Email sins revisited

Over time, it seems that email is abused more and more.  Yet for all of the criticisms concerning its use and the promise that some new wave of social media for the corporate world will kill email off for good, it’s more widely used than ever.

Email, like all forms of communication, has evolved.  It’s an on-going process.  It’s also true to say that email should be used in different ways depending on the circumstances.  When it comes to sending email, there is no one-size-fits-all.

Where email is used in a business or professional context, there are a few hard and fast rules which always apply. The Telegraph have picked up on a few of these (and, in my view, wrongly listed others). 

Here’s my take on their list of ‘seven deadly emails sins’.

1. Ping pong - constant emails back and forth
Yes, absolutely.  Taking time out to think properly about the situation and your response is always a good idea and amounts to time well spent.  Firing back an immediate, ill-thought-out reply can often result in tears (or at least a painful and protracted email thread).  Sometimes, picking up the phone and talking with the recipient beats email hands down, too.

2. Emailing out of hours 
Well, I guess it’s a question of extent.  Sometimes, emails need to be sent outside of regular work hours and it seems silly to wait until the next morning for the sake of adhering to policy.  But managing that ever shrinking divide between work and leisure is an on-going battle we all grapple with.  Knowing when to leave your work email unread is a key part of that.

3. Emailing while in company
As someone with virtually no multi-tasking skills at all, I find it incredibly irritating when I’m in the presence of someone I’m speaking to, who, as well as (sort of) participating in the conversation with me, is tapping out a response on their phone.  Maybe it’s jealousy?  Still, I’m a big believer that focussing on one thing at a time can often prove more productive in the long run.

4. Ignoring emails completely
On the whole, I’d agree.  Very occasionally, though, you might receive the an absolute howler which simply shouldn’t be dignified with a response.

5. Requesting read receipts
In some situations, my firm insists that read receipts are used on mail that we send.  Personally, I think they’re an annoyance and a complete waste of time.  I invariably configure my mail clients to ignore all requests for read receipts.  I’d recommend that you do likewise.  ;-)

6. Responding immediately to an email alert
I might have a view on this – if I knew what it meant.  Any ideas?

7. Automated replies and rules
Well, email rules, as I understand them, benefit the recipient by helping to automatically organise emails as they’re received.  (That’s true, at least, when used sensibly.)  Automated replies can be useful for both sender and recipient (assuming they’re configured correctly and the message provides genuinely helpful content – such as when the person will return to work, or who to contact in the meantime). 
Quite frankly, they’re definitely useful and have no place on this list.

I’d also like to throw in the utter futility of email footer messages ‘reminding’ the recipient not to print.  Compared to most of my colleagues, I’m very measured in the documents I choose to print. That said, I don’t appreciate being incessantly nagged at by green-coloured messages intended to guilt trip me into thinking I’m not entitled to use my printer. 

Businesses should stop kidding themselves that pieces of stupidity such as this make a meaningful difference to the environment – an environment, let’s not forget, that’s being systematically destroyed by humankind in a whole host of ways.  Why don’t we try and do something that will really make a difference and do it before it’s too late?

Just a thought.

Whilst, I’m on my hobby horse, I may as well bring something else up – commas.  I don’t know what the humble comma has done to apparently offend so many people, but I’ve noticed that shunning it when writing emails has suddenly become de rigueur.  It’s something law firms in particular are very guilty of.  I understand that the primary goal for written communication is to articulate the intended message as clearly as possible.  Equally, I fully appreciate that many businesses (law firms included) adhere to the plain English whatjamacallit.  Nevertheless, there is absolutely no need for a business to insult its customers, clients or anybody else it sends emails to by assuming that the inclusion of a few commas would be too much for the readers’ underdeveloped brains to cope with, thereby rendering the message unintelligible. 

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