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E-etiquette in the age of working from home


The switch for many employees to working from home has meant a greater reliance on email and other e-communications. It’s also highlighted some digital deficiencies that are clouding information transfer, overloading inboxes and causing frustration in (home) offices around the world.

Email is used to communicate with customers, colleagues and ‘work besties’, though no matter how friendly we are at work, maintaining professionalism matters.

Marking the subject line with “Urgent!” has become an unnecessary escalation that may reflect a lack of respect for the recipient’s time, or their time management. Some matters do require prioritisation, but if an email is so urgent, a phone call may be better to rectify matters quickly. At the very least, if an email does carry a legitimately urgent message, we may do well to offer a timeframe for a response, e.g., “Please let me know before COB today so that we can finalise the contract.” 

To CC, or BCC? That is the question

How do you know when to CC, or Carbon Copy, someone into an email? If they’ve specifically been asked to be kept in the loop on a subject, sure. Perhaps as a BCC if no reply is needed. In most cases, the use of CC should be on a need-to-know basis, rather than just in case. If you haven’t named a recipient (or their department) in the email body, think twice about whether they need to be included at all.

For many, reply-all is considered the height of bad email etiquette, frequently used but rarely needed.

How you say it matters

Tone can be difficult to convey in an email, but avoid these phrases unless you want to risk sounding passive-aggressive: “as per my last email”, “any updates here?”, or “a friendly reminder”. Email is no place for ambiguity or sarcasm — actually, these are best avoided in all situations — your audience might have difficulty understanding if there’s a wry smile or harsh criticism behind the remark. 

Formatting helps everyone

Is what you’ve written quickly and easily scannable? If there is one key point that needs to be addressed, is that clear? Use of headings can be incredibly helpful to help readers act or respond to what you’ve written. However, don’t go overboard with italics, underlines, colours and fonts — try rewriting your message for clarity. 

What are the expectations with email response times?

There’s a growing expectation that in this ‘always on’, email-in-my-pocket world, that people are checking their inbox minute by minute. Some do, though it’s been shown to be a highly inefficient way to work, compared to batch-processing at set times.

According to a 2020 survey conducted by customer service consultants Toister Performance Solutions, “nearly a third of customers expect businesses to respond to emails in one hour or less.” That may not always be possible, especially for those with customers in different time zones, or for complex requests. However, meeting the expectations of these customers might simply mean replying to let them know when they can expect you to respond in full. Doing so is preferable to having them wonder if the message has ended up in an email black hole.

If you do rely heavily on email, consider outlining expected response times in your company working from home policy. Times may differ between customers and co-workers, but doing so will help align expectations and ensure a little more happiness online.