Ask anyone at your place of work what they think of email and they’ll probably roll their eyes, groan and tell you about the 1500 emails they have in their inbox. Probe further and they’ll tell you all their pet peeves about how it is misused by everyone but them. Despite this, email can be an effective, efficient, and necessary tool for all business. So how do you get more of the good, and less of the bad that email has to offer? You may or may not want a formal email policy, but every business needs to have “group norms” – informal rules that govern how individuals are to use email.
Here are my suggestions in a handy Dos and Don’ts format:
- Do use email to communicate facts and information. eg. The office will be closed on Christmas Day.
- Don’t use email to problem solve. eg. What does everyone think we should do to increase sales?
- Do answer the question “What result do I want?” before sending an email.
- Do send an email if you are likely to get the result you want with 1 reply or less. If not, reconsider the medium.
- Don’t waste someone else’s time asking for info via email if you can get it from Google, the computer network, or some other readily available source.
- Don’t say it with email, if you wouldn’t say it in person. Whatever bad feelings would be provoked by saying it verbally, they will be 10 times worse through email. Unless, of course, that’s the result you want, …in which case see item 7…
- Don’t, not once, not ever, email when you are angry. Compose the message, sure. It will feel great. Just delete it instead of sending it. Cool off and go back to #3.
- Do copy ONLY those who REALLY need to know. It’s not a game of “CYA”. There are few things worse than the emailer who wastes everyone’s time by having a huge cc: list on every email.
- Don’t use emails to communicate a problem unless you have a solution and that’s part of the email. Email is the worst way to initially inform others about a problem because unless the solution is part of it, the email will prompt many questions which need to be answered, often immediately, which will require many emails to get an understanding of the problem and then many more emails to get a solution. (See item 2). Once the solution is agreed to, Do use email to provide stuatus updates.
- Do clear your inbox every day. Yes, EVERY SINGLE DAY. If you can’t, you’re either not doing enough to prevent unnecessary emails (like having a clever set of rules like this), you are over-committing your time or you aren’t taking the appropriate time to read and file them. If the inbox isn’t cleared, important emails will get missed and you will disappoint your customer, your employee, your boss or all of the above.
I’d love to hear your thoughts on how email sucks or, even better, your suggestions for keeping email the useful tool that it can be. Post your comments.