Account Director Sarah Jugg offers some top tips on how to keep on the right side of e-communication with this guide to email etiquette.
My job requires me to spend the majority of my time at a computer and I would hazard a guess that I spend 90 – 95% of my working week staring into a computer screen. Not surprisingly then, my preferred way of communication is via email. This is because it’s a convenient platform, it keeps a record of my conversations and contacts and gives me a direct and efficient way of getting in touch with the majority of my clients, colleagues and stakeholders.
Spending such a large amount of time on email means that I have had encounters with a broad range of “netiquette” styles, ranging from the downright blunt through to the overly detailed. What I mean by netiquette is the rules about the correct and polite way to communicate with other people when using email or the internet. With the rapid advances in technology in recent years, we are continually looking for ways to speed up and streamline our communication, some of which can be to the detriment of accuracy and detail. In this article I am going to discuss some of the dos and don’ts around email etiquette and how to avoid some of the pitfalls.
- Your emails reflect on you
Every email you send, just like every conversation you have, adds to or detracts from your reputation and changes people’s opinions of you. If your email is full of mistakes, contradictions or is disorganised, the recipient will assume that you are too.
- Be careful with confidential information
With the introduction of the GDPR in May 2018, people’s data and how it is shared is under more scrutiny than ever, and for good reason. Before May 25th , there were no specific rules around sending people’s personal information (unless it was internal company policy), and there was certainly no requirement to document who this data was shared with.
GDPR now stipulates that businesses should share information only if it is required, and to do so securely and responsibly. A recommendation on this front is to send the confidential information in a password protected document, and to follow up with an email containing the password. If your system is compromised this also makes it more difficult for the intruder to note what password corresponds to what document.
- Avoid “reply all” for every email
You may recall the incident in 2016 where an NHS employee decided to send an email to approximately 840,000 of their colleagues. This was only the start of the chaos, as some recipients then decided to hit the “reply all” button requesting to be removed from the email thread. There are multiple problems with this, but the main one is relevance of information. Next time you plan on hitting “reply all”, make sure that “all” need to hear what you have to say.
- ALWAYS include an email signature
This may seem simple and obvious, but as we have all experienced, you receive an email from someone and are planning to call them back or are looking for further information about them and there is nothing to be found. You will then have to waste time searching for an email from that person that does have their contact details. If a client or customer can’t find your contact details easily, they may give up and go elsewhere!
- Be aware of your audience
In my role and from past life experiences, people from different cultures speak and write differently, and languages don’t translate as well as we think. It’s important not to get lost in translation, especially if you are communicating in your recipient’s second language. You may feel that because you have received an email in your language that the writer has a good grasp of it, but this is potentially not the case. Therefore, in your response it is always worth expressing yourself simply and considering how any idiom or terminology you use might translate into their first language.
- Provide employees with email training
Emails, like telephone calls, are one of the main communication platforms used by businesses which means they reflect on your business and are one of the means by which it will be judged. To reduce the risk of a bad e-impression, it is worth instituting business-wide email guidelines and training all employees on them. With a clear framework and set of guidelines, your employees are much less likely to make an email faux pas!
- Play the generation game
Taking both points 5 and 6 into consideration, it’s also important to understand that people of different ages are communicating in varying ways – and some may need more email etiquette training than others.
For example, the majority of millennials (born 1981-1996) and post-millennials (born 1997-present), admit to hating talking on the phone, which is slightly ironic since they spend most of their time glued to their smartphones. But it’s also this group that has grown up with technology that encourages the use of smileys, acronyms and an autocorrect function within their text-based messages. This does have the advantage of speeding up communication but at the same time it discourages the correct use of grammar and consideration of the appropriate tone to use when communicating with other professionals. So, make sure your employees know that there’s a time and a place for LOL, OMG and J – and it’s not in the workplace!
A number of netiquette issues are not worth over-explaining, but here are some more important tips that should be considered:
- Include a clear subject line – this will dictate whether the recipient actually chooses to open an email so make sure your subject line outlines exactly what the email contains.
- Keep it professional – avoid over-familiar terms such as “Hey”, especially when addressing someone over email for the first time.
- Be aware of tone – always re-read your email to check it comes across as desired. You may mean to be “straightforward”, but it can come across as “angry and frustrated”.
- ALWAYS proofread – make sure you read through your email one more time before sending, checking any spelling or grammar – in particular that you have spelt the recipient’s name properly. Just one typo could make the difference between a positive or negative communication.
Give it your full attention
With new technological developments happening every day at the speed of light, it’s no surprise the world wants to communicate faster and get the answers it needs as quickly as possible. And if talking on the phone is dying a slow death with some your employees, then it’s vital that the e-communication etiquette within your business is first class.
All in all, it is worth remembering that although email is a “quick” form of communication, it should not mean that speed is the main objective. You’ll find that you automatically do most of the points above if you take your time and really think about what you are sending and to whom.