THINK BEFORE YOU TYPE

E-mail gaffes are the high-tech generation’s
new office faux pas

According to a recent study, e-mail has overtaken the phone as the business communication medium of choice — and as a result, companies need to be savvy about how they use (or misuse) the medium.

by Dan Hiestand
   For many, Christmas is a time of generosity.
   Even so, some things should not be given — no matter the time of year — said David Koshinz, CEO of 3D Corporation, a business technology company in Bellingham.
   Particularly, he said, the disclosure of e-mail addresses to strangers.
   “There was one software manufacturer who sent out a Christmas greeting (to our company), and sent out his whole e-mail list with it,” Koshinz recalled. “So there were hundreds of people on his list who could have used (the addresses) for whatever.”
   This obviously didn’t sit well with Koshinz, whose company works to integrate technology with business — including the setup of secure e-mail networks for clients that keep out hackers and spammers.
   Koshinz said inappropriate e-mail disclosure is just one of many items on a list of bad habits that e-mailers often display — behavior that can have an impact, because e-mail has become the most popular way for businesspeople to communicate with each other.

The keys to good keyboard etiquette
   In the last few years, e-mail has overtaken the phone as the business communication medium of choice. According to a study developed by OfficeTeam published in January that polled business leaders around the country, managers use the telephone 13 percent of the time today compared to other modes of communication, down from 48 percent just five years ago. E-mail usage, on the other hand, has increased from 27 percent five years ago to 71 percent today.
   “E-mail is my primary mode of communication,” Koshinz said. “If somebody wants to get a hold of me, they will probably get me quicker via e-mail than via the telephone, because my days are filled with meetings.”
   This is why e-mail etiquette is so important today, said Judy McCoy, international vice president of the International Association of Administrative Professionals (IAAP). The IAAP is a nonprofit organization that provides information, education and training for administrative professionals around the world.
   “It’s important because it is now your new electronic stationery and your new business card,” she said. “You’re sending out what your company looks like.”
   McCoy is also the co-owner of Camtec Precision Inc. in Bellingham. She said Camtec has a company e-mail/instant messaging policy that addresses a wide variety of etiquette issues, including message content and appearance.
   McCoy said the policy came up two years ago after an employee “misused” the company’s e-mail system. To establish the guidelines, she talked with other area companies, and gleaned information she could apply to Camtec’s situation.
   “When someone is online, they know what our rules are (because of the policy),” McCoy said. Camtec e-mails even have a legal disclaimer.
   “That’s really important today because of all the lawsuits,” McCoy said. Problems with corrupted files or even grammatical errors may occur, and a disclaimer can help, she said. “Don’t write something that you don’t want to read out loud.”
   Koshinz said he has talked to his employees about e-mail communication issues, including the importance of establishing a good connection with clients.
   “To me the biggest thing about etiquette is when it’s really impersonal,” he said. “Even though (with) e-mail you’re not face-to-face and you’re not talking, it’s still a connection, and it’s a personal connection. How do you expect to get what you want unless you make that connection?”
   And then there is spamming, a big “no-no,” according to Koshinz and McCoy.
   Koshinz said he has eight e-mail accounts divided between his home and his work, and spam happens often.
   “In the case of the work e-mails, some of the accounts are older ones I haven’t retired yet,” he said. “I have one e-mail account that I’ve probably had for over 10 years. As a result, it was on all the spammer’s lists, and I would get 300-500 spams per day.”
   This is a common breach of etiquette, according to an article in TechNewsWorld published in June that stated that 86 percent of e-mails consumers receive is estimated to be spam. A close relative of spam — the forward — should be approached with caution, Koshinz said.
   “To me, one of the big things about e-mails — especially with all the spam — is don’t waste people’s time,” Koshinz said. “I do know a few people who will forward me things that seem to be of interest to me and do it occasionally — and I appreciate that.”
   The appearance of e-mail is also important, McCoy said.
   “Our company e-mails are very clean,” she said. “I have a disclaimer on it. I have my name and how you can contact us, and I have our Web site address. And that’s all. I always start it like a letter.”
   Funky fonts and colors should be avoided as well, she said.
   Both Koshinz and McCoy like what the power of the e-mail has done for their professions.
   “I think it’s actually sped up the work environment,” McCoy said. “I think it’s made my job a lot easier.”
   Although both McCoy and Koshinz admit that e-mail does require a more timely response than the snail mail of business days long gone, both said they like the way things are now.
   “To me the power of the e-mail is that it’s an asynchronous form of communication,” Koshinz said. “The person doesn’t have to be in their office for you to communicate, and vice versa. And as our schedules get busier and busier, it’s very powerful to have a message waiting for the client, or whomever you’re communicating with when they get back, instead of playing phone tag, which tends to be a pretty inefficient use of time.”
   However, while e-mail is an integral part of his professional lifeblood, it still doesn’t beat the personal touch, Koshinz said.
   “I would say the thing I’ve learned over the years is that (e-mail) certainly can’t replace a face-to-face connection.”

Guide to common-sense e-mail usage

Business tips
   • Create a written e-mail and instant message policy to govern content and personal use.
   • Add a disclaimer to your e-mail. Example:
   “This e-mail may contain privileged and confidential material and its transmission is not a waiver of that privilege. E-mail transmission cannot be guaranteed to be secure or error free as information can be intercepted, corrupted, lost, destroyed, arrive late or incomplete, or contain viruses. (Business name) does not accept liability for any errors or omissions in the contents of this message which arise as a result of e-mail transmission. If you have received this transmission in error, please notify the sender immediately and destroy any hard copies you may have printed and remove all copies of the e-mail from your hard drive.”
   • Use automatic security features. For example, Outlook 2003 offers an Information Rights Management (IRM) functionality that helps prevent recipients of the messages you send from forwarding, copying, or printing the message. Basically, the recipient can read the message, and that’s it.
   • Back up your e-mail. They are company records.
   • Don’t forward chain letters, off-color jokes or comments on anyone’s sexual, racial, religious or ethnic characteristics.
   • Don’t criticize another business or colleague’s performance. In the wrong hands, it could damage your reputation and business and you could end up in court.

Business and personal writing tips
   • Be concise and to the point.
   • Don’t write when you’re angry – wait 24 hours.
   • Do not discuss confidential information.
   • Do not send or forward e-mails containing libelous, defamatory or offensive information.
   • Use clear subject lines.
   • Avoid long sentences.
   • Use proper spelling, grammar and punctuation.
   • Do not write in CAPITALS, and stick to normal fonts (Arial or Times New Roman).
   • Read it back before hitting “send.”
   • Use caution when using abbreviations, emoticons (e.g. LOL), graphics and favorite quotes.
   • Do not request delivery and read receipts.
   • Do not ask to recall a message. Send a simple explanation.
   • Include the message thread (change it if the topic changes).
   • Do not overuse “Reply to All.”

Source: IAAP

 

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