He Sent WHAT?! Internal Email Etiquette Everyone Should Follow

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People talk a lot about email marketing and email communications with customers. But what about corporate email—you know, those messages that are sent day-to-day within an organization? Is there such a thing as internal email etiquette we all need to follow?

The answer is yes. That is, if we want our colleagues to read and respond to our messages. Here’s what to keep in mind before you hit “send.”
1. Use clear subject lines. Our email inboxes can be scary beasts. Help tame them by using clear, direct subject lines that immediately let people know what the message is about. This will help people prioritize as they scan messages on the go, and it will help them find what they’re looking for later when they’re searching for something.

Another tip: if you and some of your colleagues all work on the same accounts, you could start each subject line with an abbreviation for that particular account. That way, people can sort their emails by subject lines and have all the messages related to Client ABC bunched together (and so forth).

2. Include only the necessary people on the distribution. It’s easy to think “the more the, the merrier,” but when it comes to email, that couldn’t be further from the truth. Before you hit send, ask if everyone you’ve copied on the email really needs to see this particular message. If the answer is yes, then by all means, hit send. But if you can remove some folks, go for it.

3. Before you send an email the length of War and Peace, decide if a phone call would make more sense. Sometimes you might want or need to have a virtual paper trail of correspondence. Sometimes, it might make sense to send one detailed email that outlines everything everyone needs to know. For example, maybe you’re the account manager and you want everyone on the team to be on the same page regarding an upcoming event. Calling everyone separately and repeating the same information wouldn’t be efficient.

But before you hit send on a long, meaty email, ask yourself these questions…

  • Are you known for regularly sending long-winded missives? If yes, then take a step back and audit the emails you’ve sent over the last few weeks. Which ones were necessary, and which ones would have been better delivered over the phone? (Be honest with yourself.) You’ll want to change your habits if you’re prone to sending wordy emails in general. The reason? People won’t read them, which means that they WILL miss important information at some point. If you can retrain yourself to use the phone more, people will appreciate it.
  • Can you shorten any of the text? There’s only one answer: yes. You can always find ways to shorten and tighten messages. Take the time to do this. Your readers will thank you.

Keep in mind that people are increasingly reading work-related emails on their mobile devices. Screens are smaller, which means more scrolling is involved. If a long email is necessary, consider compromising by…

  • Adding a tl;dr (too long; didn’t read) recap up front (e.g. “RECAP: This email outlines the specific tasks everyone is responsible for at next week’s event”)
  • Highlighting people’s names in different colors so that they can jump to the sections relevant to them
  • Taking the content of the email, putting it in a Word doc, and then posting it to your project management software—and letting people know they can access it there

4. Pay attention to your grammar and punctuation. Just because it’s internal and perhaps a bit more casual, that doesn’t mean you can throw all the rules of grammar and punctuation out the window. Sure, typos will happen (don’t overly stress about them), but at the same time, your internal email communications should not resemble the text messages your teenage kids send to their friends with abbreviations, missing apostrophes, and a string of heart symbols and smiley faces.

5. Be mindful of how you use “reply all.” Sometimes it will make sense to “reply all”—if your comment or question would benefit everyone on the distribution, for example—and other times you can reply to the person directly with your question or comment. Take a moment to think about it before you hit reply.

6. Make sure when you hit reply, the original message is included in the response. You want to maintain the integrity of the email thread so that people can refer to previous messages if necessary (this helps people understand the context).

7. Keep your personal and business emails separate. You know those jokes you love emailing your friends? That’s fine to do using your personal email address, but don’t think about doing it with your business address. Likewise, don’t assume your business colleagues will appreciate getting non-business stuff sent to their business accounts. The same goes with non-business discussions. If you’re making after-hour plans for dinner with a colleague, do it over your personal accounts as opposed to your business accounts.

8. Watch your timing. Do you want to be known as that employee who sends emails on weekends and in the middle of the night? Even if that’s when you’re legitimately doing your work, your colleagues shouldn’t have to adjust their schedules to fit yours, and they shouldn’t be made to feel guilty for not working on Saturday night. Delay sending until normal business hours. Reserve those off-hour emails for true emergencies.

9. Treat internal emails with the same respect you give to customer emails. You (hopefully) respond to client/customer emails promptly (ideally the same day they come in). You should do the same regarding internal email communications, even if it’s a simple “got this—will respond in more detail soon” acknowledgement.

How about you? Can you think of any other internal email etiquette that people should follow? Share in the comments.

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