Email etiquette: has it evolved? | by Kim Scheepers

Kim ScheepersTechnology has completely revolutionised communication over the last half a century. The need for local post offices to deliver postcards, letters and documentation has diminished substantially, especially with the development and popularity cloud email services. Cloud services mean emails can be sent and received from any computer (or smartphone), anywhere in the world, that has an internet connection.

Email has become an integral part of society, as has social media. In this, we have the ability to interact socially and professionally. According to statistics via Radicati Group, in 2019, over half the world population uses email. There are currently over 3.8 billion email users, sending and receiving an average of 293 billion emails per day. I wonder if Ray Tomlinson, the ‘father of email’ could have conceive of these numbers in the early 70s when this idea was developed, and he was coining the “@” sign as the path used to identify the direction of all emails?

Email can, of course, be divided into a number of categories for any user. For business purposes, it is communication to and from colleagues, management, human resources, current clients, prospective clients and suppliers. However on the same email address, one can get industry email marketing, personal marketing, and receive and store all personal information including bank statements, personal accounts, topics of interest, and family communication. It can be daunting to manage.

Furthermore, email is one of the first tools given to a new employee, announcing that the user is now part of an organisation. And even though email is so ubiquitous today, we still have different expectations of business communications. Most companies even issue codes of conduct for electronic communications, comprising a set of rules and regulations that form part of employment policies and procedures.

Great business communication that remains professional, however, requires a subset of rules (or guidelines) that are not necessarily explicitly stated in company procedures. What are the expectations of work or business email today? And what are the pitfalls of response times, tone, and privacy of information to avoid?

Writing for Entrepreneur.com, Jacqueline Whitmore – author, business etiquette expert and founder of The Protocol School of Palm Beach – proposes the following dos and don’ts, a list that I think is a great set of rules to guide you:

  • Do have a clear subject line. The clearer your subject line, the more likely the recipient will read your message.
  • Don’t forget your signature. Every email should include a signature that tells the recipient who you are and how to contact you. [Editor’s note: keep this simple and text-based in replies and in threads]email etiquette
  • Do use a professional salutation. Using “hey,” “yo” or “hiya” isn’t professional. Use “hi” or “hello” instead. To be more formal, use “Dear (insert name).”
  • Don’t use humour. Humour generally doesn’t translate well via text. When in doubt, leave it out of business communications.
  • Do proofread your message. Check your spelling and grammar before you hit send.
  • Don’t assume the recipient knows what you are talking about. Create your message as a stand-alone note, even if it is in response to an email chain.
  • Do reply to all emails. Give a timely and polite reply to each legitimate email addressed to you.
  • Don’t reply when you’re angry.
  • Do keep private material confidential.
  • Don’t overuse exclamation points! Also, emoticons (or emojis), all CAPITALS and slang abbreviations (such as “LOL”) do not translate well in business communication. Don’t use them unless you know the recipient extremely well.
This is an abridged version of the list, but Whitmore goes into more detail and explanation in the original article, linked here. As she says, “It might take some practice to keep your emails professional and to the point, but you will look more polished and organised if you do.”  

Like self-development author Brian Tracy, I believe that you really can acquire and strengthen your communications skills. Tracy said: “Communication is a skill that you can learn. It’s like riding a bicycle or typing. If you’re willing to work at it, you can rapidly improve the quality of every part of your life.”

Kim Scheepers is an associate at Bespoke CfSD Group and Managing Director of Cagro Consulting Services which provides HR & administration assistance to companies of all sizes - www.bespoke.co.za

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Posted on August 19, 2019

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