CAUTION – This blog post isn’t an attempt at insightful, thought-provoking, discussion-starting writing. It’s a rant – pure and simple. But, I hope it’s a rant with which you can identify. After all, I can’t be the only one thinking about this stuff (can I)?!?!
Email isn’t work. It’s just not. For most people, email is the thing that distracts you from being productive at work. Can you tell that I don’t like email?
For me, the function of work email has been whittled down to a notification center. When something interesting happens in one of my other work systems (Confluence, JIRA, TeamworkPM, Axonify, etc.), I get a message via email that tells me what’s up and where to go to engage. That’s true for about 90% of the messages I receive in my work Gmail. Then there’s the other 10%. Yes, I admit that until everyone catches up and new technologies improve our online communication processes, email is a necessary evil for some lengthier back-and-forth exchanges. However, even those exchanges could be handled more efficiently (and irk me that much less) if we all stop doing a few things when we compose and send email or if we start using servies that make the whole experience more efficient and easier (like https://www.salesforce.com/solutions/small-business-solutions/integrations/gmail-google-chrome-plugin/) because it’s really not hard people!
Here’s my list of 6 simple things everyone needs to STOP doing in their email. While I’m focused on work email, some of these could apply to personal email as well, especially between people who correspond regularly.
#6 – Name Introductions
You found my email address. You put it in the address field. You sent it directly to me without using any third-person intermediary. I know who it’s for. Therefore, you don’t have to start the message with “Dear JD” or “JD -” or any other name-based introduction. We’re not writing letters, here! By doing so, you’re just making the message a few lines longer and adding some more vertical scrolling to my day.
- Caveat – I find “Hey, Chief,” “Sup, Playa,” and any other ridiculous-yet-funny introduction perfectly acceptable as an email greeting. Those intros add personality and tone to the message. Also, if you’re sending the email to multiple people, it’s probably a good idea to use people’s names to bring their attention to specific pieces of the message. However, you still don’t need to start it with “Dear Bill, Jane, Napoleon, and Ricky …”
#5 – Full URLs
Which looks more professional and shows a certain amount of communication savvy …
It looks like DevLearn is going to be awesome this year! http://www.elearningguild.com/DevLearn/content/3458/devlearn-2014-conference–expo–concurrent-sessions/
… or this …
It looks like DevLearn is going to be awesome this year!
It gets even worse when websites don’t manage their URLs and the address takes up 6 or 7 lines in a message. Take a few extra seconds to insert the URL as a hyperlink within the text of your message, and place it on keywords that make the link easy to find.
- Caveat – There may be times when you need to display the full URL for easy reference, but those instances usually only require the primary domain address for a website. Otherwise, someone may need to learn how to execute a “right click-copy link address” move in their browser.
#4 – Horizontal Scrolling
Who doesn’t love to use images in their email to brand the communication and make it a little more exciting and visually-pleasing? But, when those images force me to scroll to read the text, we’ve got a problem! This tends to happen when the sender places a banner image that’s too large at the top of the email. Despite my relatively large monitors and full-screen browser windows, I’m forced to put myself into typewriter mode by scrolling back and forth to read the message. But that banner sure did look spiffy! 🙁
- Caveat – There are plenty of ways to effectively integrate images and layout into complex email messages and newsletters. However, none of them require that I adjust the size of my browser window to read the message.
#3 – Salutations
If we work together, there’s a good chance we met before you sent me this email. Therefore, I judged the level of sincerity in your communication before I made it to the obligatory salutation. And, if we haven’t met, I’ll just assume you’re sincere. Again, we’re not writing letters here, people! You can drop the “sincerely,” “cordially,” “warm regards,” and any other transition statement that I’m probably not going to notice anyway.
- Caveat – If you’re email is targeted at a customer or external partner, especially someone who doesn’t tend to communicate online, this level of formality may be deemed acceptable.
#2 – Reply All
Just don’t …
- Caveat – Nope … None … Any message that may require a reply all should be moved to another communication tool that better facilitates discussion.
#1 – Signatures
This is the BIG one! We work together … at the same company … possibly in the same department … and we’re in the same email directory. I know who you are, where you work, what your email address is, how to find the company website, and that motivational quotes exist. I don’t need to see your template email signature! Have you ever tried to read a threaded email with 10+ responses that includes everyone’s email signatures. It’s INSANE! If your sending email to someone you have EVER communicated with in the past (internal or external), you don’t need the signature.
- Caveat – The only email signature I may find useful from someone I know is the obligatory “Sent from my iPhone” or the like, which helps me acknowledge possible errors and brevity that may result from the use of a mobile device.
Like I said before the rant ensued, I hope we all continue to shift away from email as a primary means of workplace communication by taking advantage of tools that are better integrated into our workflows. I’ll point at HipChat as a glorious example of a simple tool that has saved me from hundreds and email back-and-forths in the past few months. Until then, let’s make it as painless as possible. Please?
JD Dillon is one of the most prolific authors and speakers in workplace learning today. He has spent 20 years designing learning and performance strategies for respected global organizations, including The Walt Disney Company, Kaplan, Brambles, and AMC Theatres. JD is the founder of LearnGeek and Chief Learning Architect with Axonify.