

How to create an out-of-office bot

Again, you don't need to use the exact same apps in this tutorial to create your own out-of-office bot. As long as your app integrates with Zapier, it's fair game. Since we use BambooHR to track time-off requests at Zapier, I'll be using it in this example. But if you're using a different app, simply select that instead of Bamboo when you're setting up your trigger.

A screenshot of the overview of a Zap showing "New time off in BambooHR" as the trigger, a filter step, a delay step, and then an action to "send channel message in Slack."

BambooHR is a premium app, available on our paid plans. Learn more about premium apps. Or, explore other HR apps on the Zapier platform.

Here's how to set up your out-of-office bot: 

  1. Set up your trigger—the event that starts your Zap. This will likely be a new calendar event or in this case, a new approved time-off request in BambooHR.

  2. Optional: Add a filter. 

  3. Add a delay. 

  4. Set up your final action—the event your Zap carries out once it's triggered. This can be an email or a message in your team chat app, depending on how you primarily communicate at work. 

Connect your HR software or shared calendar

Once you've signed into your Zapier account, you can click here to create a new Zap from scratch. 

Once you're in the Zap editor, search for and select the trigger app and event you want to use to start your workflow. For BambooHR users, you'll select New Time Off as the trigger event.

A screenshot showing the trigger event setup of a Zap. In this case, BambooHR is shown, with the event "New Time Off" selected in the dropdown. A blue button that reads "Continue" is at the bottom.

If you're using a calendar app such as Google Calendar or Microsoft Outlook, your trigger event will be New Event.  

Click Continue, and sign in to your app account. If you've connected your app to Zapier before, select it from the dropdown menu and click Continue.   

For each app you connect, Zapier will ask for a general set of permissions which allows you to be flexible with your Zaps. The only actions Zapier takes on your app accounts are those a given Zap needs to accomplish what you've set up.

Now it's time to customize your trigger. If you're using a calendar app, select the calendar you'd like to use—for example, your shared "time off" calendar—and click Continue. 

If you're using BambooHR, you'll have different customization options. Click on the dropdown under Action and select View. If you want to limit time off to a particular person, click on the dropdown under Employee ID and select the employee. I'm selecting myself in this example. 

Setting up your BambooHR trigger event. This screenshot shows "view" selected under the Action dropdown and "Krystina Martinez" under the Employee ID dropdown.

Note: In BambooHR, you can only see requests for the people you're permitted to see. For example, if you're a manager, you can see requests for yourself and your direct reports.

The Zap setup, showing "approved" selected below the Status field.

You can limit which time-off requests trigger your Zap by status, as well as before or after a particular date. In this example, I only want approved requests to start my Zap. 

When you're done, click Continue. Click Test trigger. Zapier will find a recent calendar event or time-off request in your trigger app. We'll use this to create the rest of our Zap. 

Once your trigger is tested successfully, click Continue.

If you need it, add a filter

Depending on what you want to accomplish with your Zap, you may need a filter. If only the relevant folks are accounted for in your shared calendar or HR platform, you can skip to the next step. But, if you have access to more people than you need, and only want to send out-of-office notifications for your team, you'll need to add a filter. 

Click the plus-sign to add another step to your Zap. Select Filter by Zapier and click Continue.

A screenshot of the action app selection interface showing an orange box highlighting the "Filter" option at the top right.

Now you can set up your filter conditions. My coworker Deb uses a filter so her Zap only triggers for herself and her direct report, Justin. 

A screenshot showing an interface that reads "Only continue if..." above a series of dropdown menus that show "1. Name" then "(Text) Contains" followed by the typed word "Tennen" in an entry field. A similar setup is shown for a second condition.

Learn more about how to use filters in your Zaps.

Once you've finished setting up your conditions, click Continue and test your filter to ensure it's set up correctly.

Add a delay so the notification sends at the right time

Next, we need to add a delay to our Zap. By default, each action in your Zap fires off one after the other. When you add a delay step to a Zap, it allows you to put part of your Zap on hold for a set amount of time until you want your actions to run.

Learn more about using delay steps

The New Time Off or New Event trigger will start our Zap whenever a calendar event is added or a time off request has been approved. Since people often request vacations weeks or months in advance, that's not going to be helpful for the purpose of this bot. 

Instead, we'll be adding a delay step so our bot notifies us who's out at the start of someone's vacation.  

Click the plus sign (+) to add another step to your Zap. Select Delay by Zapier as your action app and Delay Until as your action event. Delay Until will wait to run the next action until a specific calendar date or time. Click Continue.

A screenshot of the action setup for a Zap showing Delay by Zapier selected as the app and "Delay Until" as the action event. A blue button reading "Continue" is at the bottom.

Next, you'll set up the date and time, if available, you want your Zap to delay until. Click inside the Date/Time Delayed Until field. You'll see a dropdown with the previous steps of your Zap. Click on your trigger app—your calendar or HR platform—and select the start date. For BambooHR, you'll select the Start option.

For Google Calendar or Microsoft Outlook, you'll select the calendar event start date. If you don't see it initially in the dropdown, click on Show all options to see more data from your calendar trigger.  

Once you've set your date delay, click Continue and test your delay step. Once you know it's working, you can move on to setting up your final action: the message. 

Compose your message

Click the plus sign (+) to add another action. Search for and select the app you use to communicate with your teammates—this can be a team chat app or email—and select the action event that will send a message.  

If your company communicates by email, you could choose Gmail or Microsoft Outlook for this action step. We'll be using Slack in this example, so my action event is Send Channel Message since I want to notify my team. Click Continue.

Choose "Slack" as the action app and "Send Channel Message" as the event. A blue button reading "Continue" is at the bottom.

Sign in to your app account, and click Continue to move on to setting up your message. 

If you're using a team chat app, you'll select the channel you want your message to go to. If you're using email, you'll type in the addresses you want to notify. 

In the Zap editor, you can combine static text—which remains the same each time your Zap runs—and information from previous steps in your Zap. Those dynamic values will change according to the information coming through the app. We'll use both to create our message.

An animated gif showing how to structure a message using a combination of static and dynamic values. The gif shows someonetyping "Just FYI: " then selecting BambooHR data to automatically bring in someone's name.

Your message text can be as simple or complex as you'd like. Depending on the app sending the message, you can add formatting through Markdown or HTML, add emojis, link to out-of-office documents, or whatever else your heart desires.

Finish customizing the rest of your message, test your action, and don't forget to turn your Zap on! 

Take your vacation in peace

Just because taking time away from work is...work, doesn't mean you should let it get in the way of a well-deserved break. With a little careful planning and automation, you can make the act of going on vacation—and returning—a little easier.

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A Zap with the trigger 'When I get a new lead from Facebook,' and the action 'Notify my team in Slack'