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Corporate Email Etiquette - Dead or Alive?

Zonk posted more than 6 years ago | from the on-a-steel-horse-i-ooops dept.

Businesses 504

mbravo writes "I work in a largish company, heavily into IT, and in a complex and quickly changing market. Employees are predominantly in the 30 or younger age-bracket, and as you might expect we rely on a lot of internal e-mail. Despite that, lately I'm finding myself increasingly frustrated by a complete lack of e-mail etiquette in the company. A typical thread might look like a hundred-message-long chain of one-line replies, with full quoting and hundreds of recipients in the 'To:' field. It feels like it is happening more and more often. I don't seem to be seeing much success in explaining to my co-workers what the problem is here. How do you deal with this at your place of business, and does your company care? Does the company take any policing or educating measures?"

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504 comments

With gmail (4, Interesting)

Bombula (670389) | more than 6 years ago | (#22138188)

How do you deal with this at your place of business

With Gmail. It's intelligent filters screen out the quoted text, and by displaying email as threads (aka conversations) instead of just chronologically it makes dealing with a large volume of correspondence much easier. It's not perfect, but it's a damn sight better than any other email system I've used.

It's also a cause of the problem described (5, Interesting)

emj (15659) | more than 6 years ago | (#22138326)

Gmail is what causes those threads with one line responses because it feels much more like chatting than sending emails. People who don't have the feature to remove the quoted text will always complain. Is it a good or bad thing?

Gmail removes somethings that were an annoyance when I used pine/thunderbird, and now I just press "reply all" most of the times, and don't bother cleaning subject or to:/cc: fields. But the "reply all" feature should reply to everyone in the discussion, not just to the ones that were included in the last email.

Ad-Hoc email lists should be easy to set up..

Re:With gmail (3, Informative)

gnick (1211984) | more than 6 years ago | (#22138402)

That would be nice, but is prohibitive for many companies. My company, for example, does not allow e-mail outside the firewall unencrypted. On this side, we have Lotus Notes which approaches zero usability as e-mail etiquette drops. We have periodic training for users mostly scheduled by how ugly things have gotten. Some employees, of course, never learn when it is or is not appropriate to use the "Reply to All" button, but there's no action taken on the corporate scale. The only way to handle it is to send them to /dev/null and force them to pick up a phone to follow up on anything that was actually important.

Re:With gmail (2, Interesting)

orclevegam (940336) | more than 6 years ago | (#22138484)

Sometimes I wish the reply all button had a molly-guard [catb.org] on it. Or at least add a dialog box on it that says something like "Using this constitutes spamming, does your message really need to be spammed to everyone in the From and CC field of this e-mail?".

Re:With gmail (1)

MDHowle (634114) | more than 6 years ago | (#22138452)

Gmail might be nice, but for corporate conversations, I don't think it's very secure. The idea of conversations being stored on a server we can't maintain especially among IT, which often including user names and occasional password, makes me uneasy. One weak Gmail password and access to more passwords can be revealed. Same with GoogleTalk logging since it's all integrated.

And how can you destroy evidence you don't have access to? ;)

Re:With gmail (4, Insightful)

edmicman (830206) | more than 6 years ago | (#22138530)

So where's the "Gmail" style conversations in standard desktop clients? I use Thunderbird at work, alongside some users with Outlook. I've got threading turned on for Thunderbird but compared to Gmail's implementation it, in a word, sucks.

Re:With gmail (1)

gullevek (174152) | more than 6 years ago | (#22138660)

Yeah, I wished there would be a way to turn it into threading like Mail.app has. This is much better fore folders like the INBOX, to follow a thread, else in Thunderbird its then buried somewhere down below so you will never wind it again.

Re:With gmail (1)

Firehed (942385) | more than 6 years ago | (#22138720)

In my experience, Mail.app's threading doesn't work much better. Desktop apps really need to behave more like Gmail if you ask me - tagging and archiving, and being able to do really fast searches on that metadata. I'd say labels is a slightly imperfect approach if only because the equivalent of Mail's smart folders or saved searches just isn't implemented as well in Gmail. Ironic for a search company I know, but that's life.

Good Idea! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22138638)

Craft an email and send it out the entire company, especially the CIO/CEO types, Here are a few tips:

  1. Don't forget to USE ALL CAPS because this is a serious issue.
  2. Definitely use IM speak such as "u hv 2 do ths!"
  3. Don't forget to advertise everywhere so you get some coin out of this effort.
    (You just know those guys in accounting need bigger dicks anyways!)
  4. Use lots of non-words and jibberish so it gets through the spam filters.
    test it on your account first to make sure.
Good Luck with that!

If It's On Gmail, It Isn't Internal Email (1)

reallocate (142797) | more than 6 years ago | (#22138662)

Gmail isn't much help if you want to keep your firm's internal email off other peoples' servers.

Re:With gmail (2, Informative)

value_added (719364) | more than 6 years ago | (#22138742)

With Gmail ... and by displaying email as threads (aka conversations) instead of just chronologically it makes dealing with a large volume of correspondence much easier.

That's a feature that most of have always taken for granted. Long-time Windows users, on the other hand, will no doubt consider such a feature as novel, given that historically, Outlook and Outlook express were incapable of such an ordinary function, and their users had probably never seen a threaded message list of email or newsgroup postings.

Maybe some current Outlook users or Exchange admins can chime in here, but it appears that Microsoft has, instead of making use of the `Message-Id` field, introduced a `Thread-Index` field (populated with an absurdly long number) to make up for things. It would be funny if it wasn't so absurd.

Either way, it seems many folks remain unaware of the concept of threading. I can't fathom how they slog through their email, but it's a common enough occurence on email lists to see people send a new message on a new topic by hitting their Reply button instead of bothering to type an email address. Unknown to them, the new message with its new subject line gets buried in an unrelated thread.

As a side note, the more recent versions of mutt can "break" or "join" threads. A welcome feature to add to all the other features to compensate for people using borked email clients, misconfigured servers, or a reliance on a poorly-written web applications to send their emails to the world.

My experience (5, Insightful)

soulsteal (104635) | more than 6 years ago | (#22138190)

My experience in the defense industry has shown me that long, full-quote e-mails are often useful for defending yourself against another's incompetence.

Re:My experience (5, Informative)

orclevegam (940336) | more than 6 years ago | (#22138264)

My experience in the defense industry has shown me that long, full-quote e-mails are often useful for defending yourself against another's incompetence.
That unfortunately is the reason most quoted for using e-mail in the first place. Most upper management (and middle management) view e-mail not as a communication tool, but as a way to CYA. The phrase "Send it to me in an e-mail." is uttered far to often not because they need reminding or somehow didn't hear you just tell them that, but because they want it in writing.

Re:My experience (4, Insightful)

Anomolous Cowturd (190524) | more than 6 years ago | (#22138354)

I tell my boss to send me specs/todos and so on in email because that's where I keep track of them, and cross em off as they're done. Otherwise it's in one ear and out the other. Not always about CYA.

Re:My experience (1)

orclevegam (940336) | more than 6 years ago | (#22138428)

I tell my boss to send me specs/todos and so on in email because that's where I keep track of them, and cross em off as they're done. Otherwise it's in one ear and out the other. Not always about CYA.
Yes, some people do use e-mail to keep track of tasks, but a lot of them are just looking for CYA. As with any generalization there are exceptions. Of course this does lead to the question of if there's a better way for you to keep track of tasks. Most IT departments have some sort of ticketing system that can be used to assign tasks to work on, so maybe something like that, or perhaps a modified form of that might be a better way to manage your tasks.

Re:My experience (1)

Archangel Michael (180766) | more than 6 years ago | (#22138522)

"Not always about CYA."

Yes even in the case you outlined it is a CYA. It is ALSO an organizational tool, a project management tool and ......

This is not an XOR logic problem.

Re:My experience (0)

cptgrudge (177113) | more than 6 years ago | (#22138656)

Seems to me that would be about the purest form of CYA. Taking actions that account for our known shortcomings.

Re:My experience (5, Interesting)

The Fun Guy (21791) | more than 6 years ago | (#22138546)

One guy I know is famous for issuing instructions to his staff that range from irritating to ridiculous to borderline actionable. These are done on the phone, because 1) the guy will never put anything like that in writing, and 2) he can draw you in and escalate your time and energy commitment since there's no clear record of what you agreed to do on the project.

I took to following up his phone calls with a summary e.mail, outlining his demands on my time and effort. He got mad and told me to knock it off, that there was no need for e.mails when a phone call was sufficient, etc. I persisted, prefacing it with, "Just so I have it clear what you want me to do." He stopped the vampire routine, at least with me.

Re:My experience (4, Insightful)

sholden (12227) | more than 6 years ago | (#22138570)

And how is that a bad thing?

Planning, etc is much better done by talking or even by IM, but people manage to come away with different impressions on what was agreed on, so a written note removes that ambiguity. Which seems a good thing.

I like to get things in writing (either an email, or a bug tracking/project tracking database entry) when I'm tasked with something. Both for the lack of ambiguity and for the self interested reasons of it providing a record of why I'm behind on other things (you had me do this first) and for CYA (record X was deleted because you said to do so in Y).

Email makes that such records very easy. I've worked with someone who would tell you to do X, and then a week later disavow all knowledge of ever having done so when it turns out X wasn't actually such a great idea - a cheap, fast written record is a wonderful thing.

Re:My experience (2, Insightful)

kent_eh (543303) | more than 6 years ago | (#22138552)

I work in an increasingly large and beaurocratic telco.
CYA is the biggest reason around here for using e-mail (and keeping a multi year archive of both my inbox and outbox).

"Gee Mr. manager, the batteries finally failed due to overheating... Yup, here's my e-mail from last year telling you we needed to upgrade the cooling. And here's my e-mail from 3 years ago saying the same thing (with your reply saying you'll deal with it later)."

The problem (4, Insightful)

pubjames (468013) | more than 6 years ago | (#22138198)

I don't seem to be seeing much success in explaining to my co-workers what the problem is here.

Perhaps there is no problem... Or maybe you are the problem...

Re:The problem (1)

blincoln (592401) | more than 6 years ago | (#22138350)

Perhaps there is no problem... Or maybe you are the problem...

Seriously. Who cares? Maybe mbravo should demand a full refund of the price he's paying for email at his company due to the unsatisfactory service.

Re:The problem (0, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22138592)

mbravo waited. The lights above him blinked and sparked out of the air. There were problems in the email. He didn't see them, but had expected them now for years. His warnings to his coworkers were not listenend to and now it was too late. Far too late for now, anyway.
mbravo was an it worker for fourteen years. When he was young he watched the mailing lists and he said to dad "I want to be on the mailing lists daddy."
Dad said "No! You will BE KILL BY PROBLEMS"
There was a time when he believed him. Then as he got oldered he stopped. But now in the cubicle farm of the UAC he knew there were problems.
"This is Joson" the radio crackered. "You must fight the problems!"
So mbravo gotted his palsma rifle and blew up the wall.
"HE GOING TO KILL US" said the problems
"I will shoot at him" said the cyberproblem and he fired the rocket missiles. mbravo plasmaed at him and tried to blew him up. But then the ceiling fell and they were trapped and not able to kill.
"No! I must kill the problems" he shouted
The radio said "No, mbravo. You are the problem"
And then mbravo was an outlook express.

Re:The problem (1)

asdfeaadsxerhghre (1116845) | more than 6 years ago | (#22138606)

Perhaps there is no problem... Or maybe you are the problem...
My sentiments exactly! There are these things called mailing lists that sound suspiciously similar to what is being described. You can set up most e-mail clients to display messages just in that way.

Beware of Litigation! (5, Insightful)

darkmeridian (119044) | more than 6 years ago | (#22138202)

I encourage everyone to be wary when writing e-mails. If your firm ever gets sued, all that becomes discoverable, and attorneys have to read through all your e-mails and documents to look for interesting things. Avoid long threads and stick with short, clear e-mails. Lots of one-liners leads to situations where a vague line looks incriminating when taken out of context.

Re:Beware of Litigation! (3, Insightful)

Vicarius (1093097) | more than 6 years ago | (#22138256)

I would rather have a long chain of evidence that protects me personally, so when the shit hits the fan and ligitation starts, I have something to prove that it did not happen due to my incompetence.

Re:Beware of Litigation! (5, Funny)

orclevegam (940336) | more than 6 years ago | (#22138288)

I would rather have a long chain of evidence that protects me personally, so when the shit hits the fan and ligitation starts, I have something to prove that it did not happen due to my incompetence.
I avoid e-mail whenever possible, so that when the shit hits the fan they can't even prove I was in the office.

Re:Beware of Litigation! (2, Insightful)

modir (66559) | more than 6 years ago | (#22138572)

You can still keep all your emails. But there is IMHO no reason to keep every sent message within one email.

Spelling and Grammar (2, Funny)

KermodeBear (738243) | more than 6 years ago | (#22138204)

I just wish that my co-workers could learn to spell and use decent grammar. Not would, could.

Re:Spelling and Grammar (1)

morgan_greywolf (835522) | more than 6 years ago | (#22138360)

I just wish that my co-workers could learn to spell and use decent grammar. Not would, could.
Hey, wow! When did you get a job at Slashdot????

Re:Spelling and Grammar (5, Funny)

gEvil (beta) (945888) | more than 6 years ago | (#22138388)

I just wish that my co-workers could learn to spell and use decent grammar.

Yeah, taht's my biggest complaint. They should of learned grammer in school.

Get gmail (0)

emj (15659) | more than 6 years ago | (#22138212)

That will solve most problems with quotations..

Re:Get gmail (4, Funny)

TheRaven64 (641858) | more than 6 years ago | (#22138324)

Yes, sending confidential commercial information via a third party is an excellent recommendation and one I fully endorse. I also suggest you use MSN Messenger for shorter conversations.

Re:Get gmail (1)

emj (15659) | more than 6 years ago | (#22138390)

Just use PGP if you want more safe guards, you can never trust email anyway. If you do trust email, then please use MSN or jabber as well.

The truth is that nothing competes with gmail like interfaces atm, pine and mutt are very very fast but that's the only thing they have got going for them.

Re:Get gmail (1)

supersnail (106701) | more than 6 years ago | (#22138426)

Well at least with gmail you pretty much no the route your e-mail took.

Do you know which ISPs router/switches your external e-mail took to get to the recipient?

If you are that paranoid then use encryption.

It's Free..... (2, Insightful)

Finallyjoined!!! (1158431) | more than 6 years ago | (#22138214)

Because the perception that email is "free" nobody in management really cares. The only thing they worry about is inappropriate stuff.

Yes, they need educating.

Different tool (5, Insightful)

orclevegam (940336) | more than 6 years ago | (#22138224)

Sounds like what you really need is a company IM server. Install a Jabber server and client for the company LAN and you'll probably have a lot less 1 line e-mails as it's just easier to handle that sort of thing over e-mail. They're using e-mail as something it isn't designed for because they don't have anything better. If that doesn't fix it, I guess you could always LART a few key personnel. Maybe you could put a filter on the e-mail server that rejects any message less than 100 characters (non-quoted) and just tell everyone it's a new spam filter.

Re:Different tool (1)

morgan_greywolf (835522) | more than 6 years ago | (#22138404)

Or Microsoft Office Communicator. *cringe*.

Re:Different tool (1)

masdog (794316) | more than 6 years ago | (#22138566)

It can't be any worse than Lotus Sametime.

Re:Different tool (1)

orclevegam (940336) | more than 6 years ago | (#22138654)

It can't be any worse than Lotus Sametime.
After having been afflicted with Sametime I tend to agree. As an aside, there's a Pidgin plugin for using Sametime protocol, so you can at least get away from that craptastic client that crashes randomly.

Re:Different tool (3, Funny)

hansamurai (907719) | more than 6 years ago | (#22138410)

That's a really good idea.

This text added to reach the 100 character minimum so that it isn't marked as spam.

Re:Different tool (0, Redundant)

coolGuyZak (844482) | more than 6 years ago | (#22138578)

I agree.

Lameness filter encountered. Post aborted!
Reason: You can type more than that for your comment.

Re:Different tool (5, Insightful)

sobachatina (635055) | more than 6 years ago | (#22138434)

Exactly, people are using email because that is all they have.

I work in a fairly large group and we have several methods of communication:

IM- for talking to one person right now.
Email- for messages- Or conversations of a very temporary nature- like "where should we go for lunch"
PHPBB- for almost all question/answer type communication. This is extremely helpful because the experienced architects and build team can give advice or answer questions just once.
Wiki- For internal documentation and build instructions.

Since we setup the wiki and BB our email traffic has been drastically reduced. The only emails to the entire group that I see anymore are to welcome new people and announce donuts.

Re:Different tool (5, Informative)

samkass (174571) | more than 6 years ago | (#22138482)

Note that if you're a publicly traded company, SarbOx requires that your IM server keep logs of all employee correspondence for a certain amount of time. There are several Jabber/XMPP servers that can be configured to conform to SarbOx, but I'm not aware of any which do with a default install. You really don't want to be the one sent to jail when you can't produce the requested IM records during the court proceedings.

Re:Different tool (1)

orclevegam (940336) | more than 6 years ago | (#22138558)

I usually start by installing a plugin to my IM client that creates a secure encrypted tunnel over whatever IM protocol I'm using. Doesn't matter if they log it, as much like SSH they can't reconstruct the contents of the conversation after the fact. Also handy if your boss is snooping on your IM traffic and you don't want him seeing you badmouthing him to the guy in the next cubicle over.

Re:Different tool (1)

kcbanner (929309) | more than 6 years ago | (#22138726)

I think the idea isn't packet sniffing but actual logging of the messages in the server software.

Re:Different tool (1)

MrNemesis (587188) | more than 6 years ago | (#22138682)

Ditto, I find IM invaluable at work. When I just need an answer to "what server does $app" live on?", I IM. When we're discussing some techie points on some projects, we email. Two different tools for two different types of communications.

All the IM stuff is logged but only in the event of an audit. Keeping all of the techie correspondents in your email means that writing the doc the night before the projects goes live (our projects tend to be short, on the order of 1-2 months so it rarely mounts up to a huge amount) is usually little more than grepping through your mailbox, pasting and making spelling/grammar corrections.

What's the problem? (5, Interesting)

rob1980 (941751) | more than 6 years ago | (#22138234)

I don't seem to be seeing much success in explaining to my co-workers what the problem is here.

Well, what is the problem? Do you just not like long e-mail threads, or is there a legitimate concern here?

Convincing them there's a legitimate problem, aside from your ideal form of etiquette, ought to be step one. Otherwise - why would random_employee_002 do anything different?

Re:What's the problem? (1)

Anne Thwacks (531696) | more than 6 years ago | (#22138486)

If the email redirects to your mobile, and your tariff charges you per byteYes there is a very big problem

Not everyone lives in the USA, and the rules are different in other countries!

(Some of us actually do roam!)

Re:What's the problem? (1)

ArsenneLupin (766289) | more than 6 years ago | (#22138564)

The problem is that the more the conversation goes on, you have to wade through a longer and longer rat's tail of irrelevant stale quoting.

But really, should that be your problem? Remember, these are professional mails, which you do not read on your own time, but on company time. If it takes you 3 times as long to read it, than so be it. It's not your time lost, it's your boss'es. Just make sure you don't stay one second longer because of these mails. If somebody brings up your low productivity, then, in some calm and measured voice, explain why. And then let them judge whether it is indeed a problem or not.

Forum (2, Insightful)

xtracto (837672) | more than 6 years ago | (#22138242)

Just configure an *inernal* phpBB (and secure it FTLOG!!) forum and make people post there. If you have long conversation threads then it might be good to have them in a forum instead of clogging the mail (and that way you can prevent mail leaks.

anonymous coward (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22138244)

Who will be the first to reply with a short one-liner quioting someone else's reply?

V Droll

Re:anonymous coward (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22138612)

Who will be the first to reply with a short one-liner quioting someone else's reply?

V Droll
That would be dumb.

Me too! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22138258)

Full quotes are just a fact these days, and as much as I hate them, they're there for a reason: With role accounts and many concurrent tasks, people simply need a quick way to see the "history" of an email exchange, beyond their own mail account. The inclusion of everything isn't so much for themselves, it's for their colleague who eventually takes over the thread.

And your point is? (5, Insightful)

phaze3000 (204500) | more than 6 years ago | (#22138266)

Email is a tool. The job of IT is to support that tool and help people use that tool effectively. If you think employees are using IT non-optimally because of lack of training, arrange training. If employees of the company think these one line emails are the best use of the technology even after you've trained them effectively, let them get on with it.

If your problem is that your mail server can't handle all these mails, it's time to upgrade the mail server and/or switch to different software.

Part of the problem (3, Insightful)

Aram Fingal (576822) | more than 6 years ago | (#22138276)

Part of the problem is that there are two distinct ways people commonly do quotations in email. The quick and lazy way is to just hit reply, quoting the sender's entire message below, and write your reply above. The more precise way is to quote specific lines from the original message and write your reply below each set of lines. What I really hate is when the two methods get mixed. For example, I use the more precise method to reply to a message and the someone else quotes the whole thing with their reply above, the message goes through another round or two of replies and then gets forwarded on to someone else who was not one of the original recipients. Good luck figuring out the track of the conversation.

Re: Corporate Email Etiquette - Dead or Alive? (5, Funny)

phobos13013 (813040) | more than 6 years ago | (#22138290)

no

{Unclassified}

-----Original Message-----
From: mbravo@spb.ru
Sent: January 22, 2008, 10:39AM
To: Slashdot-all@slashdot.org; phobos13013@corporate-email.com; digg-all@digg.com; bob2074@dobbs.com; bob@aol.com;
Subject: Corporate Email Etiquette - Dead or Alive?


"I work in a largish company, heavily into IT, and in a complex and quickly changing market. Employees are predominantly in the 30 or younger age-bracket, and as you might expect we rely on a lot of internal e-mail. Despite that, lately I'm finding myself increasingly frustrated by a complete lack of e-mail etiquette in the company. A typical thread might look like a hundred-message-long chain of one-line replies, with full quoting and hundreds of recipients in the 'To:' field. It feels like it is happening more and more often. I don't seem to be seeing much success in explaining to my co-workers what the problem is here. How do you deal with this at your place of business, and does your company care? Does the company take any policing or educating measures?"

i don't get it (1)

pezpunk (205653) | more than 6 years ago | (#22138294)

i don't understand. are we actually concerned, in 2008, about consuming excess disk space and bandwidth because of simple text? sure, it adds up, but unless people are passing around big bulky attachements, i have a hard time believing over-quoted email text is a big corporate burden. it would seem to me worth the resources to have the entire conversation right there on the same page within scrolling distance.

(granted, gmail does it better, but not all of our employers are as enlightened in that regard.)

Re:i don't get it (2, Interesting)

wizardforce (1005805) | more than 6 years ago | (#22138576)

this has nothing to do with email consuming disk space, this is about the fact that a lot of people who use email at the work place don't bother to clean up their emails. they already have a copy of everything said beforehand, so they don't need to clutter the next one with the entirety of what has already been said. Their spelling and/or grammar should be expected to be readable by another human being. Private emails are casual, work emails OTOH should be more professional.

E-mail vs. chat... (2, Interesting)

TofuMatt (1105351) | more than 6 years ago | (#22138296)

It depends... the people in the office who only use e-mail to communicate are often the ones I get one-line e-mails with bad grammar and no signatures, etc., from. However, a lot of us use an office-wide Jabber system now, so I increasingly get brief messages or requests over iChat. Unless I'm just really quickly rattling off an e-mail from my iPod or something, I make sure to treat an e-mail much more formally than I suspect many others do. Working in government, it's considered an official gov't document/record, so I tend to treat it more officially than a quick chat message.

different modes of collaboration (2, Interesting)

v_1_r_u_5 (462399) | more than 6 years ago | (#22138308)

try a wiki, a forum, a social-networking solution akin to facebook, IMs or other online chats, extranets, online live documents (like writely/google docs), whatever. email is an outdated medium. try "collaborative software" in ask.com

Re:different modes of collaboration (1)

JaredOfEuropa (526365) | more than 6 years ago | (#22138744)

try a wiki, a forum, a social-networking solution akin to facebook, IMs or other online chats, extranets, online live documents (like writely/google docs), whatever. email is an outdated medium. try "collaborative software" in ask.com
This is what one of my clients (a large corporation) has done. They have a Wiki, a forum, IM, and yes: email and phones too. They also educate employees on the proper use of each, with a few simple rules. Examples for email:
- To: people who need to take action. Cc: people who need to know. Be careful with the Reply-All button
- If you suspect that your reply to an email will prompt further questions, or if you have questions about the email, it is probably better to call the originator rather than continue mailing him.

Those two rules alone go a long way towards preventing discussions by email.

By the way, I do not consider email to be an outdated medium. It is still the person-to-person communication method of choice for us... don't forget that emails get through even if the addressee is not at his desk, and emails can be stored easily in personal, corporate or project archives. Email is a good "push" medium in the sense that it prompts the addressee for action. It is also a good medium to reach people outside the company, and unlike forums, IM or Wikis it is truly universal. The mail gets there no matter if the user uses Outlook, Gmail, Yahoo or whatever.

Stop using email for all electronic communications (3, Insightful)

Vellmont (569020) | more than 6 years ago | (#22138318)

It sounds like you're using email when you should be using another, or several different technologies.

Look into putting up an IM server, a wiki, blogs, online discussion groups, etc. Email is poorly suited to the kind of long-running threads you're talking about. One size does NOT fit all.

Re:Stop using email for all electronic communicati (1)

Quiet_Desperation (858215) | more than 6 years ago | (#22138408)

It sounds like you're using email when you should be using another, or several different technologies.

Yeah, like speech. I hear it's getting pretty advanced now. You can use those new fangled electromagnetophone things.

voice mail (1)

emj (15659) | more than 6 years ago | (#22138532)

It's funny because I find voice mail extremly unhelpfull. An email is so much better because it's very easy to gloss over, but an voicemail requires your whole attention and you still need to write it down if you are going to send it to someone else.

Or perhaps you have an easy way of doing forward with voicemail, would be fun.. ;-)

Re:Stop using email for all electronic communicati (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22138614)

One size does NOT fit all


Dear Vellmont,

Bullshit. [amazon.com]

Sincerely,
FZ

samething in my work place (1)

denisbergeron (197036) | more than 6 years ago | (#22138330)

Everything is in the title and the joke in the body !
"I work in a largish company, heavily into IT, and in a complex and quickly changing market. Employees are predominantly in the 30 or younger age-bracket, and as you might expect we rely on a lot of internal e-mail. Despite that, lately I'm finding myself increasingly frustrated by a complete lack of e-mail etiquette in the company. A typical thread might look like a hundred-message-long chain of one-line replies, with full quoting and hundreds of recipients in the 'To:' field. It feels like it is happening more and more often. I don't seem to be seeing much success in explaining to my co-workers what the problem is here. How do you deal with this at your place of business, and does your company care? Does the company take any policing or educating measures?"

Slow day? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22138334)

Not much else going on today? Hey, maybe we could start an email chain on it.

Uninstall Outlook (1)

eulernet (1132389) | more than 6 years ago | (#22138344)

If you have any power in your company, just try to force uninstallation of Outlook.

Outlook 2007 generates large mails, with plenty of RTF parts and weird attachments (especially when you put pictures in your mail).

Oh, and tell them that they won't receive a phone from Nokia or money from Bill Gates if they forward their mail to 100+ people (cf hoaxbuster.com).

Management (1)

hob42 (41735) | more than 6 years ago | (#22138346)

The corporate environment I'm in rather encourages this. First of all, you copy as many people as possible to CYA - my direct boss specifically asks to be CC'd on anything I send out of department, others include their bosses on the replies, sometimes adding a couple of VPs if they think there might be a person to blame for something or another, and so it piles up.

Also, it's considered "proper" to top-post and include all prior emails in the chain so that one can easily reference previous points of the conversation without searching through Outlook. I was the only person in my circle of correspondance that trimmed my replies, so I gave up bothering. Someone was bound to get upset at me for it, at some point.

Re:Management (1)

clifyt (11768) | more than 6 years ago | (#22138646)

"First of all, you copy as many people as possible to CYA..."

At least CC'ing anyone directly responsible for the work. I know I have to deal with several departments on projects and I need others to sign off on changes...or at least be in the loop so that if they don't like the changes, I can tell them they were notified 3 months earlier and it is their own damn problem they didn't respond then.

"I was the only person in my circle of correspondance that trimmed my replies..."

In corporate email, I'd probably be pretty pissed if I got a message trimmed without all the details. C'mon...it is 2008...even a few hundred lines of text are not taking up that much space on the server. I generally trim the parts that need responding to and prepend them to my message with my comments or action items that I or others need to take care of. The previous writing is left intact below for context.

All in all, it isn't CYA, it is clarity in the situation. Some people look at the negative side of things and I've had bosses that would come back to me 6 months to a year later and ask why something was done or wasn't done...and yeah, I've had to pull out the CYA and show them where THEY changed the rules (only to 'forget' about the request), but 'CYA' is far too negative an approach. Consider it documentation for the future in as unambiguous means as possible.

Re:Management (1)

timftbf (48204) | more than 6 years ago | (#22138702)

ACK. I repeatedly get asked why I send my emails "all funny" - that is quote-trimmed, converted from HTML to plain text, bottom-posted (or interleave-posted if it's something that requires separate responses to several points). It's definitely a case of people brought up on Outlook / Exchange not knowing that there's any other way than top-posted, quote-everything, usually in blue MS Comic Sans *spit*.

You have to be stern (4, Funny)

Quiet_Desperation (858215) | more than 6 years ago | (#22138356)

How do you deal with this at your place of business

Beatings and electrocutions. It may work differently outside the gulag, but I wouldn't know.

We're experimenting with other methods. Here's a picture [theseventhvoyage.com] of our recent IT hires. We give them free reign in deciding disciplinary actions.

Re: Corporate E-mail ettiquite (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22138370)

> "I work in a largish company, heavily into IT, and in a complex and quickly changing market.
> Employees are predominantly in the 30 or younger age-bracket, and as you might expect we
> rely on a lot of internal e-mail. Despite that, lately I'm finding myself increasingly frustrated
> by a complete lack of e-mail etiquette in the company. A typical thread might look like a
> hundred-message-long chain of one-line replies, with full quoting and hundreds of recipients in
> the 'To:' field. It feels like it is happening more and more often. I don't seem to be seeing
> much success in explaining to my co-workers what the problem is here. How do you deal with this
> at your place of business, and does your company care? Does the company take any policing or
> educating measures?"

no.

(blank) (1)

Stanistani (808333) | more than 6 years ago | (#22138378)

Thing that annoyed me were emails with no subject - how do you prioritize answering them?

I set up a rule that made a subject mandatory.

include body text (1)

emj (15659) | more than 6 years ago | (#22138456)

That's why you include the body of the email in the short listing of your emails.

Short answer: Yes. Long answer: Yes, absolutely. (1)

Qbertino (265505) | more than 6 years ago | (#22138386)

It is mainly for this reason that I consider email a third-class means of communication, even below sticky-notes attached to the desk.

Is there a problem? (1)

EB FE (1208132) | more than 6 years ago | (#22138392)

Are you saying there's something wrong with including the original texts in the reply? That feature was intended to give one-line messages context when replies take a while or when someone new is introduced into an ongoing discussion.

hmm (1)

pak9rabid (1011935) | more than 6 years ago | (#22138460)

Sounds like things are sailing along smoothly at this company (or his priorities are in the wrong place) if this is the worst of what this guy has to worry about.

E-mail Conversations (3, Insightful)

rumblin'rabbit (711865) | more than 6 years ago | (#22138468)

My problem is e-mail conversations, with 20 e-mails going back and forth. Cause I'm a manager, people think they have to include me in on the conversation so I can "stay in the loop".

People, have your conversation, come to some conclusions, and e-mail me a brief summary.

Well, is the email crap stuff (1)

varmittang (849469) | more than 6 years ago | (#22138488)

What I mean is it not business related or is it business related. I work for a small company of about 25, and I setup an internal Jabber server to allow people to talk to each other, and create group sessions, without sending on stupid email stuff that doesn't really need to be sent. Keeps them off AOL or Yahoo messenger and talking to others outside the company. But email etiquette really isn't dead, just the one liners are sometimes all that is needed. I ask for something to get approved for purchase and most times I get a "Get it done" reply back. Its just that people don't have anything else to say, or need to say anything else to have their reply mean anything. And the long list of the email being resent is just because people just hit the reply-all button and it includes the whole email thread, which could mean just bad programming and not bad etiquette.

Maybe I'm being redundant, but... (1)

WaroDaBeast (1211048) | more than 6 years ago | (#22138498)

It sounds like either your co-workers don't know what etiquette is (or don't want to use it). Anyhow, maybe a forum would be the solution. Anything real time like IRC would be very hard to moderate (bots might not do everything you need), but a forum wouldn't.

Plus if you do create a forum, you guys will be able to post rules and whatnot, which could lead to some of employees to follow them and if they don't, well... They should have read 'em.

Netiquette (1)

Wowsers (1151731) | more than 6 years ago | (#22138500)

Email bloat, what about when someone emails you from MegCorp with a one line reply, but then has a 40 line legal disclaimer underneath (longest one I ever got). If you want to display company policy, give a web link for anyone that gives a damn, stop making the email so damn long.

I do two things (1)

gullevek (174152) | more than 6 years ago | (#22138524)

I have groups set up, where you can only see two things, the sender and the group as to, even if you reply to all, there will be one, or max two mails. If the To user was in the group, he will get only one mail.

If I get mails inside those "one line above, full quote bottom", I just cut everything below the quote, and reply in the good old style. At least I put a "break" into such threads.

But actually, most quick things get decided via Jabber (in house server) anyway ... I don't have so much mail-hundreds-long-threads anymore as I had in one of my older companies.

Sounds like you need IM, and some policies (1)

sco_robinso (749990) | more than 6 years ago | (#22138536)

Sounds like you're knocking on IM's door. People have recommended a few solutions here like Jabber, Skype, etc. All can help to keep the email trails clean. It is also quite convenient to have company wide IM.

If you're not tied to any sort of email provider or system currently, Google Apps (gmail for your domain) could be a good solution. I implemented it at my last shop (40 people, young, technology oriented company), and it proved fairly useful.

Beyond that, no technology will ever replace good, thoughtful policies regarding email communication. There's always something to be said about implementing company wide policies regarding proper communication (i.e. no reply-to-all one liners like "sound good"). You'll always have a group of people who communicate in their own ways, but even making mention of how messy it gets starts to remind people to be a little more thoughtful of what they send. Often, the act of merely mentioning 'more thoughtful communication' is a big start.

Also, depending on your needs, perhaps some sort of Wiki / Sharepoint collaboration system might be what's needed. I implemented a Sharepoint / Intranet solution for a client and email communication went way down, simply from people having a common internal intranet solution for company communication.

There's no one magical bullet, but there are definitely some proven techniques to keep things clean.

I'm slightly confused (1)

DJ Jones (997846) | more than 6 years ago | (#22138568)

What exactly is the problem? The fact that co-workers are writing large emails or the fact that they aren't using CC and BCC fields? Because honestly, those are more personal preferences than "de-facto" rules in regards to email. Email is great for topics that are too large or complex to be discussed over the phone in a reasonable amount of time. In that case, emails can justly become rather large.

And too many contacts in the "to" field? Really? I think your nit-picking might be the real problem here.

Now, the real issue with emails today is that kids out of college cannot spell for their life and they have no sense of how to conduct themselves in a business situation. In the extent that that extends to their emails, yes it's a problem.

Abortions for some, small American flags for others.

Disable "Reply to All" (3, Insightful)

redelm (54142) | more than 6 years ago | (#22138586)

... that's all it takes [plus limited access to distro lists]. Yes, it's is a PITA for some cases, but to curb abule, the innocent usually suffer.


Trimming the top-posting is slightly less important-- people just delete the previous messages to have a nice archive. That is, if someone didn't trim early!

Re:Disable "Reply to All" (1)

Pontiac (135778) | more than 6 years ago | (#22138716)

I just wish people would learn the difference between "Reply" and "Reply to all"

We had a reply storm of "please remove me from this list" after 1 person got sick of downtime notifications.

After that We locked down the All Staff list but then someone really wanted to reply so he expended the sub lists and replied to all of them.

Funny how they never reply after I tell them that quick nasty "I'm so sick of these messages, remove me now!!" bitch letter went to over 1,000 people including the CEO

Agree with the problem (2, Interesting)

deep_creek (1001191) | more than 6 years ago | (#22138616)

An email sent to say 20 folks in the morning... half hit "reply" and the other half hit "reply all". By the afternoon my inbox is filled with all types of conversation, etc... on the topic. I then spend/waste my time trying to get everyone back on the same "page". More time is wasted following emails all over the place than actually working on the topic the email originally addressed. Everyone I've spoken to agrees with the frustrations and wasted time, but nothing is done to correct it because one or two big-wigs think that that is the best way for them to be kept informed of what is going on. (?) My only solution thus far is to call actual person-to-person meetings, make actual office visits, etc... This is increasingly becoming more efficient as To/CC box address lists become even larger. Maybe I should just send all my emails as "global". :)

Yes. (1)

Aladrin (926209) | more than 6 years ago | (#22138666)

The company I work for deals directly with customers a lot. At least 1 person has been fired for their inability (I assume it was not unwillingness, after all the talks and customer complaints over a -year-) to communicate properly via email.

Intra-office communication is a little more lax, but the basic etiquette rules are always followed.

The problem is not the employees but the employers. If they don't want proper etiquette, there's nothing you can do about it. If they do, they have been very lax and may just not see the problem any more. In the end, it's in their hands, not yours.

Just Do What I Do (1)

pandrijeczko (588093) | more than 6 years ago | (#22138692)

If I receive a long email trail that someone somewhere is expecting me to act upon and which is unnecessarily long and convoluted, I just book a conference bridge and invite all the important parties to talk to me instead.

It never seems to be a problem for anyone since they know I'm prepared to take the problem seriously and do my best to fix it, plus I can ask the questions I need to, get answers quickly and make notes.

Email is useful to highlight an initial problem and who knows anything about that problem, but when there needs to be a lot more wordage, nothing is quicker than the telephone and people talking.

Dead (4, Insightful)

Mr_Silver (213637) | more than 6 years ago | (#22138714)

Email etiquette is dead. Has been for years. Some things I've noticed which contributed to its decline:

  • People putting everyone in the "To" line which means that Outlook highlights that email in a different colour (according to my setup) because it's assumed that I'm being asked for something.
  • Putting two John's in the "to:" line and then addressing the email to "John". Which one?
  • Microsoft Outlook which positively encourages people to top quote.
  • People using the excuse that being on a Blackberry means that they can not use any punctuation or capitalisation.
  • Inserting large graphical images as the signature. I saw one of an animated Betty Boop. WTF?
  • Using the stationary functionality to give me a mock background image of a paper pad. Why?
  • Use of Comic Sans as a font.
  • Sending out messages with high priority set on a far too regular basis. High priority is for just that, if you use it all the time then it loses its meaning.

There is probably more but I can't think of them right now. The main problem is that no-one is taught any etiquette and (as they've never used UNIX or posted in news forums) they haven't had any kind of etiquette forced on them by an application or verbally beaten into them by some irate news group member.

Blame Outlook (1)

Black Art (3335) | more than 6 years ago | (#22138736)

The reason that people in corporations top post is because Outlook pretty much forces you to top post. Since so many companies use it, it has become the "norm".

Getting companies to handle sane quoting is going to take a big change from Microsoft and a big cultural shift. I don't expect it any time soon. The habits are far too ingrained at this point.

(And, yes, I know where are plug-ins/hacks for Outlook that reformat e-mail. I have yet to get any of them to work. They seem to be based on a loophole that was plugged in later versions of Outlook. I have yet to find anyone who has gotten them to work.)
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