5.1 Direct and mass emails
Direct and mass emails tend to be more formal and contain important information or information that needs to serve as a record. Most email tools allow you to categorise and file emails. Emails are also easy to track; for example, you can see if an email has been opened or read. They also allow you to communicate in a targeted way, company-wide.
When writing emails, you need to consider what you are trying to communicate and how it might be received. It can be very easy for miscommunication to happen via emails. The following table provides some guidance for communicating via email which you could use as a checklist:
|Clear subject matter||
Make sure that you include meaningful relevant information in the subject line matter. This makes it easier for the receiver to know what the email is about and if they need to engage immediately. For example:
ACTION: Please approve this contract
FYI: This report might be of interest
PROJECT NAME: Weekly progress report
|Use of greetings and sign-off||
The use of a greeting often depends on your relationship with the receiver. I use ’Hi’ for a colleague I know, but for an external client I am not familiar with, I use ‘Dear’.
If you are emailing more than one person, consider whether you use include all their names, ‘Dear/Hi all’ or just ‘Hi’.
Equally how you sign emails off – Kind regards, Best wishes, BW, Thanks – will depend on the nature of the email and often your preference. For example, I very rarely use anything but ‘Kind regards’.
|Consider the purpose of the email and importance||
Be clear what the purpose of your email is for the receiver(s).
If you require a response/action, ensure this is clear within the email.
It can be useful to use the Importance and Sensitivity settings for emails, where something is important or confidential. Equally if you are sending something just for information, use low importance guides to indicate that it does not have to be read immediately.
If you have to deliver ‘bad news’, consider if email is the appropriate method and how a receiver might react.
|Length of emails||
Where possible, keep emails brief and to the point.
Use headings or bullet points to break the text up.
If you require the receiver to do something, make this clear.
If you need to provide a lot of information, consider if this would be better communicated via a meeting or, if you need a written record, attaching the information in a document, but within the body of the text, summarise the key points and actions you require.
|Tone of emails||
Consider the tone within your email and the approach to writing it. What are you trying to convey? This is particularly important if you are sending an email due to an issue.
A good approach is to focus on the facts, not how you feel, and try to remove emotion and blame from the content.
|Think about ‘the life’ of your email||
Emails can remain on servers long after you have deleted them, or they can be forwarded by others.
It is important to consider the content in your email and avoid inappropriate language and comments.
|Spelling, missing words and accuracy||
It can be easy for mistakes to creep into emails, and spell checkers do not always get it right.
Double-check your email; a good approach is to write the email, and then take a break and come back to it. If I am concerned about spelling, I often read an email from bottom to top, as it helps me spot mistakes more easily.
Equally important is to consider data security – double-check you have included the correct people in the ‘send to’ list.
If you have difficulties with written communication, and you feel comfortable doing so, it is often useful making those with whom you are in regular communication aware that you find it challenging. This allows you to prioritise which emails you spend more time ensuring are correct.
If you have a colleague who is prepared to double-check important emails for you, it can be very helpful. This is an approach I take, as I cannot always guarantee I will spot mistakes, despite checking before I send.
Most organisations recommend including an email signature and provide a template for this. Ensure your email signature is correct and update it as required.
It is also useful to include your working hours if they are not standard. I work flexible hours, often emailing at night, so I include the following on my signature:
There are times when I work flexibly – if this email comes at a time outside of your normal hours then please don’t respond until it is your working hours.
|Attaching files||Where possible, send links to files that are in your ‘collaboration’ areas, such as stored in the cloud or a shared area. This helps with version control and helps to encourage people to work in collaborative spaces.|
|Only send and reply to those you need to||
Think who needs to receive the email and aim to only send to those that are necessary. Make sure you’re not sending it to everybody. Ask yourself: is it really a reply all or just specific people?
If you are cc’ing someone into an email, do they need to see the email, or have you agreed they will be cc’d for information only?
A former colleague used to not read any emails they were cc’d in; their view was if it was important, they wouldn’t have been cc’d.
|Reply to email in a timely fashion||
Aim to reply ideally within 48 hours, even if it is a holding email to acknowledge you have seen it, or use your out of office if it is likely you cannot respond in a timely manner.
Some areas of the organisation may have agreed timeframes for email responses, but often it is an individual choice.
If you are out of the office or not going to be online for a long period of time, set your out-of-office message.
Where possible, include contact names of people who can be contacted in your absence. However, check that they will be in the office when you are not.
Providing generic email boxes can be challenging. While they are often an essential and beneficial tool for teams who support large numbers of people, the policy as to how soon someone can expect a reply and how you deal with genuinely urgent issues needs to be considered.
|Manage your inbox – don’t let it manage you!||
Emails can quickly get out of control, and this can lead to poor email management and missing important information.
Put some time aside to manage your inbox and to explore the support pages of your email providers, as most email tools for the workplace have a range of functions for better inbox management.
Hybrid working has led to a more flexible work pattern, and text-based communication has increased. Email, for many, is still the preferred way of communicating, and for many this has led to an unmanageable inbox.
People are working more flexibly and as a result may work with those in other time zones or work weekends, so emails can arrive in your inbox any time of the day or night, and this has led to debates about whether you should only be allowed to email during ‘normal’ working hours. Encouraging thinking in terms of core hours may be an organisational cultural approach to consider. For example, in a previous role, my team was based in India, so our working patterns were different. To work around this, we had core hours – a period of time when we would all be online at the same time.
Nevertheless, we have a duty of care to our employees, for example, understanding the impact of emails received outside of core hours. They may feel they need to reply, and if it is ‘bad news’, this can lead to upset and worry, or if you receive emails from someone where a flexible working pattern is not known, this could be a sign of a workload issue.
I only use the delay function when it is an email I feel I need to be available to respond to; for example, it may contain information that may be unexpected or requires an immediate response. Otherwise, I will email at the time I am working, so I can ensure those I am working with have the information they require when they log on to work. While I could use the delay email function, many may actually be working at the same time as I am or start much earlier in the day than I expect.
Activity 16 Managing your email
Think about how you manage emails and when you respond to them. Is there a more effective way for you to do this?
One effective way of dealing with your inbox is to keep it closed until you have time to deal with your emails, as this helps with limiting your distractions throughout the day. While this is not always possible, and takes confidence to feel comfortable doing, it is effective.
When managing your emails, you may wish to consider the 4 Ds:
The following articles provide further useful tips:
- ‘4 steps to a clean and stress-free email inbox’ [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)] (Prior, 2019)
- ‘Managing email effectively’ (MindTools, n.d.)
- ‘12 smart habits to help you manage your email inbox for good’ (Sylvester and Real Simple, 2021)