The Do’s and Don’ts of Workplace Email Etiquette

Wednesday, July 213 min read

Gone (mostly) are the days of inter-office mail envelopes and fax machines. Lots of businesses have replaced paper files with tablets, and face-to-face interactions are fading as more workplaces are going remote full-time. As the methods are changing, questions about proper communication will arise. Email is certainly faster, so it lends itself to more casual communication, but there are still some rules. Knowing how to write and send proper emails will improve your workday and work relationships overall.

What Type Of Email Is This?

Your personal inbox can be full of cat pics and forwarded recipes, but a work email is not the place. Instead, focus specifically on the goal: providing or requesting work-related information. It might be more general, or require a detailed response, but keep it on topic. After drafting the email, revisit it to ensure that it’s succinct.. The shorter the email, the more likely you’ll get a quick reply.

Properly Address Your Email

The dreaded “reply all” can completely derail interoffice communications. Make sure only the pertinent people are included in the “To” and “CC” fields. Rule of thumb: Keep people who need to reply in the “To” field and relegate folks who just need to stay informed to “CC.” If it’s a mass email, ALWAYS use the “blind” option, “BCC,” to ensure privacy and prevent long chains of replies going to hundreds of people.

A formal salutation (Dear so-and-so) usually isn’t necessary for email communications, especially between familiar colleagues. However, if it’s the first time you’re sending an email to the recipient, it’s helpful to address them by name, and also introduce yourself. A person with a full inbox is more likely to read personalized emails first. A simple, “Hi Jeff, this is Sam. Wanda gave me your email so we could talk about the contract” is enough.

If it’s a close colleague, or someone you’ve worked with before, it’s likely safe to be more casual — but keep it on topic and professional.

Fully Proof Your Message

Always reread your emails before sending them. Many email programs have built-in spell checks, but give it a quick read through before hitting “send.” Check for typos, incomplete or run-on sentences, and punctuation errors. Also rephrase wordy sentences, and clarify passages that may be confusing or may lack vital information. A successful email doesn’t need lengthy or multiple responses.

Include Vital Details and Deadlines

If there are names, dates, or other pertinent details, make sure they are all correct. When presenting important information or asking a pressing question, include why it’s important and your expectations. If questions need to be answered the same day, or projects need a quick turnaround, present it at the beginning of the email. “I need your input on this by the end of the day today” or “All team members must complete their first contribution to the project by Friday.”

However, the nature of email means you can’t guarantee the recipients will read it promptly. If you need an immediate answer, follow up that detailed email with a quick phone call.

Reconsider Jokes and Be Mindful of Sensitive Information

With all-digital communication, tone is lost. Jokes can fall flat, or worse, be misinterpreted and cause offense. Keep the banter for in-person (or video) chats, and remove those jokes from emails.

If you are including sensitive information, like a client’s contact information, double-check that the recipient of the email is also cleared to receive that information. Also, keep in mind that emails can be forwarded. Don’t include any information that you wouldn’t want shared openly.

Reply Promptly

We always hope for prompt replies to our emails, and the best way to ensure that we receive them is that we also send them. Responding immediately may not always be possible, but giving same-day or next-day replies can dramatically improve workplace morale and efficiency. If you need quick replies to do your job well, be sure to send them, too.

Each of these steps can improve the effectiveness and tone of your workplace emails. Email is now a major part of your workplace presentation, and with these edits, you’ll become a more efficient and confident team member.

Featured image credit: Ivan Pantic/ iStock

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