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Email ... Curse and Boon at the same time!

Email has become the preferred means of communication certainly in the business world and I would suggest pretty close in the personal lives of many people today (maybe a battle with IM!). There are incredible statistics about email usage, email abuse, email adoption rates, costs etc. There is also a plethora of advice about email etiquette (two examples A and B), in particular business email etiquette. One subject that I have not seen covered is the issue of people not reading their email! I'm not talking about email overload here, I'm talking about the basic fact that people don't read email when they should!

Our company is dispersed across 10 offices and 4 time zones, from Victoria, British Columbia to Halifax, Nova Scotia. The primary means of communication that we use as a company include conference calls, basic telephone calls, email, instant messenger and a couple of "get-togethers" a year. For us email is critical ... we communicate with our clients by email a lot, we communicate with the contractor community by email a lot and we communicate internally amongst ourselves ... a lot!

It always blows my mind when one of the management team sends an email that is not read by our staff, and yet it happens ... a lot! Don't get me wrong, I have talked with some other CEOs and I am under no illusions that we are alone with this problem. I have come to the conclusion that many busy people today just cannot handle the amount of information that is coming their way. The trick has to be prioritization ... and messages from the boss, the boss's boss etc should be given a pretty high priority!

We have tried a few things ... maybe with some input I could create an "increased email reading etiquette" that would ensure a higher percentage of email was actually read (couldn't hope for 100% so "higher percentage" seemed like a worthy goal!)

A start to an "increased email reading etiquette"

1. Only send emails that when opened, fill one screen and require no scrolling.
2. Only include one topic in one email.
3. Avoid attachments where at all possible. If necessary then have a précis of the attachment in the body of the email ... (no more than one screen remember).
4. Use bullet points, underlining, bolding, different font sizes to make the document easy to read.
5. Never fill the page with words ... if its that long you need another way to deliver the message.
6. Bury little messages that test your employees every now and then. Perhaps a line that says ... "if you respond within one day you will get a prize". Of course they will cheat and have a designated "reader", but at least the message is getting read!

For a tool that allows families to stay in touch around the globe and that allows non-profit organizations to be in business at very low cost, email can sure be a pain! Any more suggestions anyone?