The New Professional’s Guide to Interoffice Email Etiquette
In chapter nine of Digital Literacy, Rachel Spilka discusses the changes email has had on the workplace and the interactions between the people employed by them. Spilka explains (p. 241),
So pervasive and necessary are the uses of digital technology, that organizations and the people within them can be understood to exist almost literally in the digital realm… where our social and business interactions are carried out via email, video, podcasts, smartphones, Web sites and webinars, social media, listservs, wikis, and blogs.
With this phenomena the new standard, it is surprising that newly-hired professional’s aren’t given a guide of sorts on the intricacies of interoffice communications: most specifically the office email. I am not speaking of the entry-level basics of writing respectful, on-topic, spell-checked emails though. I am referring to the more nuanced happenings that we experience within email communication. And, more specifically, especially when we are emailing in an attempt to elicit a response from someone – most especially when that someone happens to be your superior.
I first noticed my dependence on the simplified, professional email approximately seven years ago. I was a newly-hired creative director working for a rapidly-growing company. The general manager, my direct supervisor, was the man with the answers… for everyone. He enjoyed this function, but as such was constantly bombarded with emails and unwelcome office drop-ins. To avoid being lost in his email inbox or shooed from his door, I utilized a very simplified email writing technique. The following rules will be of no surprise to tenured professionals, but let’s just consider this a quick overview of Interoffice Email 101.
The precursor to this email technique begins with a few simple rules:
- Always send an email if you can.
- Only call if the matter is urgent and incorporates multiple employees, and if you must call…
- Never leave a voicemail.
- Only drop-in the office if it is an emergency set to adversely effect the company budget.
When a question has lesser importance it moves down this hierarchy of communication techniques, with the least intrusive being the email. Email holds this place of honor due to this ability to be handled at the recipient’s convenience, rather than the requestor’s demand, as is true with a phone call or office visit. Once email has been determined as the communication medium of choice, other rules come into play:
- Only send one to two emails to your supervisor per day.
- Fully analyze the situation prior to sending the email and even then…
- Only ask the most important questions.
- Questions of highest importance are listed first
- Ask no more than a total of three questions.
- For each question provide the least amount of back-story possible.
More than likely this technique was not thoughtfully contrived for any professional, but rather achieved bit by bit through small successes and failures in communicating with overwhelmed supervisors. In my experience, following these self-imposed rules meant that my emails received a quick response, while other managers were not as fortunate. The higher-stake here, of course, is that without answers other managers could not move their departments efficiently toward the next task… and we all know what happens to managers of inefficient departments.