Email and messaging in the new normal

One of the biggest (and most obvious) pandemic changes for businesses is that so little communication is now face to face. Teams that used to be cooped up together (with all the comms benefits that implies) are now scattered to the four winds, often reliant on email, instant messaging, and texts for much of their interactions.

This makes it an excellent moment to revisit ‘good messaging etiquette’ in light of a world under COVID.

Tone of voice

In conversation, tone of voice contains part of the message, hinting at (or revealing) the feelings or motives that accompany the words. In written communication, we infer the tone, but it’s a lot easier to get it  wrong. Too casual? Too brief? Too lengthy? Too dull? Too relaxed? … The perfect tone depends on the message you’re trying to convey and the person you’re conveying it to. The good news is you know your colleagues, so you’re not exactly messaging blind. Don’t tread on eggshells, but do take a moment to consider your choice of words and phrasing, and what could be read into your message, before clicking SEND. After all, we’re all living more stressful lives right now.

Beginnings & Endings

We all know first impressions count and how you start (and finish) your emails can make a difference, as shown in a May 2020 survey by online recruitment specialists Zety. When asked about the most irritating openers, 64% didn’t like “Hey there”, 57% weren’t in favour of a simple “Hey”, and at the other end of the formality scale, “To whom it may concern” was unpopular with 52% of respondents. But the least favourite (68%) was using no greeting at all. So, not too casual, not too formal. A simple “Good morning/afternoon” or just “Hello” were the most popular with 80+% approval.

For signing off, the classics “Regards” and “Best wishes” were unpopular (and let’s face, as phrases they are definitely in the category of ‘Meaningless Social Conventions’ these days). Instead, casual and friendly seems the way to go, with “Have a great day” and the straightforward “Thank you” being the most well-received.

Fewer ‘cryptic’ messages

Email may be the electronic substitute or equivalent for writing a letter, but the ‘replacement’ for conversation is more likely to be an instant messaging system, such as Slack. That’s fine but as the communication channel gets less formal, so do the messages. For some businesses, their Slack channel might read more like a Twitter thread to an outsider.

However, short or one-word contributions might work when you’re all sat together, but they don’t always fly for a distributed team that might be hundreds of miles apart. The environment is different, less ideal, and stress levels are up. Any message that you don’t immediately understand potentially becomes a stressor. It may not be much extra stress but it can add up.

So, before you send that one-word in-joke, or reply to a colleague solely in emojis, or check if someone’s available by just typing “Hey?”, take an extra second to consider your colleague before you inadvertently add to their stress.

Should you set some ground rules?

If you feel the team would benefit, absolutely. It’s important any rules be consensual, preferably communal; but if you know there are things that work (and don’t work) for you and your people, it’s often worth putting that down in writing as a guide for all.

But… having established a few rules, keep them open to early review. It’s inevitable that even if everyone sticks to the rules, there’ll be specific instances or usages that will bug people (probably stuff that never occurred to anyone during the rule-setting). These are often small details, particular words or phrases, or perhaps a question of timing (They always call me 5 minutes before I clock out!) but left unattended, they can fester. So record these little irritations in order to tackle them sooner rather than later. Think of it as bug reporting for a new piece of software… you’ve set your beta version rules and you’re inviting the whole team to identify improvements so you can launch version 2.0 as early as possible.

If you’re interested in the support available for teams during furlough, lockdown and/or the New Normal, check out our range of webinars; Or just give us a call on 01582 463463. We’re here to help.

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