Effective email communication is highly important for career growth. Companies today value communication skills and professionalism more than technical skills, even in disciplines such as Software development.
For example, in a tech company, software modules interface seamlessly if their developers work by communicating and collaborating effectively. And, we rarely build standalone features right? Email skills are one of the elements of what companies call ‘Industry Experience’ and these skills form the backbone of effective communication and collaboration. So read on and thank me later 🙂
Things to keep in mind
Start off with a salutation and end with a sign off. Show Courtesy. By saying “hello” or “hi” you are doing salutation and by saying, “thanks”, “sincerely”, “with regards” you are signing off.
The goal should be to keep the email as brief and precise as possible. Do not use all caps or all small letters and structure the sentences properly.
Filter your audience
Below listed are some different kinds of scenarios and whom your emails will be addressed to in each of these scenarios. Does this email need to be a reply all? Who has a stake in what you are saying?
In general, if your email is useful to everyone, go ahead and “Reply All”. If not, just hit “Reply”. Example of “Reply All” is a team discussion about a solution. Example of “Reply” is when you are correcting someone and don’t want to embarrass them.
If you are planning to take time off, inform your immediate superior, his/her direct reports. There are usually email aliases (Email groups) for every Manager’s directs. Inform your direct reports if you have any and all the people who might need you during the time that you will be taking off.
If you are late to a meeting, just informing the meeting organizer is fine.
Sometimes you will have to work on features that don’t have documentation or an internal webpage explaining them. If you are asking for help about using a feature you don’t own, if you have no clue, ask your mentor. If you know who owns that feature or has worked on it, ask them if you and they are on the same team. If you don’t get the answer, email your team. No dice? Email the owner’s team
Replies to help email will be a reply all if you have the answer. It will be a single reply if you have more questions.
Some people’s time is more expensive than others’. Start with the less expensive ones first. If you are new and need help about something anyone in the team would know, bug your less burdened teammates in a round robin fashion 🙂
Farewell emails will typically go out to your immediate team, sister teams you have worked with, your boss, boss’s boss, directs and work friends. Reply to them if you were close to all, if not, just the sender.
Links to social events and non-work related stuff should only go out to your friends. No adult content should ever be passed around on office email. Remember, your work email is not private.
Do not forward internal team emails to email addresses outside of the organization. That would be a confidentiality breach. Ask around what is appropriate to share with a client or user and what is not, when in doubt.
Sometimes obvious things are missing. You don’t know the story. It could be bad deadlines, a novice or just a slacker at work. For your own good, give them the benefit of doubt or at least sound like it. Stinkers will drag you into nasty email wars and politics. Steer clear.
Respectful phrases are as follows:
- Help me understand how/why?
- I am curios why didn’t we do it XYZ way instead?
- Should I enter a work item to fix XYZ?
- ABC is blocking my critical work item XYZ. Please keep me in the loop if there is any progress on this.
- What am I missing?
- If I understand this correctly
- I’ve attached the email about it just in case
- From my conversation with so and so
- As we had discussed earlier
- As per the client’s comment “XYZ”, it sounds like what they need is
Structure and Prettify
If you are asking for help, give clear, relevant and precise detail. The easier you make it to help you, the quicker help will come. Do most of the work for your helper. They’ll jump on helping you and help you again in the future. Talk about what you are trying to do before how you are trying to do it in help emails. Then talk about the problem and how you tried everything possible.
While offering help, ask relevant questions and shoot a list of common pitfalls and their solutions. Point them to the updated documentation. If you are not the right person to help, wait for the person on the hook. If no one responds within 2 hours, tell them it is not your expertise but you can try.
If you are handed a task with vague requirements or something that needs more work than anticipated, email the product/program owner or equivalent giving as much clear details as possible. Tip: Use bullet points. Offer multiple solutions and examples of workflow. Include the feature owner and any other stakeholders if need be. The other stakeholders are anyone who would be affected by your work.
If someone is asking for help, first thank them for bringing the issue up. Then explain all the solution options and then point them to the updated documentation with a link. Use the standard fonts, bullet points, numbers and indents wherever necessary. Keep the formatting consistent.
If someone is blocked on your work, respond to them immediately unless you are working on something critical
Respond to all email addressed specifically to you in an hour either with the answer or telling them when you can get back to them
Email addressed to your team, if not critical can be looked at within 24 hours.
Time lines can vary from team to team and company to company. The above is what I have known as standard.
Try to keep your email small in size. If you are sending a screenshot, send it with a better compression like jpg and not bmp.
For larger files, place it on a shared folder and email with the link to the shared file/ folder location
We do this because some people have been around really long and we don’t want their emails to reach full capacity often.
Before you go on vacation, set up 2 separate automatic replies: One internal and One external, that is, people who are not employees of your company.
List exactly which dates and times you will be unavailable, where you are going on vacation if you want to. Most people include this information.
For internal emails, additionally,
Inform them about how often you will check your email and if you will check them only of they are urgent. List the projects you are working on and the email alias/ addresses of the people backing you up while you will be gone. Say, for everything else, contact your immediate superior.
For external emails, ask them to contact your boss with their email address. Add your signature at the bottom.
Author: Nazneen Malik
Nazneen is a software engineer based in the Greater Seattle area since 2010. She is originally from Mumbai. She did her B.E. in Computer Engineering and then worked as a Software Developer in Mumbai for 2 years. After that she moved to Utah to do her Masters in Computer Science in 2008. She is passionate about her career and serving the community. For fun she likes to read, hike, salsa dance and travel!