Don’t Hit Send Yet
Many of us connect with our coworkers and higher-ups through email more than we actually speak to them face-to-face. In fact, for every job I’ve had as a writer and editor, I’ve communicated with my colleagues almost exclusively over chat and email. (At one office, I would literally Gchat someone who sat facing me.)
Given the lack of verbal cues in writing, this creates a huge potential for misunderstandings. (Too bad we can’t rely on emojis at work.)
Whether you're emailing that you're out sick, sending meeting invites, or — gasp — you mistakenly replied all on a message meant for your work BFF, handle yourself like a pro.
Here’s a simple guide to office email etiquette.
Emailing in Sick
Unless your workplace is super lax about absences, writing in that you're under the weather can be almost as nauseating as whatever is ailing you. You're too sick to make it to your desk, yet you don't want anyone in the office to think you're slacking.
"Brevity is key," says Lindsay Shoemake, the founder of career lifestyle site That Working Girl. "Your boss doesn’t want to hear all the gory details about your stomach flu."
Follow this template from certified etiquette consultant Cynthia Roden:
I will not be in the office today, as I am not feeling well. Should you need to reach me for anything, please feel free to call me at [phone number] or email me. I will get back to you as soon as I can. Thank you."
Be sure to add whether you are working from home or completely offline so your boss is aware. In a less formal office, try this, from office etiquette expert Richie Frieman, author of Reply All … and Other Ways to Tank Your Career.
“Sorry team, but I’m very under the weather today. I’m going to take the day off [or work remotely, depending on the circumstances].”
If your position requires attention when you’re out, touch base with a reliable coworker about covering for you before emailing your boss. "She'll be appreciative that you took the extra initiative to cover all your bases, even when feeling under the weather," Shoemake says.
If you’d simply like to connect two people you think would really hit it off professionally or could be good resources for each other, clearly state in your email why you’re putting them in touch and for what purpose, says Frieman. Otherwise, both parties might feel awkward.
“For example you might say, ‘Dear Bob, I want to introduce you to my colleague Pam, who has also worked in your field for X number of years. I think you two will have a lot to connect about,’ he suggests. “If it’s simply for advice say that: ‘I think that Pam could really use your expertise and hopefully you can chat with her sometime soon.’”
If a friend or coworker wants an introduction to one of your contacts, get in touch with the contact first to give him a heads up — and make sure she’s okay with the intro.
"This doesn’t obligate her or put her in an awkward situation," Roden explains. "If she has no interest, you just need to let your colleague know that connecting isn’t going to work at this time and that you will keep you eye out for other opportunities."
Writing an Intro Email
If a colleague has introduced you to someone via email, the hard part is already done. (And be sure to BCC the introducer in your reply to show that you've utilized the contact, advises certified career and life coach Jenn DeWall.)
When there’s no one introducing you to a client, potential employer, or any other person you're hoping to connect with — so you’re sending a cold email — your subject line is your first impression. Show the reason you’re connecting from the get-go, with something like “Reconnecting after our meeting at [X event],” or “Big fan of your work with [X company/product/etc].” Your intent needs to be clear so your email isn’t written off as spammy or intrusive.
Then, keep your email brief. Shoemake suggests including this information: Who you are and what you do, why you’re getting in touch, and how you envision collaborating or working with the email recipient. Also state how you’d like to connect: over the phone or meeting up for coffee? Your tone should be professional, of course, but also warm and enthusiastic — you want to be someone the person wants to grab coffee with, after all.
Setting Up a Meeting
Scheduling a meeting with busy higher-ups can be tricky. Denise Maling, executive vice president at AIS Media, says she prefers receiving a brief email explaining who you are, who requested her presence at the meeting, the meeting's expectations and agency, and the projected length of the meeting — before the meeting invite goes out.
For super old-school or way-up-there higher-ups, reach out to their assistant to give a heads up that a meeting invite is forthcoming, along with the aforementioned meeting details so he can relay the info to his boss.
Bottom line? "Never surprise a higher-up by just appearing on his or her calendar," says etiquette consultant Jodi RR Smith.
Telling Work You're Running Late
Whether you accidentally hit snooze too many times or found yourself in unexpected traffic, you need to let your office know why you're MIA.
"Don't over apologize or harp on the issue," says Frieman. "Don’t go on a long tangent of details — your boss may think you are making it up. Like, let me get this straight. She got a flat tire, then stuck in traffic, then saw an accident, then spilled coffee on herself? It can be too much."
Instead, he says, keep your email short:
"Hello [Boss], So sorry but I got held up and I’m on my way in now. I shouldn’t be much longer. My apologies again.”
Of course, if you’re tight with the boss or your office culture is more informal, jokes and, yes, even emojis are fair game. “Something like: ‘Talking + walking + coffee = I had to change my entire outfit. So ... I'll be a bit late. Sorry,’” Frieman suggests. “When you make [your email] self-deprecating, it's always funnier and lighthearted.”
If you’re more than 15 minutes late to a meeting that can't start without you, Roden suggests calling in and participating remotely (if your commute is quiet), or emailing the meeting organizer to arrange another time. In the latter case, write: "I am truly sorry about my delay. I don’t want to keep you waiting. Could we set up a time to meet on another day?”
Saying "Thank You"
It seems simple. You asked something of a colleague, she delivered — you should email and thank her, right? Well, not so fast. "Avoid sending ‘thank you’ emails unless you have something to say other than 'thank you,'" Maling says. Otherwise, your beacon of politeness is just unnecessary email clutter.
"If by 'thank you' you actually mean, 'I received your email and will do what you requested within the requested time frame,' then say that," says Melissa Gratias, PhD in industrial and organizational psychology and owner of MBG Organizing Solutions.
If you genuinely want to display gratitude (and build goodwill), follow Gratias' formula: "First, specify the behavior that was so amazing, then describe the positive effect of that behavior, and, finally, say thanks." Dewall suggests sending these emails on Fridays, when people have more downtime.
Replying All … or Not
One of the most annoying office email practices is the unnecessary reply all. How to keep yourself from overusing it? Reply all only when working with a team on a specific project or task, Maling says.
Follow these guidelines: "When responding to a particular individual as part of a 'reply all,' always put the specific person's name from whom you expect a response in the 'To' field and cc the rest," she says. "If a team is addressed, then you can add more than one person in the 'To' field and address them as 'team' in the salutation. Usually this is acceptable when you are providing an update and no response is required."
As a general rule, Gratias says you should cc only people who have requested it or who are mentioned by name in the body of the email.
Recovering After an Email Mistake
If you've ever accidentally replied all or been part of an inappropriate email chain that was mistakenly forwarded to the boss, you know shame on a whole new level.
Saving face is as easy as sending a swift and brief apology, Roden says. "Taking ownership for your actions will help to defuse the situation rather than waiting for a response from your boss," she says.
David Bakke, career and personal finance expert for MoneyCrashers.com, adds that after you've apologized, don't bring up the snafu again — it only keeps your misstep fresh in everyone's mind.
To avoid these kinds of situations in the future, "write emails without inputting the addresses, proofread, and then add your recipients," says Roden. Or simply keep anything you wouldn't want your boss to read offline.