contributed by Alyssa Schulke [computer whiz / master gardener / lover of travel]
EDITOR’S NOTE: Whether you embrace it or despise it, email has firmly taken root. Its fast growth as a primary form of communication can be felt especially in the world of business, where many now reach for the keyboard — rather than the telephone — to communicate. The fact that the information is not printed on a piece of paper, stamped, and mailed in a fancy envelope does not change its status as official business correspondence. So don’t mistakenly let its convenience lull you into complacency. Whether you’re a job seeker or employer, supervisor or colleague, client or vendor, learn how to send effective emails that won’t get you into hot water.
While email has been one of the major time-saving technologies to arrive in the business world over the past few years, not everyone uses it correctly in the workplace. This may be hard to believe, but poor and uneducated use of email can actually increase the amount of communication needed, which unnecessarily wastes time and money. In worst-case scenarios, email can actually harm workplace relationships. Email should be treated with the same attention as hand-written correspondence — following good online etiquette will make you stand out from your peers.
These tips will give you some guidance and help you make a good, communicative impression in the business world.
Format Your Email For The Audience
Use good judgment when formatting emails. In general, official emails that discuss business matters, such as major decisions, project statuses, or other specific topics, should include a salutation and a signature. When in doubt, sign your name to anything that might need to be referred to in the future. More informal emails, such as casual discussions of questions or issues, can be formatted without a salutation or a signature. Here are some examples:
Dear Robin —
We had a good discussion yesterday about the budget, and I followed up on the open questions. To confirm, we will need to budget for a new printer, and I would like to include some new software for the design program we discussed.
Did you want me to set up a meeting with Aubrey to discuss my vacation”
Respond to emails only when necessary. If you do respond, make the information valuable to the reader.
One of the most inefficient uses of email is to send a one- or two-word response, such as Thanks! or No problem! This would rarely be appropriate written communication, and it is not appropriate online communication. It not only wastes the reader’s time but also uses up company resources for a message that could have been presented verbally or not at all.
A good rule of thumb is either to respond with information that will continue or further the relationship / message, or to treat it as you would a hand-written letter.
If you want to continue the messaging, say, “Thank you! I will take this information and follow up with you next week to make sure everything is on target.” If you simply want to say thank you for a job well done, say, “Dear Barb — Thank you so much for working with me on this project. Getting me that information was helpful and will assist us in completing the job on time.” This not only communicates how you feel but also gives the reader something to file away for a progress review with his or her manager.
Reply To All With Discretion
Use Reply to All and CC / BCC (carbon copy / blind carbon copy) with patience and discretion.
Too many people use these tools as a fallback when sending out email, and Reply to All and CC / BCC can actually cause workplace tension when used inappropriately. Reply to All and CC / BCC should only be used when broadcasting regular statuses or communicating routine decisions that many parties need to be aware of.
If there is an issue that needs to be escalated, replying to everybody, or “CCing the world,” is a very insensitive way to treat the problem. More often than not, one of the copied recipients will take serious offense to the message, which results in more angst than if the appropriate users had been targeted in the first place. When escalating issues, only send correspondence to those who can address them, and sometimes copy your respective managers if you feel backup will be needed. BCC should only be used for very sensitive communications, for example, when you want your manager to know of an issue you are attempting to work through with someone.
Take A Meeting
Hold meetings only when needed, but do not use email as a fallback for making important decisions or holding conversations that should be face-to-face.
Some organizations have meeting-intensive cultures, and email is not used enough for routine decisions. Whenever possible, use email to discuss day-to-day business and conduct virtual meetings in order to save time. This works best in situations in which projects are running well, all parties are on board with the decisions being made, or the decisions are routine.
Email, however, cannot replace meetings when major issues need to be discussed, or when dissenting parties need to be brought to a common understanding. Despite the difficulty, uncomfortable situations are better discussed face-to-face, or at least verbally on the phone. Keep this in mind when setting up communications, and you will earn much respect within the company.
Networking And Interviewing
When is email appropriate for a thank-you, and when is a hand-written note best”
In general, sending an email thank-you after a job interview is now an appropriate way to communicate with contacts and hiring managers. Many business people actually prefer emails as they can be sent and read more quickly than a hand-written note. It is also appropriate to send a thank-you email when you know a decision is going to be made soon, and you want to make sure the contact receives your thank-you in time.
When time allows, however, nothing replaces the courtesy of a hand-written thank-you for those friends and relatives who have gone out of their way to network for you or have gotten you an interview. Small thank-you gifts are a polite way to show these people your appreciation and keep your name high on their lists for the future.
A good guide is to send thank-you emails to interviewers and hiring managers, hand-written notes to networking contacts who helped you in your job search, and small gifts to those relatives and close, personal friends who went above and beyond the call of duty in helping you secure a job.
Email can be a valuable tool, but only when it is used with good judgment and sensitivity. As with many other things, the Golden Rule applies. Good luck!
Alyssa Schulke is an e-business specialist and project manager at Evantage Consulting in Minneapolis. Evantage Consulting is a leading e-business technology and marketing consulting firm that delivers improved return on investment and marketing effectiveness for clients by bridging emerging technology, marketing trends, and usability for strategic business initiatives. When not consulting or surfing the web, she is gardening and planning a fall trip to Croatia.