By Angela Young 20 November 2018

Email is a staple of business communication – and for the integrity of your company, you need to get it right.

As fundamental as email is to any organisation, it’s misused surprisingly regularly. There’s also confusion about what’s acceptable and what’s not.

According to Dermot Crowley, Founder and Director of training organisation Adapt Productivity, people are missing a sense of purpose when it comes to emails. And some irritating scenarios can be the result.

“My experience with emails is mainly around their quality and their quantity,” he explains. 

“People writing dense, hard-to-digest emails, leaving subject lines blank and burying actions in the body are all examples of poor quality in emails,” Crowley says. 

On the other hand, people using Reply All for group emails, or CCing a whole bunch of recipients unnecessarily, are examples of poor quantity. 

“I once saw an email sent to 500 staff and a whole Reply All conversation take place over an afternoon,” Crowley reveals. “Such a waste of people’s time.”  

“When collaboration is needed, call a meeting, but if it’s cut-through you want, have a proper conversation." Dermot Crowley, Adapt Productivity

Tools of the trade

It’s said that if you have a hammer, everything looks like a nail. According to Crowley, email is our hammer. 

“We use it for too many things and we use it without enough purpose,” he says, adding that we should think carefully about whether an email really is the best tool for the job.

“Think about the outcome you need to achieve… and the most productive way to achieve it.” 

An email can be good for content – sending attachments or communicating a specific message. If context is needed, it can be better to use a group platform like Slack or a CRM, as it threads the conversation better.

When collaboration is needed, call a meeting, but if it’s cut-through you want, Crowley recommends having a proper conversation – either face to face or using a chat tool such as Skype or Lync. 

“Email is good at some things but not others,” he says. “Stop and think before you jump onto it.”

Barbara Pachter is a business and communications expert and author of The Essentials of Business Etiquette: How to Greet, Eat, and Tweet Your Way to Success. She has two essential tips for avoiding email faux pas: “Add the email address last… and proofread every message.

“You don’t want to send an email accidentally before you’ve finished writing and proofing the message,” she explains.

"And the best way to catch your errors is to read your message out loud. If you read the words slowly, you’re more likely to notice any missing words, wrong words, misspellings and wrong tenses of verbs.”

When email goes bad

Of the horror stories Pachter’s heard over the years, one sticks in her mind.

“One man told me he meant to say, ‘Sorry for the inconvenience’ but autocorrect changed the sentence to ‘Sorry for the incontinence’. Big difference!”

One of the most common mistakes Crowley believes people make is asking the reader to do all the hard work.

“We’re often lazy… we write in a way that forces the reader to work out what’s needed from the email. We should do the work and make it easy for them to respond.

“If we don’t have good email etiquette or protocols,” he adds.

"We create productivity friction for everyone we communicate with."

Unnecessary noise

Crowley deals with senior managers who receive hundreds of emails every day, volumes they can’t stay on top of, especially when they spend most of their time in meetings. 

“This level of email creates stress, delays, and longer working hours as we try to stay on top. The sad thing is that most of these emails are just noise – not necessary at all. Smart organisations are looking at putting email protocols in place to reduce this noise.”

Dexus has worked with Adapt Productivity on its Smart Work program, which focuses on personal productivity. 

“This program has a strong focus on email management, but focuses more on how people managing their incoming email, rather than how they reduce email noise for others,” Crowley says. But that’s only half of it.

“Do unto others what you would have done unto you,” he advises, pointing out that if you send fewer emails, you should receive fewer.

“Think about how your use of email affects your colleagues, and be more mindful and purposeful when using it. Try to reduce the volume and increase the quality.”

 

Top tips

You can’t be expected to tick off a checklist for every email you send, but here’s a reminder of the dos and don’ts.

 Do…  Don’t…
Keep it short – but clear Automatically Reply All – think about who really needs to see your response
Mention requirements near the beginning Email if you can simply get up and talk 
Double-check the person’s name is spelled correctly Type in the address until just before you send it 
Punctuate properly Send huge attachments without warning
Always proofread and do it out loud and slowly. (If you don’t find an error on the first read, go through it again!) Necessarily send rich html – some people prefer plain text
Use a strong subject line Send enormous pictures if you don’t need to – resize them first
Trim previous messages if the thread is long and/or complicated Use all caps – it’s the same as shouting
Make sure your system clock is right, so it’s clear when the email was sent Hit send if you’re angry – cool down first!
Compress large files Forget to be careful with tone – things (especially humour) can be misinterpreted in emails

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