Setting Expectations Around Email
One of the challenges my clients face is having clear guidelines and expectations about communication mediums, timing, and content. That is never truer than in email communications. Corporate clients use email to the exclusion of every other communication medium. The result of this is a corporate culture that is in a constant state of reactivity, “checking email” every few minutes for fear that they will “miss” something.
The best way to combat this time wasting trend is to set expectations and design protocols around email communications. This means that, as a team, you need to sit down and discuss how and when to use email. I call this getting on the Same Page. Come to agreements about how you can address the following challenges:
#1 When is Email the Best Tool?
Email is most effective for one-way communication going OUT. Email almost never moves you along the path of what you have to accomplish on any particular day, but it is the thing we are most tethered to.
If you are using email to have a discussion, gather opinions, or garner consensus you have set yourself up for a lesson in frustration. Even something as seemingly simple as trying to select a date to meet or schedule a call can become a 10-email loop.
Using it as a tool to alert team members of urgent or crisis situations forces them into the practice of constantly checking email. So first and foremost, as a team, decide to make email ONE of your communication tools.
#2 Subject Line
One of the (many) problems with email is that the burden of communicating effectively has shifted from the sender to the recipient. A good strategy to combat this is to craft well written emails beginning with the subject line. Use concise subject lines to define the email purpose rather than summarizing its content. Use key words like, ACT, DUE DATE or INFO to alert the recipient of the email’s intent.
#3 STOP Using “Reply All” - JUST STOP!
As a team, ban the use of "Reply All." It is the single biggest pet peeve of email users. It is another example of the recipient being responsible for deciphering why this email has landed in their inbox. By adopting this practice, it means that the sender will have to spend 10 or 20 seconds scanning the “To” line to delete names before sending the email on to ONLY the appropriate parties. But that 20 seconds will gain you the undying gratitude of every member of your team until the day you die. And even then, this will be one more example of your thoughtfulness mentioned at your funeral!
#4 Email Content
If a message is longer than one screen, it is probably too long. Today more than ever it is important to be clear and be done! You may have taken forever to craft that email; however, if it is wall to wall, floor to ceiling nothing but words, the recipient will close it without even looking at it. Minimally announce the number of items being covered. Additionally, use bullets, short paragraphs and white space to ease the visual noise a busy email creates.
#5 Set Clear Expectations for Response Time
Most teams I work with have a skewed perception that when they receive an email, it is expected that they respond immediately. By communicating urgent issues via phone, text, or face-to-face, it frees the recipient up to batch their email processing times and prioritize action items. As a team, decide a typical response time, i.e. by lunchtime, end of the business day, or 24 hours. There will be exceptions, but having a baseline response time frees the team up for concentrated work.
Take the time to have this team discussion. Your team will thank you for it.
Click here if you would like more information on having Shawn facilitate a "Your Work Uncomplicated! The Same Page Program" for your team.
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