Hi Ms Kotwall,
I am starting a new job next week, can you shed some lights on work e-mail etiquette?
Congratulations on your new job, and how exciting!
Two simple rules to go by – ‘always proofread’ and ‘your emails are tracked’ ie no inappropriate use of language/backstabbing/ politically incorrect statements and try to limit personal use on your work account.
5 Quick Tips on professional e-mail etiquette
I. Make sure e-mail is the best channel for communication – If you require immediate attention within the next 30 minutes, calling is probably the best option when you can confirm the other person understands your request and the urgency to complete the task. Now it is your judgement to gage whether it is an ‘urgent’ matter or not.
E-mails also allows you to track the communication trail, sometimes it is good to have certain information on record eg employment start date if it is not printed on your contract. E-mail can be used as a documentation for any important information, which can protect you in the future eg reference check from future employers etc.
II. Subject line – This helps the recipient to decide whether or not/ when to open the email. It is wise to use keywords related to the project/ topic, as many professionals use keywords to search for their e-mails later on. Include a deadline if it is relevant eg XXX needed by end of Wednesday. It is recommended to start a e-mail on a separate topic even though it is going through to the same recipient.
III. E-mail body – State your purpose in a precise manner, since many professionals read their emails via their mobile devices. Before you write each mail, ask yourself ‘why am I writing this and what do I need from the recipient?’
IV. Whether to click ‘reply’ or ‘reply all’ – If it is a small team email to notify everyone on certain important details of a project, it is fine to click reply all just to make sure everyone is on the same page, although I suspect there are plenty of project management tools out there these days that may have replaced emails as the main way of communication.
When in doubt, think from the other person’s perspective ie is it important for the other person to know that you have received the memo / is it important for everyone on the email to know that you have received the memo. Use your judgement. (I had once worked in a top investment bank, where someone crashed the e-mail system by clicking ‘reply all’ to the global staff list of over 30,000 members )
This also goes with company culture, there are certain firms that prefer to keep everyone in the loop, while others don’t. It is best to check with your manager during the on-boarding process and mirror your co-workers’ email mannerisms.
V. When to follow -up – For internal mails, consider the project/internal approval deadline and work it backward. Eg When I was working as an in-house recruiter for an investment bank, all the job postings would have to go through legal approval. There was a deadline for the job posting submission but I also understood this would be at low priority within the legal team. I would generally send them the draft a week in advance and followed up with the team 1-2 days before the deadline submission. It is wise to ask your counter-party the best time to follow up if this is a new collaboration.
For cold e-mails, it is generally advised to wait for a week before follow up although you maybe told otherwise in a sales environment.