7 tips for improving workplace email culture

woman using email on laptop
belinda jennings

Belinda Jennings

Belinda is Managing Director at Evolve, and is passionate about brand engagement through customer voice, and employee enablement.

Email is ubiquitous in the workplace for good reason. It’s convenient when the phone isn’t. It’s accessible, searchable and ideal for documenting important communication. But it’s not all rosy. After all, if you commit an email faux pas, it can have a toxic effect on your brand. And it certainly happens. Just ask Hillary Clinton.


It helps explain why many employees experience trepidation when it’s time to hit Send. Maybe you’ve agonised over whether the high stakes email you’ve just composed is impactful enough? Is the tone appropriate? Is the message too long? Or perhaps that emoji is one judgement lapse too many.


Employees are rightly feeling this way… intuition trumps paranoia!

 

The data.

We’re on the cusp of collecting our 2 millionth employee feedback survey across a handful of Australia’s biggest brands. A text analytics deep dive into ‘email’ across those projects more recently reveals just how much of a pain point it can be. When mentioned in relation to workplace engagement, for every positive mention, there are ten times as many of negative mentions. This presents a huge opportunity to improve the health of your organisational culture, cost free and with relative ease to implement.


Best-practice email etiquette isn’t an innate characteristic of the workforce. Let’s face it, arming an untrained employee with an email account isn’t entirely dissimilar from giving a teenager on L plates the keys to your car. Safeguards in these scenarios are imperative. When I was in my first grad role, there were none to speak of. I received my account. I heeded the company’s message that the account was work purposes only and was told who in IT to contact in the event Outlook froze. I can now appreciate how vital it is to ensure your employees are all up to speed on healthy email behaviour.


If you’re wondering what impact you have on your workplaces’ email culture, here are some issues it can be helpful to consider.

 

Timing matters.

France has gone as far as denormalising around-the-clock email culture by legislating bans on a lot of after-hours activity. When it comes to timing your emails, it’s always a good idea to remember the following:

  • Yes, email is conveniently always-on but when I receive a work email after hours, I’m often inclined to question the sender’s time management and consideration for appropriate professional boundaries. Maybe an after-9pm email is testament to the sender’s inscrutable work ethic; or maybe it works for them, but it’s nevertheless important to remember the impression it makes when you send work emails at graveyard hours. Not to mention the adverse impact it can have on the quality of your communication.
  • The main reason I’m averse to nocturnal emails, however, is that this is when my inbox floods with eDMs, subscription emails and automated process reports and notifications. Any email I receive in those hours drop to the bottom of my inbox and my priority gravitates to the ones that arrive early. These cut through when I’m lit with enough caffeine to take on Everest.
  • If you do find yourself composing an email after midnight, make the most of automated email scheduling. Even better, review with fresh eyes in the morning and send while the recipient is ready to take it on. Time it with impact to strike while the iron is hot.

Subject line.

Email subject lines can have a significant impact on business efficiency. I recently came across a stat that said that 35 percent of email recipients open emails based on the subject line alone. Some points to consider for subject lines that cut through:

  • Keep it short, specific and meaningful.
  • Ensure the subject line is highly relevant to the email content. If the content has moved away from the subject line, update it.
  • Use correct grammar, punctuation and spelling.
  • Always capitalise the first letter. Never capitalise the full line.
  • Use searchable keywords.
  • Give a call to action (“Seeking your feedback on Project X.”).

Whether you want to enhance the visibility of your email subject line, pique your recipient’s interest enough that they open it, prompt a quick reply or sustain a smooth exchange, demonstrating good subject line etiquette helps employees keep working relationships healthy.

 

Email signature.

Email signatures are an extension of your brand, and it is important to include one. Your organisation will have a template…don’t stray from the design. The template should include your name, position, business street address and phone contact details (at a minimum). If it’s relevant to include links to the website, company logo and photos, do so, but keep in mind the email signature should not be longer than 3-4 lines. Remember too, links and images may not render properly across all devices and browsers, so best to err on the side of caution. What looks beautifully crafted on your PC version of Outlook can quickly turn to a hot cluttered mess on a mobile browser.

 

Group emails.

With all those voices crowing about different things all at once, group emails can quickly descend into chaos.
Resist the urge to address your email with, ‘Hi all.’ It’s the quickest way to ensure your email achieves breadth, without the depth. If there are specific actions for individuals, spare everybody some serious headaches by individually addressing the relevant individuals throughout the email. Even better, keep the group email with high-level context and actions, and work through detailed requirements face-to-face individually.


Refrain from referring to ‘the other email’ or ‘the attachment I sent yesterday’. Save everyone the inconvenience and reattach it. The efficiencies gained will be worth the extra 20 seconds, I promise!

 

BCC

This one is easy. Generally, don’t use it. It will likely come back to bite you! BCC is only really useful if you are emailing a group of individuals who are strangers and you have no intention of introducing them to one another.

 

Long emails.

Email is the preferred communication method in many workplace scenarios because of the time and energy it saves. But that’s all on the proviso it’s done well. To ensure it is, structure it carefully. For high priority emails especially, edit, proof, edit and proof again.
How long should an email be? If 10 words suffices, definitely 10 words.


To save everybody time and energy, the objective of your email should be clear at the outset. It should be organised into bullet points (if it’s on the longer side), formatted, headered and sign-posted too.


If you feel like you are exceeding the ideal length, you probably are. Try a phone call or face-to-face introduction before sending the detail.


Also, consider your recipient or audience. How important is this email to them? Is the email unnecessarily complicated?

 

Out of Office (OOO).

When composing the annual OOO email, minimise inconvenience for the recipient. Announcing you’re away sipping cocktails at the swim up bar for the next few weeks is always a great OOO email to avoid composing. The date you are back is significantly more interesting to the recipient than the dates you are away. If you can be contacted during this period, provide details about your phone and email availability.


Ensure your recipients know who has been briefed on their project in your absence. More importantly, clearly outline how they can be reached. Ideally, include their email signature.


Email is an indispensable communication tool, but the value it has on your workplace culture depends on how effective you are at using it. We know that it has the potential to irritate ten times as many colleagues as it will delight, but equally is something you can address quickly, and implement with ease.