There are countless ways to keep in touch these days (texts, phone calls, social media, Microsoft Teams or Slack, and even good ol’ fashioned snail mail to name a few), but we all still use email as a primary channel to transfer information, links, and other resources on a regular basis. Over the last 20 years or so, it’s become an integral part of workplace culture — and it’s not hard to see why. With the ability to share files, set up meetings, schedule future messages, reach out to prospects and others outside your organization, change the layout/font/format, and so much more, the robust functionality of email means it’s here to stay.
By now, you likely already know your way around Outlook, Gmail, and myriad other email service providers. But do you still follow proper email etiquette? Here are some reminders to help you stay at the top of your email game and ensure your messages don’t go unread.
#1: Be Responsive, yet Respectful
We all know time is of the essence when it comes to inter-office communication. Here at ttcInnovations, we promote a four-hour baseline response time during business hours. Of course, with our smart phones always at our sides these days, that is pretty easy to manage even when you’re away from your desk. But if you can’t respond with a full answer immediately, do your best to give the sender a quick acknowledgment that you’ve seen their message and will get back to them once you have the information they need. Bonus points if you tell them you’ll follow up by a certain date and/or time! Being specific about when someone can expect a response frees them up to move on to another task while keeping you accountable.
You should also be cognizant of different time zones when working virtually and factor this into response time. If someone on Pacific time sends a message at 3 p.m. to someone on Eastern time, the Easterner may not respond until the next day.
Helpful tip: When working virtually across international time zones, use this helpful time zone converter for quick reference.
And if you find yourself catching up on emails in the late evenings or sleepless nights, try scheduling them to be sent later, during business hours, so as not to disturb your recipients.
Of course, one should respond in a timely manner whenever possible, but it’s also important to stay respectful of others’ time and realize that not everyone can get to your emails at the drop of a hat. If you’re waiting for a reply, avoid following up too quickly as that can seem impatient and pushy to those on the receiving end. Obviously this depends on the urgency of your message, so use your best judgment! Is this an emergency where their response will have a significant impact on the whole project team? If so, flag the message as important and request that they respond by a certain time. Or better yet — pick up the phone to get the issue sorted immediately. But if it’s something that can wait a day or two, hold off on poking them.
#2: Be Concise, yet Informative
Per our core value definition, responsive doesn’t just mean quick — it also means providing complete information. Don’t answer only one question when someone asked you three. Give more context when appropriate; don’t give them a short, choppy answer if they need a more complete picture in order to take action. That being said, we all lead busy lives and reading lengthy emails is not usually at the top of our to-do list. So try to keep your emails to a couple of short paragraphs when possible and use the subject line wisely. Be respectful of the recipient(s) and understand that they don’t always have the time to read a novel. Give them the information they need without too much extra fluff. It’s all about balance.
#3: Think Before You Reply
Have you ever received an email and thought… do I really need to be on this email thread? Am I supposed to do anything with this information? Show your recipients the courtesy of taking a pause and thinking before you Cc them. And for emails with a large distribution or several recipients who don’t know each other, it’s polite to use the Bcc (blind carbon copy) field instead of Cc so that everyone’s email addresses are hidden — not to mention, it also keeps everyone on the distribution list from having to see every reply when people mistakenly hit Reply All.
Speaking of, remember the distinction between Reply and Reply All! Does everyone need to see your response, or just one person? I’m sure you’ve witnessed (or maybe been guilty of) a couple instances where Reply All went awry and everyone on the distribution list ended up seeing one person’s private response. To cut down on inbox clutter, keep these points in mind the next time you reply.
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#4: Keep It Audience Appropriate
Are you sending critical information to a VIC (very important client)? Or are you conversing with close colleagues? Keep the recipient(s) in mind as you write emails and determine the appropriate tone. While LOLs, emojis, and exclamation points galore are popular internally, you should keep your tone professional when addressing someone outside the organization. Remember, you are representing your company with every interaction.
But that doesn’t mean your message has to be completely devoid of humor and polite small talk! These are key to building rapport, especially in a virtual work environment. Just keep in mind that it’s often harder to interpret tone and intent through written word than face to face. What you might have considered a harmless, off-hand comment could be taken much differently by the other party. As always — know your audience!
#5: Search Wisely
We’ve all been there: You just know someone gave you a piece of information like a specific date or a document via email already, but you don’t have it on hand now that you really need it! Before reaching out again to ask for the same information, do a quick search of your inbox to see if that email is still floating around. Use relevant terms to filter your search, or if you remember who the sender was, try searching by their name.
Enhancing your searches is another reason why it’s so important to use subject lines wisely! As our resident expert, Kesha Dougan, mentioned in one of her internal Tiny Topics (microlearning lessons), “Your subject line should clearly and concisely communicate exactly what the email is about […]” Using key terms and including specific details like a project and/or deliverable name in the subject can greatly reduce the amount of time we spend looking for that information in the future.
If you still can’t find what you’re looking for after a quick 2-minute search, then ask away!
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#6: Check Your Work
As an editor, this tip is near and dear to my heart: run a quality assurance check on your emails! Before clicking Send, do a quick skim of your message. Did you convey the right information to the right people? Run a Spell Check and look for any egregious mistakes that could lead to confusion, like a typo in a date or a dead-end link. If you reused an email template, make sure the message is tailored and relevant to the recipient. Most importantly — check that To line again! You don’t want to accidentally send a message to the wrong person, especially if it contains sensitive or confidential information.
Bonus tip: Don’t write an email when a quick chat or phone call would be more effective and efficient!
Wait… now that you’ve just spent all this time telling me how to email properly, you want me not to email? That’s right — well, depending on the situation. Save everyone’s time by picking up the phone when you need to give a long explanation or if you require a lot of back-and-forth dialogue. No one wants to sift through long paragraphs and dozens of emails in a thread to find out what the actual outcome was.
The value of knowing how to write a professional email is underestimated in today’s fast-paced and text-centric world. We focus so much on other technical skills and experience that we often forget how critical good communication is. But now that you’re armed with these tips on email etiquette in the workplace, your teammates and clients will look forward to hearing from you. And who knows — maybe they’ll even pick up some good habits from you, too!