Email productivity is a real challenge, one that significantly impacts team performance and dynamics. Now that most of us are working from home, email has become a primary method of communication. We’re compulsively glued to our emails, which can be anxiety-inducing.
And yet, email remains a critical communication tool. We cannot replace email with any other tool. How then can we ensure email productivity, team performance, and sanity for all while working from home? What can we do to make our email communication better, effective, and efficient?
Here are some tips from our experts.
1. Decide Whether to Email or to Communicate via a Meeting
Some things are best discussed via an online meeting. Far too often, managers and employees use email to talk about performance and raises or to give critical feedback on projects and tasks. Not only does this lead to conflicts, but it also becomes a form of showboating. It’s even worse when team members try to express their frustration, register complaints and exacerbate conflicts via emails. Text messages are never an efficient way to resolve matters. No matter how well-intended you may be, emails or text messages can always be taken negatively. Facial expressions, tone, and language matter.
Before you hit, “SEND,” think whether this could be done in a better way.
2. When Appropriate, Choose Voice Notes Over Emails
Sometimes, you can’t wait for a scheduled meeting or you can’t call. Luckily, you can now send voice messages! Whatever your communication challenge, drop a voice note to explain a process, ask a question, or give feedback. Voice notes help avoid misunderstandings and are great substitutes for calls – they save time, they increase efficiency and they allow for clear communication. Voice notes can also be saved and can be played on repeat should you need to rehear a message.
3. Set a Time for Email Response
A McKinsey analysis found the average professional spends 28% of the workday reading answering email. If you’re spending half your day checking, responding, and writing emails, you’re wasting precious time (unless you’re a customer service rep and it’s your job to reply promptly). Our experts here at timetoreply recommend setting a goal time for an email response, so you and your team are on the same page.
A Standard Email Response Time Policy outlines the expected length of time it will take to reply to an email received from anyone involved in some way with your business, such as customers, leads, team members, and suppliers.
If you’re an early riser and like to get your communication out for the day, the first 30 minutes or one hour of your day is an ideal time. If you like keeping the crazies for later, post-lunch time is ideal.
P.S – Never respond/write emails while you’re in the midst of a project, while hungry or while in an emotional state of mind. It could lead to a career fail.
4. Create Canned Responses for Generic Emails
For avid communicators, canned responses might not seem natural, but in the long run, it can save you a lot of time and help you decide your approach to different types of emails.
To do this, first, categorize the types of emails you’re getting.
- Complains/Concerns/Conflicts: Yep the three C. These need face to face interaction. If you get emails like these, you could use a canned response as:
“Let’s set up a meeting to address this.” OR “Let’s take this off email and talk.”
- Approvals: “Sure thing. Go ahead!” OR “This looks great. Please proceed.”
- Acknowledgments: “Thank you for this. I understand/I acknowledge. I’ll get back to you on this by X days/hours”
- Reviews: “Thanks for sending this over. I’ll get back to you by X amount of time with a detailed response.”
- Feedback Negative or Positive: “I see and appreciate the effort you’ve put in. Let’s discuss this in detail over a quick meeting.”
It’s important to note that although canned responses may feel impersonal, they are essential in classifying your emails into taking action, tracking, or referring to later. Having this simple classification helps you create better, more effective responses and even improves the communication process.
5. Set Email Communication Expectations:
Respond to emails instantly or do you have a certain day/hour?
Take conversations off emails, or prefer a battle of words?
Frequently send emails or only when no other method works best?
Write lengthy emails or do your emails consist of only 3 lines at max?
How you use emails sets expectations for you and your team. The behavior you incentivize becomes the default behavior of the team. At a time when productivity and communication are already challenging enough, you might want to cut back on a system that is anxiety-inducing and even emotionally overwhelming for most people.
6. Use a Chat Platform Instead of Sending CCed Emails
Tempted to send off a CC’ed email? Don’t. No matter how well-intended your intentions are, CCing a large group of people is considered almost as showboating. Unless it is an official requirement to CC folks (such as a team announcement), you can communicate on chat. The same people in CC can be grouped on a chat where communication tends to be more friendly and instantaneous. The goal is to cut down on strenuous internal emails and rely on instant communication which is more effective for a remote team.
7. Keep Inbox Zero
Use the hour you use for an email response to clean your inbox too. All email platforms offer the ability to organize your emails into various labels and folders. Unsubscribe from newsletters you’d never read, mailing lists, and notifications. Unsubscribing will cut the volume of your emails by at least 60%.
A ‘zero’ inbox goal is stress-relieving while also productivity-focused. You won’t:
- Lose important emails in a swamp of unimportant emails.
- Miss out on essential information amidst unnecessary CC’ed information.
- Be overwhelmed by the amount of email you have to check every day.
This lockdown period is a great time to review your inbox
Use an Alternative Email for Subscriptions or Newsletters
This might seem like another hassle, but it’s quite effective. Your primary email is probably your work email which is used for work-relevant communication. Then you have a personal email that is used for your social accounts and logins. You don’t want subscription emails on either of these accounts but you also don’t want to unsubscribe from promotional campaigns or newsletters, so the best alternative is to create a throwaway account – an account that you don’t frequently use or check to divert all your subscription and download materials to.
Platforms like Google and Outlook allows you to manage multiple inboxes, so you can easily switch between your accounts. This way you keep your primary inboxes safe from newsletters and subscriptions – if you ever want to check promotional materials, you have an inbox just for that which you can easily check once a week.
Emails are a critical part of corporate communication which aren’t going away any time soon. That said, emails also tend to be a productivity kill if they are not handled and managed well. With multiple communication options out there, it’s better to use email sparingly and opt for a communication strategy that is not overwhelming.