Corporate email etiquette - 20 rules you must know

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In the corporate world, email is a huge part of communication and many times its the first impression about your business.

Why then do many people make horrendous mistakes that portrays their business in bad light?

Indeed there are quite a number of things we take for granted about corporate behavior and best practices at the workplace. Unlike social etiquette where some basic rules may be considered offensive in one clime and yet acceptable in others, in the corporate world the rules for communicating via email is thankfully universal.

As basic as these rules are, not many will fully appreciate the importance of getting it right with sending and receiving emails. But one thing stands out; the emails you send creates the first impression about your business and reflects the values that you hold dear as a corporate organization.

It is pertinent to note that the way you communicate reflects the type of employee you are, including your work ethics and even attention to details.  This is aside the fact that the sort of emails you send projects an impression to external clients, business contacts and customers alike. The sort of impression depends on how well you know the best practices about sending and receiving emails.

Think about this for a moment;

I am sure at some point in your corporate career you have come across poorly written emails littered with grammatical errors and offensive emails laced with bad choice of words and structure. How did this affect your impression about the sender?

What about using short forms and emoji in emails, as though you were in a casual chat with your supervisor?

Are you confused about what is right or wrong about email communication?

Then this post is for you!

The appropriate email communication can vary depending on multiple factors including the industry you work in, if you are writing to a superior or a peer, if you are writing to one or several recipients, and if you are writing across cultures. Ultimately, it all boils down to context. Who are your employees writing to? How well do they know the recipient? Do they know them in person or just virtually? How will the email be interpreted? And what are they trying to achieve through the communication?

However, there are some basic etiquettes that can guide you and keep you on the formal side of communicating using emails. Let’s dive in!

1;  Answer swiftly – Your customers’ send you email because they want quick responses. The golden rule for email is to reply within 24 hours, and preferably within the same working day. If your response email is complicated, just send an email confirming receipt and letting them know that you will get back to them. This will ease the customer’s mind!

2;  Use a meaningful subject line – Try to use a subject that is meaningful to the recipient as well as yourself. For instance, when you send an email about a product, it is better to mention the actual name of the product, e.g. ‘Product A information’ than to just say ‘Product information’. It also makes it easier to search for old emails when the subject line is relevant and specific to the content of the email.

Always include a subject matter that succinctly captures what your email is about. If your email is urgent or requires immediate response, include this in the subject line, but do this sparingly. If your email isn’t urgent, then you will only annoy people by crying wolf.

Don’t capitalize all your letters, no matter how urgent your email is, as you will look aggressive – it’s like SHOUTING OVER EMAIL.

3;  Don’t abuse the “Reply to All” – Only use Reply to All if you really need your message to be seen by each person who received the original message. Sending off irrelevant or unnecessary replies to everyone on the list is just annoying and confusing. However, if communication is vital between all parties in an email thread, use the Reply to All to keep everyone in the loop. If you only use Reply in such a case, the recipient may have to forward your email to everyone else , which is frustrating and disjointed.

4Read your email before you send it – Treat email like any other official company document. Read it before you send it. Spelling and grammar errors are just as unfortunate in email as anywhere else in your corporate correspondence.

Look out for potential misunderstandings, the tone, and inappropriate comments; we use email because it is quick and easy but precisely that quickness may cause more trouble than you bargained for!

5;  Abbreviations & emoticons – Be careful using email abbreviations such as BTW (by the way) and LOL (laugh out loud) in business emails. Even today, some people still don’t know what they mean, so it’s better to drop them. And emoticons, such as the smiley 🙂 don’t belong in business email unless a relaxed form of communication has long been established with the customer.

6;  Use the BCC Field – When sending to many people, some people put all the email addresses in the To: field. There are two drawbacks to doing that: (1) the recipient knows that you have sent the same message to a large number of recipients, and (2) you are publicizing someone else’s email address without their permission. Instead, consider using the Bcc: field. Put your mailing list group name in To: field in their email (leaving the To: field blank may look like spam). If you have Microsoft Outlook and Word you can do a mail merge.

7;  Confidential information – Email is just too risky a place to include confidential information. Ask yourself if you would want the content of your email displayed on a bulletin board. Never make libelous, sexist or racially discriminating comments in emails, even as a joke. Consider implementing a Disclaimer on the bottom of all corporate emails with statements on Breach of Confidentiality, Virus Liability, etc. (Yes, you can be sued for sending an email that contains a virus!)

8;   Don’t leave out the message thread – Include the original mail in your reply, in other words click ‘Reply’, instead of ‘New Mail’. We all receive many emails and we can’t remember each individual email. Leaving the thread may take a fraction longer in download time, but it saves the recipient time looking for the related emails in their inbox. Remember, emails are not like regular printed correspondence – the name of the game is to keep it quick and efficient – so include the thread!

9;  Do not recall a message – Chances are that your message has already been read. A recall request just looks silly then. It is better to send an email saying you have made a mistake. This will look much more honest than trying to recall a message.

10;  Keep your language gender neutral – it is correct today to avoid sexist language such as: “The customer should bring his car to our service department for an oil change”. You can use “his/her” or keep it neutral by rephrasing the sentence: “The customer should bring the car to our service department for an oil change”.

11;   Avoid long sentences – As mentioned earlier, email is harder to read than printed material. People don’t give email the same brain power as they do when reading for example a letter. Try to keep your sentences to no more than 15-20 words. Do not make an email longer than it needs to be. Email is harder to read than printed communications. A long email can be very discouraging and can be abandoned before the recipient gets to your final point all the way down at the bottom. If it has to be long, consider including a synopsis at the top of the email.

12;   Always use an appropriate greeting -Salutations are hotly debated. Many argue that you should always use a formal greeting. This depends on the recipient. If you are writing to a close colleague or your team, an informal ‘Hi’ will likely be sufficient. If you are writing in a chain of emails where the context has already been established in a prior email or even by phone, then it’s fine to write with no greeting. If you are writing to someone you don’t know so well, then always add a formal salutation and an introduction.

13; Do not write in CAPITALS IF YOU WRITE IN CAPITALS IT SEEMS AS IF YOU ARE SHOUTING!! – This can be highly annoying, difficult to read and might trigger an unwanted response in the form of a flame mail (you get yelled back at!). Therefore, try not to send email text in capitals.

14;  Don’t overuse the High Priority function – We all know the story of the boy who cried wolf. If you overuse the high priority option, it will lose its function when you really need it. Besides, even if a mail has high priority, your message will come across as slightly aggressive if you flag it as ‘high priority’. Likewise, be careful using the words Urgent or Important in the subject line.

15;  Do not request delivery & read receipts – This will almost always annoy your recipient before he or she has even read your message. Besides, it usually does not work anyway since the recipient could have blocked that function, or his/her software might not support it, so what is the use of using it? If you want to know whether an email was received it is better to ask the recipient to let you know that it was received.

16; Refrain from sending one-liners – “Thanks,” and “Oh, OK” do not advance the conversation in any way. Feel free to put “No Reply Necessary” at the top of the e-mail when you don’t anticipate a response. 

17; Provide a warning when sending large attachments – Sending unannounced large attachments can clog the receiver’s inbox and cause other important e-mails to bounce. If you are sending something that is over 500KB, senders should ask, ‘Would you mind if I sent you an attachment? When would be the best time for you?

18;  Always include a signature – You never want someone to have to look up how to get in touch with you. If you’re social media savvy, include all of your social media information in your signature as well. Your e-mail signature is a great way to let people know more about you, especially when your e-mail address is does not include your full name or company.                   

19; Follow a proper email format – When writing a formal business email, it’s wise to follow the correct email format:

  • Subject line: describe what the email is about in a few words

  • Email greeting: Mention the recipient’s name and add a proper greeting 

  • Body: Write the main message and one ask

  • Signature: Include your name, surname, company name, and sign-off

20;  Pick up the phone – When a topic has lots of parameters that need to be explained or negotiated and will generate too many questions and confusion, don’t handle it via e-mail. Also, e-mail should not be used for last minute cancellations of meetings, lunches, interviews, and never for devastating news. If you have an employee or a friend you need to deliver bad news to, a phone call is preferable. If it’s news you have to deliver to a large group, e-mail is more practical.

Every e-mail you send adds to, or detracts from your reputation. If your e-mail is scattered, disorganized, and filled with mistakes, the recipient will be inclined to think of you as a scattered, careless, and disorganized businessperson. Other people’s opinions matter and in the professional world, their perception of you will be critical to your success. Please feel free to re-read!

Culled in part from here

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