by April 1, 1999 0 comments

Cyberspace is really a new culture. And it’s one where
we’re still trying to find our feet. The past few years have hurled the world
headlong at breakneck speed, into a degree of connectedness and accessibility which is
changing the way we do almost everything. Who’s in charge? What are the rules? No
one–and we have to make the rules as we go along unless we want to interact in a
chaotic, anarchic, unpredictable dimension for the next few foreseeable years.
Angry1.JPG (13668 bytes)

Netizens have been putting together the rules of
appropriate behavior on the Internet for some time now. They fondly call it Netiquette.
Try sending a seasoned Net user some e-mail typed in ALL CAPS. The response will be
immediate–a sharp online rap on the knuckles informing you that All Caps amounts to
shouting in the online world. And you thought it would make things more readable. Such
rules already run into pages and pages (found online with simple searches) and aren’t
restricted to how e-mail is used but extend to the way Websites are made, messages are
posted to newsgroups, chain mail and more. These rules cannot be ignored. Especially not
by businesses that plan to work online, using e-mail and Websites. Here are some of the
most important for working, e-mailing people.

You’ve got mail:
e-mail and the Internet is going to be critical to the very survival of businesses around
the world. The sooner you get to grips with online communication the better. Used
effectively, e-mail can cut down on time and costs–so meet your colleagues halfway by
staying in touch. If you’re a technophobe, get over it. The fact that you get mail
electronically is no excuse for ignoring it. Reading work e-mail is a professional
responsibility just like answering your phone at the office. If someone you’re
e-mailing doesn’t respond, use the return receipt feature on your mail system. If you
send important mail and it’s not read in a reasonable amount of time, follow up with
a phone call. If you still get nowhere, send another e-mail note and copy to your own boss
(if you just want to keep yourself out of trouble) or the other person’s boss (if you
want to get the other person in trouble). Warning: Copy a manager only when it’s
really important that your information gets through. It’s a technique guaranteed to
make you unpopular with the person.

Mail to the world: You
may well think sending mass mail is a good business tactic. In reality, it’s one of
the rudest things you can do online. And it’s called Spam. Consider what you’re
doing–sending mail to someone you’re not sure wants it, giving the person no
choice at all. If you think your one little message won’t make a difference and it
can always be deleted, think again. Add up all similar messages and that’s quite a
lot of deleting to do each day. Sending unsolicited mail is also a violation of privacy. A
better business strategy is to make sure those who are looking for you find you.

Who are you anyway? An
anonymous sender, a suppressed list of other recipients, no subject. That’s a quick
way to ensure your mail and whatever proposal or offer that goes with it, is not taken
seriously, if at all. Depersonalized and inconsiderate, such mail only says: I don’t
care who you are and you don’t need to know who I am, you have to go through my
entire message to figure out why I’m sending this to you–but pay me good money.

With a lot of attachment:
Consider this–you have a few minutes to download your mail before youAngry5.JPG (13666 bytes)
rush off for a meeting; you’re waiting for an important file to come through;
you’re not able to think straight from the phone calls coming in. But just when
you’re in a steaming hurry, your mail is taking forever to download. Bad connection?
Or bad sender? Respect others’ bandwidth as you would have them respect yours. Next
time you send out an attachment with your mail, stop to double check if: a) the recipient
really wants it. b) you can lighten the load–for instance, reduce a fat bmp to a jpg
or gif. Never send an unexplained attachment. A message that says “Dear friend,
please see attachment” with no further ado, should be hurled straight into infinity.
It could be a virus. Politely explain what the attachment contains and why you’re
sending it. When sending attachments to colleagues, restrict this to those who are not on
the same network. For co-workers on the same network, send a filename and path instead.

Fifty e-mail addresses!

Almost every e-mail program lets you send e-mail via blind carbon copy. This is a very
good tool if you are going to send e-mail to multiple individuals. The problem comes when
you e-mail something to a whole bunch of people and their addresses appear in the headers
of the e-mail. Not only is it annoying to have to go through address after address it also
fails to protect people’s privacy.

And I quote… When
responding to other users, it’s very useful to quote some of what they’ve said
in order to provide context for your response. However, it’s not at all useful to
quote their entire message unless you are responding to the whole thing.
Furthermore, it’s completely unnecessary to quote someone’s signature unless
you’re responding directly to it. It’s also really not at all fun to see an
entire 100-line message quoted only to see “I agree” at the end of the message.

Look before you…oops! The
Internet abounds with horror stories of e-mail disasters (try All because
people were a little bit too hasty with the reply, reply to all, or forward buttons. Nasty
wisecracks about a colleague have gone out to company-wide addresses, extra-marital but
in-house affairs have been laid bare before an unsuspecting world and people have been
fired forthwith because of their legendary clicking speed with the mouse. Interestingly,
everyone thinks it’s something that can only happen to someone else.

One for you, and one for you, and
one for you:
A colleague says something that totally gets your goat.
What’s the best way to get back? Embarrass him nice and good by copying his message
and your clever answer to the rest of the company. Easy enough to do–and very
difficult to undo. In one instant, you’ll have earned yourself enough mistrust to
last you a few months, inhibiting further interaction. Don’t waste your
colleagues’ time by copying them notes that don’t affect them. On the other
hand, do keep them informed about projects they’re working on. Don’t assume that
they already know what’s happening.
angry10.JPG (13243 bytes)

What’s this about? Many
people just don’t bother with putting anything in the subject line of their e-mail.
Or they’ll put in something generic and vague because it just seems too much effort
to think of a subject. Put in intelligent subject headers and not something like
"message from admin" which is obvious enough to begin with. Smart headers will
help colleagues identify messages quickly later when they need to act upon them. It’s
specially important to put in meaningful headers if you’re exchanging a lot of mail
on one subject. Rather than having to go through fifteen messages that say "3rd
quarter results" your colleagues should be able to identify what is it that
you’re saying about those 3rd quarter results. Stick to the point and avoid
irrelevant history and material in your work related mail.

Other rules:

  • Use a short, polite auto-response if you’re away and
    will not be able to check your mail for a certain time.
  • Think before you give out someone else’s e-mail
  • Respect other people’s time—send mail only when it
    needs to be sent.
  • Don’t come free with the e-mail. A peculiar trend in
    offices is to send someone mail and then to bound into their offices to inform you’ve
    just sent them mail. Or call them up, wasting some good phone time. If you think the
    message you’re sending looks so unimportant that no one will read it, send a note
    explaining why it’s important. If it’s not important, don’t send it.
  • Try not to send a string of related messages in a row
    because you forgot an important point (for example, the time or date of a meeting), or
    re-send the same document several times because you corrected an error. But remember that
    it’s easier on your readers (as well as making you look better) if you get it right
    the first time.
  • If your mail is not being stored locally on your hard disk,
    make sure you delete it periodically.
  • If you’re sending mail that shows your company name, be
    sure to remember you’re representing your company. Don’t send anything that you
    feel opposes company opinions and policy.
  • Avoid company related gossip on newsgroups and mailing
    lists. This can be an area of potential and large scale disaster.

No Comments so far

Jump into a conversation

No Comments Yet!

You can be the one to start a conversation.