Remote working: 14 tips to improve emails at a critical time

Remote working: 14 tips to improve emails at a critical time

During this time of widespread remote work, email is a vital collaboration tool. Crafting effective emails becomes more challenging – and more important

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remote working email tips

As remote working becomes more prevalent, especially due to COVID-19, email becomes one of the most critical collaboration tools to coordinate work efforts of disparate teams. The downside of this critical tool is that everyone receives more and more email, so having yours stand out above the rest becomes more and more challenging – and ever more important.

Building on my recent article on how to run more efficient meetings, I wanted to share my favorite tips to get more done via email.

[ IT leaders in our community are sharing advice on navigating this crisis. Read also: How to lead in the age of newly remote teams and Crisis leadership: How to overcome anxiety. ]

Remote working: 14 effective email tips

You can’t control how and when people respond, but these tips can make it as easy as possible for people to get you what you need.

1. BLUF: Bottom Line Up Front. Don't write a mystery novel that reveals what you want at the end. Many people tend to provide reasoning and build up to an ask, but providing the ask up front, with supporting reasoning afterward, will help the recipient understand the reasoning in the context of the ask and increase their probability of response.

2. Use a compelling email subject to get the recipient to open and read the message. Unopened email is unread email. People often prioritize what emails they open by their relevance so a compelling subject helps them prioritize.

3. Use email after a meeting to communicate what you thought you heard. This avoids misalignment, facilitates accountability, and gives the opportunity to correct the record so things don’t get out of hand due to misunderstandings.

This is especially important for teams that are conducting meetings virtually now instead of face-to-face because it's a new and possibly unaccustomed form of team communication for many in those instances, and you don't want things to get lost in the digital cracks.

4. When you ask for something, be clear about what you’re seeking and who you’re asking to do the work. That way people can’t point fingers or assume another person in copy will do the work.

Also in today’s climate, give as much flexibility as possible as some people may have to flex their schedules to watch their children during the day or take care of a sick relative.

5. When you ask for something, give a due date. Do you need it today or next week? If it’s urgent, follow up with a phone call because some people only check their email a few times a day. Remember that a lack of planning on your side shouldn’t constitute an emergency on theirs.

Giving recipients a reasonable amount of time increases the odds of completion as opposed to something that gets ignored or rushed. Also in today’s climate, give as much flexibility as possible as some people may have to flex their schedules to watch their children during the day or take care of a sick relative.

6. Email isn't an instant messenger. Instant messengers (and chat, texting, etc.) are instant messengers. If it's urgent, pick up your phone and call. Follow the three email rule: If an issue isn’t resolved in three email exchanges, pick up the telephone as you may be talking past each other.

Scheduling email is a way to add latency to prevent emails from turning into emotion-filled instant messenger chats. The addition of time between emails prevents emotions from spiraling out of control and lets people cool off and reflect so they can thoughtfully respond.

7. Schedule email to avoid triggering unintended evening or weekend work. This goes back to establishing team norms and expectations. It’s especially important for managers emailing their staff so they don't feel like they need to ruin dinner with their partners to respond. Email web clients, like Gmail, will also let you know if a colleague is out of the office so you can schedule it for when they come back. Doing this allows colleagues to stay disconnected and recharge during their time off, and also makes your email one of the first ones they see when they return.

8. Use your out-of-office response to set expectations when you're out.

Your out of office response is especially important now to ensure that senders don’t unnecessarily worry about a response, or you.
Will you commit to a reply when you get back? Do you want them to email you again when you get back? Do you want them to call you immediately if it’s an emergency? Are you working non-traditional hours to take care of family members during the day?

Your out of office response is especially important now to ensure that senders don’t unnecessarily worry about a response, or you.

Read on for the rest of my 14 tips:

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David Egts is the Chief Technologist of Red Hat’s North America Public Sector organization where he directs a global team of technical experts and field product management to help government clients improve service delivery the open source way.

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