Like most things surrounding the internet, email is a mixed bag when it comes to employees’ productivity.
On one hand, email is an effective medium to communicate – it’s often more practical than phone calls and is a communication standard across most organizations.
On the other hand, email is incredibly distracting and time-consuming – Microsoft’s 2023 annual Work Trend Index Report showed that employees spend more than 57% of their time checking emails and other forms of internal communication.
To make things more complicated, many employees don’t excel at email writing skills and habits right away… if they ever do.
For instance – communicating online increases the risk of misunderstandings. When you’re communicating in a face-to-face context, factors like gestures and tone give clues to a speaker’s intent. You can read body language, facial expressions, and other non-verbal cues to alter messages and avoid misunderstandings.
Developing effective email communication, mastering email writing skills, and establishing good email writing habits will instantly improve your employees’ online professionalism, which translates to a better reputation offline.
Using online training is an easy way to teach these skills to your employees. For example, Microlearning videos are short and packed with valuable information that employees can review wherever they are and on any device. By watching a short instructional video, employees can learn about effective email communication and how to generally communicate more effectively and professionally at work which in turn increases productivity and reduces wasted time.
Here are the top email writing tips for everyone in your organization to follow:
- Keep emails focused on work
- Always double-check that the recipients are correct
- Don’t send angry/passive aggressive emails
- Use other channels for more casual communication
- Consider whether verbal communication would be better
- Use the “urgent” flag sparingly
- Don’t CC people who don’t need the message
- Use BCC to protect others’ privacy
Now let’s go over these in more detail!
Email Rules to Live By
Communicating online, whether through email, social media, or a messenger app, comes with a brand new set of rules – keeping these three rules in mind will instantly increase how effectively and safely you communicate online.
Rule #1: Everything is permanent, and nothing is secret
On the tennis court, the legendary Serena Williams rarely makes mistakes, but when it comes to navigating social media, she can be as clumsy as the rest of us.
In April 2017, Williams accidentally revealed to the world that she was pregnant, by posting a photo of her baby bump on her Snapchat.
She told People Magazine, “I didn’t tell a lot of people to be quite honest, and I’d been saving it. On social media, you press the wrong button and… 30 minutes later I missed four calls and I’m like, ‘That’s weird.’ But it was a good moment. I was only going to wait five or six more days [to share].”
This example demonstrates a few things about online communication: you might intend to send a message to one person, but either by accident or through forwarding, others who you didn’t intend can easily end up seeing your message.
To avoid any potential embarrassment (or worse), keep messages focused, professional, and free of gossip – you can think of writing an email to your manager or Director as the standard to uphold in all your communications.
Rule #2: Double-check email recipients before sending
When it comes to emails, there are few horrors as real as sending an email to the wrong recipient. Once it’s done, you can’t undo it.
Readers Digest published a compilation of 8 professional email horror stories at work. In one of the stories, they touch on a travel agency’s managing director’s unintentional response to an email inviting him to attend a conference, for a hefty fee:
“I guess I assumed I was blind copied on the email, so I went to forward it to my wife, but instead ‘replied all.’ My sarcastic response was something to the effect of, ‘I don’t think I would pay a dollar to attend this seminar, since I could probably run it myself. I’ll have to come up with an excuse not to be there!’ As soon as I hit send, I realized my mistake,” he shares.
As you can see, not checking recipients twice can lead to some bad results, that don’t just reflect poorly on you – they could reflect poorly on your entire organization!
Rule #3: Avoid Sending Angry Messages Online
Since what you write in an email or digital messenger lives forever and can be seen by anyone, make sure that you always present your best side when using these mediums to communicate.
One of the best examples of this comes from the 16th president of the United States, Abraham Lincoln. Although Lincoln never sent an email (we’re pretty confident stating that as fact), we imagine he would have followed our advice – he certainly did when it came to writing letters.
On July 4, 1863, the United States was in the throes of the Civil War. On this particular day, Confederate General Robert E. Lee was trapped between the Potomac River and the oncoming Union Army. It seemed that victory was certain for the Union. President Lincoln ordered his own General, Robert Meade, to press forward and end the war.
General Meade, for some reason, thought this tactic unwise and did the opposite. Lincoln was furious. He wrote a lengthy letter to his general, ridiculing him, and expressing his anger at Meade’s decision.
But that angry letter was never sent.
Follow Honest Abe’s example by not sending anything you write out of anger. Give yourself time to calm down and address the issue in person or over the phone.
If online communication is your only option, it might be wise to get someone else’s opinion on how it comes across – passive aggressiveness can sneak in even after you’ve calmed down, and it’s typically unhelpful for resolving issues.
Smart Habits for Effective Email Communication
Keep in mind that email is not appropriate or necessary for all types of communication. There are appropriate channels for informal or casual communication, and email should typically be reserved for priority communication, or for messages that need to be easily recalled.
Alternative messengers such as Google Chat, Slack or Microsoft Teams are all excellent ways to make sure you and your team can engage and communicate about non-pressing matters, while keeping the channel of email clear for priority communication.
Keeping your email clear of casual conversations helps you mentally organize; when you keep email reserved for priority communication, you know where to go if you need to search for important messages, such as instructions passed to you by a client.
Consider too that the matter you are emailing might be suited for face-to-face communication or a phone call. Spoken communication is a great channel for discussing large ideas, planning strategies, or delivering big news.
A good rule of thumb to have is if you’re going to mark the email as urgent, consider calling or setting up a meeting instead.
Speaking of urgent, many email clients allow you to flag an email as urgent – but be warned: the “urgent” flag should be used sparingly. Not every email is an emergency, but if you treat them that way your colleagues will begin to ignore them – you’ll be the colleague who emailed “wolf”!
For more tips on writing effective emails, check out this video preview.
Respect Your Recipients
Frequently, emails will be addressed to more than one individual, sometimes through a CC (or Carbon Copy) field, which is visible to everyone receiving the email, or BCC (Blind Carbon Copy) where recipients are hidden from other recipients.
Make sure you CC people sparingly – not everyone needs to be included in your correspondence. If you do not have explicit permission from a recipient to share their email, make sure you use BCC to respect their privacy – this goes especially for someone outside your organization.
Use the same logic when clicking that “forward” button. Unless you have a clear need or directions to forward an email, keep it between you and the other correspondent. Likewise, if you do not want an email forwarded, you can request that the message stay between you and the original recipients.
These are great rules to follow, but you can’t assume that everyone is going to be as good at sending emails as you are.
Keep personal messages out of your professional email. Don’t share anything via work email that you wouldn’t be comfortable sending directly to your manager or higher-ups.
Oh, and if you’re about to send an angry email, stop what you’re doing and take a walk. You can re-approach the communication once you’ve taken some time to cool down.
Being Professional Means Being Present
Be present when you’re sending an email. Make sure you’re being just as considerate when hitting that send button as you would be if you were about to verbally address a coworker.
Cultivating presence when sending your emails will keep you from making simple mistakes, such as missing an attachment, sending to the wrong person, or hitting reply-all when you just needed to reply to the sender.
The significance of email writing skills, and the need for employers to develop their team’s ability to communicate in a clear, professional, and timely manner is growing every day. At the end of the day, online communication is a skill and one that most modern professionals need to master.
If your organization could improve their email writing habits and develop better online communication skills, check out this one-minute preview from The BizLibrary Collection.