Email was designed to be an efficient business communication tool. But if your inbox looks anything like mine, you’re beginning to feel like the efficiency is being lost in translation.
The answer is standards. Does your company have a set of communication standards particularly related to email? They can go a long way in helping your organization manage email internally and help keep it as an effective business communication tool.
At Marco, we have a set of communication standards and even those specific to effective email communication. We offer employee training on the best practices and have even shared best practices and tips in previous blog posts (like this one on etiquette).
But we still fell short. We never put a set of guidelines in writing for all employees to see (and hopefully follow). Until now.
We recently adopted a series of guidelines on email (mostly used with permission from Heartland Companies Communication Standards). Here’s a look into what they are:
- Reserve the “To” for people who need to take action on the email.
Whenever possible, we should limit the “To” field to one person. When several names are in the “To” field, it can become unclear who’s responsible or the emails get more convoluted.
- Don’t just hit “Reply All.”
When you are in the “To” box, determine who needs to be in the “To” field and included. People who need to take action should be in the “To” field and those who need the information should be in the “CC” field. When someone sends a question to an email distribution list, think twice before you reply all. Usually, only the person who asked the question needs the answer.
- Put “Approval” in the subject line when asking for a decision.
This should be used sparingly and aims to help set a priority and even create a sense of urgency, when appropriate. In addition to including Approval Needed: (Insert Topic Here) in the subject line, be sure to identify the needed action item at the top of the email and use the remainder for the explanation. It is best to phrase the response in a simple yes/no format, so the approver can read your explanation and then reply to the suggested course of action listed at the top.
- Create CC folder and use rule to organize.
To help you assess and respond to emails more effectively, establish a rule that moves all emails with your name in the CC field to that folder. These emails can be reviewed less regularly, although daily is recommended.
- Keep the body of your message simple and short.
Make your point quickly and concisely. Type with clarity so your message is clear and easily understood.
- Subject lines should quickly identify the topic or action needed.
Do not send an email message without a subject. It makes them much more difficult to find in your inbox. Make the subject clear and informative about what you need and when. It’s best to limit subject lines to 3-5 words.
- Don’t send one line thank you emails.
If you send someone an email request to do a task and they let you know that the task is complete in an email reply, it is not necessary to reply again with “Thanks.” It is implied. We believe that all of us know that the person who asked us to do the task is grateful that we got it done.
- Respond within 24 hours to all company emails.
Business email etiquette is to respond within one business day or sooner when possible. We encourage prompt replies to email. The sender can assist by limiting one topic, question or action to an email.
- When you’re away, set up an automatic Out of Office response.
This helps to communicate that you will not be able to respond to an email within the typical 24-hour period and should direct people to someone they can contact if they need immediate assistance. Include the dates that you will be out of the office so senders know when they can expect a response from you.
- Take your time when sending and proofing your emails.
Email is a form of professional communication. Spelling, grammar and business etiquette all apply. Read and reread your email before you send it to avoid sending something that you could later regret.
- Check who you’re sending your email to.
It’s easy to accidently put the wrong email address and send it to the wrong “Steve.” Take a moment before you hit send, to be sure the emails appearing in the To: and CC: fields show the intended email addresses.
Adopting a set of written email guidelines as an organization is one of the best moves you can make to ensure unnecessary emails do not overload your employees’ inboxes and your organization’s storage space. There is a real financial savings for organizations in implementing email standards and your employees save time – and frustration – too. It’s a win-win.
Even if your organization hasn’t adopted these standards, start practicing them on your own and I bet your colleagues will thank you.