Thursday, 31 July 2008

Email Best Practices

Email is very commonly used in the workplace for a variety of reasons but in some cases is totally unmanageable with people having several thousand emails in their various folders, most of which is not read or certainly not digested giving cause for missing important information and affecting the proper process flow of the business. Hopefully your company spends 90% of its time doing what it does in a normal way and then 10% of its time dealing with problems that naturally arise when things break, aren't delivered, are affected by individual lack of performance etc. Of course, in your company it might be more than 10% but if this amount is too great then your company is simply wasting money. Email and lack of best pratice can be a major player in this market. What follows are some straight-forward tips on email.

  1. Give everyone in your company email training. In my experience, more people than you might think don't know how to do the basics like bcc and expiry dates let alone more advanced features that will make their email experience a slave rather than a master.

  2. Ask whether sending an email is the best way to communicate. I have been part of many email discussions that take much more time to type than if I simply picked up the phone and spoke to someone. You can still record the fact that you had the conversation if you need to into a CRM tool or even a word document.

  3. If you do need to send it, ask if all the recipients need to read it - avoid overusing mailing groups when perhaps only a subset of the people need the email. Adding people as recipient when the email is for their information only is fine unless they are a more senior manager or person who receives much mail when you should really ask if they need to see the information. Once they are cc'd they might receive lots of replies which they don't need to see.

  4. If you are receiving lots of emails that are not relevant, do not be afraid to ask the sender to not send them to you. Tell them you are trying to reduce your inbox.

  5. Don't be lazy with subject lines. Carefully thought out subjects means people can see exactly what you want to talk about and can choose to ignore something that is low priority until they want to look at it. Subjects like "Question" should not be used whereas something like "How do I return an item to stores" will allow the recipient to know that it is something to be answered straight away. This is especially true when you are adding cc people to the email

  6. If you are sending out mass emails externally to your company, put everyones email address in the bcc field so that each recipient cannot see all other email addresses. You have a duty (sometimes legally) to protect email addresses from prying eyes.

  7. Do not leave emails in your inbox. People can easily miss new emails because they fall amongst the others. Read the emails and then either delete and action the item or file it - perhaps in a todo folder. This way you will not miss emails and they are easier to delete if unrequired because everything gets moved or deleted.

  8. If you need clarification on an email, ask yourself whether a phone call would be more efficient and then you can delete the email and know exactly what you need to do

  9. Make good use of tasks to know what you need to do rather than keeping emails for the same task. It makes things neater and you can easily copy and paste text from the email into the task description. You get the extra benefit of priorities and scheduling.

  10. If you have a problem with SPAM and junk mail, use junk filters or change mailbox names every once in a while, people who need to contact you will be able to get your new email address easily enough if they really need it.

  11. Make use of inbox rules to automatically move regular emails into a folder where you can then choose to read them, keep them or delete them.

  12. Remember that a lot of company confidential information is kept in emails so make sure you lock your pc when you leave it and regularly delete unwanted emails and sent items (perhaps after 1 year) which will reduce the potential impact of people reading your emails.

  13. Have a company email policy and treat the subject seriously. Trying to be informal is fine in theory but we are talking about wasted time in your company and it should be taken seriously. You then have specific comeback on somebody who perhaps continues to pollute peoples inboxes with junk mail or generally increases other people's workload by not using best practices.

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