Email etiquette tips for the office

How do you handle the following scenarios?

  1. Your co-worker is on vacation, and you just started a project that you have a question about, what do you do? Do you craft that quick email message and hit send, knowing that it will sit in your co-worker’s inbox while they are out? Or do you wait until they return?
  2. Your co-worker is on vacation, and you have some general information/update about something they are interested, do you forward?
  3. Your co-worker is on vacation, and you have an emergency question, do you send them an email?

At my place of work, these are all scenarios we deal with regularly as members of a large team that relies heavily upon email to communicate. But how we handle each of the above can set the tone for our relationships and respect for one another.

In our example (1) above, if the co-worker is the only one who can answer your question, why bother sending the message if it will just sit in the in-box? Respect your fellow team member, and wait to send the message. Simply draft it up, hit save, and hang on to it. You may also find that while they are out, you were able to answer the question by asking someone else, or figuring it out on your own – thus never needing to send the message in the first place. Learn to be resourceful. By sending someone an email (that isn’t too important), while you know they are out, it’s saying to that person that you really don’t care they are on vacation. It also makes it difficult for your co-worker to check their email while they are out, because they have too many messages and don’t know if there are any that are important.

But what about example (2)… your message isn’t important… so don’t send it. Wait. You can craft a message that says, “I wanted to wait to send this to you until you returned, so as to not bother you while you are out.” A message like that goes a long way to earning the mutual respect of your teammate.

But it’s an emergency! Example (3) may be the rare exception… so ask yourself this, “is it such an emergency that it warrants a phone call or text message?” If that’s the case, then it may be suitable for you to send the message after all… but in reality, if it is a true emergency, it may be time to pick up the phone and call your co-worker who’s drinking Peña Coladas on a sandy beach somewhere. Be careful, as you’re crossing into difficult territory, so phrase your inquiry with caution and apologize for the interruption.

Your co-workers earned this time off, just as you did. If they are out sick, don’t bother them unless they are simply working remote to quarantine themselves… after all, they are sick and need to recover.

But above all, you need to KNOW YOUR CUSTOMER. By this, I mean that if you are working with someone who genuinely wants to be included on every last thread and expects to be included, even while they are out – then forget about the above – and honor their wishes…

Happy emailing… or not emailing… chose carefully.

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