I still find it strange to think how fast the world has been changed by email. I got my first email address in 1993, but back then it was still pretty clunky and nerdy and therefore uncool. By 1997 it felt like everyone had email at work and also at home. Two years later the blackberry came out and then we had email everywhere.
From that point on the world changed, but more specifically the world of work changed. We became connected, on line and available at all times. Since then email got faster, more sophisticated, synchronised and smarter. If you’ve got a laptop & phone (not forgetting a power supply & cable for both) you can pretty much work anywhere. Wi-Fi is now a fundamental human need.
This change in the world of work has changed our lives. Smartphones and tablets have extended the working day by 2 hours and we look at our phone more than a hundred times a day. The space between work and home has been squeezed away by a fear of missing out. The machine has turned on his master and we are all slaves to that little rectangle in our hand.
But don’t get me wrong I am not against tech. I love it. It enables me to connect with extended family members on the other side of the world, extend my network of business contacts across the world and keep me up on sport scores where ever I am! But given that so much time is spent communicating by email I would like to lay down some rules about good email communication.
In this I’m not looking to point out things that annoy me about email. For example; read receipts. Don’t use these as nobody likes being watched. Also don’t send massive attachments that kill an email system, it’s just not cool. I am also assuming that you have antivirus software and that you accept that the sending of spam or offensive material by email is a recognised war crime. No, my list is about email as a communication tool and how to use it to enable work and your work relations.
1. Clarity and being concise. The language you use in email must promote action, provide information and do so in a clear and succinct way. An excellent book on the subject is Barbara Minto, “The pyramid principle,” it’s full of great advice on how to improve all communication not just email.
2.Respond to group email appropriately. Email chains that turn fly back and forwards and all over are hard to follow, they often lose focus and finally fill everyone inbox with lots of unnecessary stuff. If it goes back and forward more than a few time. Then maybe email is not the way to get the job done.
3. Know the rules. Some companies and clients have rules about how email is used. Know them, follow them and work on improving them.
4. Be careful what you say. It is truly terrifying to think there are pieces you have written that are just out there. What’s more scary is that you can’t get rid of them. Once it’s left you only two things are certain. It has your name on it and you have lost control of it. A key thought is how good will this sound being read out in court? If it does not pass that test then you probably should not have sent it.
5. Use “like” real English, avoid corporate speak, acronyms or technical language. One of the greatest things about email is how it can be forwarded and spread to a wider audience. But if your mail is in a private niche language then the message could get lost.
6. Be kind. It is always the little things. This is about communication in business and kindness gets more done. Sure you can get a lot done by shouting, but it does not win people over and the best companies always have great people.
7.Irony and humour. Take care with jokes. Not just because you have fired messages out into the ether and who knows where they will land. Because many jokes, especially those using irony or sarcasm need those human pauses or intonation for everyone to get the gag. Remember if you have to explain it, it probably wasn’t that funny anyway.
8. Evenings and weekends. Everyone needs down time not just to be effective but also to be themselves. Emails outside of the business hours should be avoided.
9. Think before you send. The rule is if your fingertips hurt because you have just hammered out an angry response then maybe don’t press send. Think, take a pause. Maybe put it in your draft folder come back to it later or the next day. But don’t send angry.
10. Pick up the phone or talk face to face. As you re-read your message before pressing send, think if this is the most effective way to communicate. Maybe the phone will be better, possibly even a meeting. Think of that human contact, a real person meeting, talking and doing business. Who knows it could catch on.