A grumpy mum’s guide to office email etiquette

It’s hard – if not impossible – to imagine modern working life without emails. But online communication is often as abused and mistreated as it is common.

As a busy mum, the time you spend at work or managing your business or freelance career is in short enough supply as it is, without having to cope with sloppy, rude or indecipherable emails.

Senior Product Manager, blogger and mum of two Laura Sands shares her office email bugbears, and some tips for better communication.

Emails are an unavoidable part of modern business life

A blessing? Or a curse? Or somewhere in-between? Emails are an unavoidable part of business life. They speed things up, make communicating to multiple parties simple, save massive paper trails, and mean that we don’t have to to rely upon Royal Mail or (shock horror) actually talking to each other.

But was ever a communication more misused? And ever likely to cause more misunderstanding and internal rage? Well, possibly – but let’s not go into instant messaging, that’s another subject altogether.

A grumpy mum’s guide to email etiquette

So how to make this medium less irritating, and more helpful? There are business guides galore that tell us how to do this, but here are my top five suggestions for low irritation emails.

1) Quit the informality

Smiley faces, kisses, street talk – come on. If I wouldn’t give you a kiss when I see you, then I certainly don’t want a kiss from you at the bottom of your email.

And smilies do not make a message more friendly, they make it more annoying. Using them when trying to make light of bad news will not do you any favours either. None, whatsoever. And as for amazeballs, coolio and my bad – this is an office, not the green room for a BBC 3 gameshow. Not acceptable!

2) But don’t be mean

Manners cost nothing. I worked with someone once who would send one line emails “Sales results for product X – tell me what is driving this”. He was far too senior for me to do anything other than respond, but I don’t ever recall feeling much fondness for him.

A please, thank you or could you all go a long way to oiling the wheels of office relationships. So don’t scrimp on the niceties.

3) Use the enter button

Paragraphs help to chunk down information and make it easier to read. A block of sold text just causes snow blindness and will slow your reader down.

Careful punctuation, spacing and paragraphing will help you ‘manage’ your reader and get your point across. Surely that’s worth a few additional keystrokes?

4) Don’t abbreviate

If it’s worth saying, then please don’t abbreviate. Thx, Pls, BR (best regards), comms, obvs (see point one)… sure, some abbreviations are standard within business. Three letter acronyms abound, but others are just needless.

I get that some of this is cultural – I worked with lots of Aussies for a while, who routinely refer to each other by initials only – but otherwise make the effort to use the full word. In any case, you can just end up confusing the poor soul that is reading your email. Which leads nicely onto the next point…

5) Don’t email

If you can, use the phone or your legs. The personal touch will nearly always result in a better outcome. An email may seem like the faster/clearer/less controversial route, but who hasn’t been involved in a hugely confusing email chain that goes on and on?

Frustration rises, time drags, everyone is in utter confusion. And then you finally pick up the phone to the other party in this email saga, and everything is made clear in about 30 seconds.

I’m a shocker at this, I’ll admit. I’m conflict-averse to the core, and this coupled with a packed schedule contrives to always make the email seem like the easier option. Suffice to say, it’s not.

What are your email irritations?

Re-reading this, I recognise that I sound like a grumpy old woman, which I probably am. But what do you think? What are your email bugbears or suggestions for a simple cyber life? Please let me know, I’m sure I could improve.

You can find out more about Laura’s experiences as a working mum on her blog