The Etiquette of Email

email etiquette

Last week, Slate ran a fun article by Katy Waldman discussing the emerging etiquette regarding all of the many, many ways we can communicate with each other in 2016. Per the author: “The avenues through which we talk to one another have forked into a dizzying multitude. Hierarchies have emerged.” She then goes into anxiety-inducing detail about those hierarchies:

When possible, we convey bad news in person; a step down, there are phone calls; then email; then texting; then social media like Facebook or Twitter; then IMing; then, maybe, Snapchat. Sometimes, the line of succession wavers: A quick face-to-face catch-up with a colleague might feel less formal than a carefully worded Slack. A heartfelt Facebook message might contain more emotion than a text or email. But regardless of the case-by-case variations in platform pecking order, switching media mid-conversation poses a risk. Jump up a rung, and you’ve intruded upon the messenger. Jump down, and you’ve diminished the message.”

Waldman is absolutely right that this can be confusing. It would be incredibly helpful to have a clearer consensus on a proper etiquette when it comes to how/when/what to respond across communications.

Choose Wisely

One cardinal rule that Waldman suggests: “Answers should exist in the medium the original communicator has selected.” There are exceptions to this (the author elaborates upon a couple of them), but I agree that it seems like a good starting place.

Of course, agreeing to a tacit understanding that a communications stream will continue in the medium originally selected means that the original sender is responsible for making that initial choice wisely.

How do you decide on how to reach out to a colleague or coworker the first time? For me, it begins with recognizing the different strengths of each option, and then choosing accordingly.

Your Communications Toolbox

We talk a lot here about how email should be just one tool in your communications toolbox, and our goal with Timyo is to make that email tool as good as it can possibly be at being email. We’re not trying to build a Swiss Army Knife that can do everything—we’re just trying to create the best screwdriver that has ever driven screws (no pressure).

That’s why Timyo plays to email’s strengths:

  • Email is inherently asynchronous: unlike with a lot of communications options, it doesn’t matter if everyone involved is present at the same time. This time element is baked into email—Timyo just draws it out and uses it to let senders give clear expectations to recipients about when (or if) they’d like a response.
  • Email is great with substance. Because it is asynchronous, senders can spend time crafting a message well, even if the subject matter is complex or the treatment of it is thorough. They don’t have to send until they are ready. And by letting senders share their expectations, Timyo gives recipients the green light to craft their responses with a similar degree of thought, rather than dashing off a hasty response to feed the beast that is “Automatic ASAP” culture.
  • Email is perfect for when we require formality. Because it more closely resembles the old form of letter writing, email is great when we want to communicate with more formality than a text or a Slack would permit. And ultimately—as we’ve written here before—formality is about respect. Timyo allows for that respect to be clearly conveyed, by letting senders quickly and easily tell recipients about their expectations. As our signature line puts it: “I value your time, I use Timyo.”

Our goal is to make email better at being email, period. For everything else, there’s…well, everything else. By focusing on letting users manage emails that matter, when they matter, Timyo aims to be a (clear, respectful, thoughtful) part of the conversation for a long time to come.

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