Netiquette: how to get it right at work

AS NEW Zealand accountant Vicki Walker found out, emails can be treacherous when used improperly. Fired for using all caps in her messages, she is a perfect example of why old-fashioned etiquette has a place in the digital age. There are rules to apply to emails, just as you would to a handwritten letter.

Before you even start writing the email, make sure you give some thought to its title. It should be short and pertinent to grab the reader’s attention. Peter Botting, a careers and communications coach, says: “You could find that your pitch falls at the first hurdle if your boss doesn’t even open the email.”

Everybody hates trawling through emails that aren’t relevant to them. Be careful not to be a carbon copy “cc” or blind carbon copy “bcc” offender. “One of the most important elements of email etiquette is not cc-ing the world and his wife,” says communications expert Elizabeth Bacchus of Not only does it look messy on the screen, but can also annoy people as you are giving away their contact details without their consent. “Keep your cc to a minimum and the bcc is really important too,” says Bacchus.

Emails can be dangerous things. Botting says: “The send button is too easy to press, especially when you’re angry.” Perhaps, as the old saying goes, the best advice is just to “sleep on it”. Bacchus echoes this sentiment: “If you have an issue with something, leave it and come back the next day to review the tone of it.” Remember, an angry email could significantly affect a working relationship.

Email can sometimes be a little too easy to use and encourage informality. Although fine in a personal email, being too informal in a business email can appear glib: “You should never put something in an email that you wouldn’t put in a formal letter,” says Gary Yantin, the founder and director of High Street Lawyer. But be careful, Botting says emails should not be “devoid of personality,” leaving a tricky line to tread.

Remember to draw a distinct line between work and play. Not only is it unprofessional to mix them, but also in extreme circumstances it could see you lose your job. Never use your work email when searching for a new job, for instance. This is not only insulting to your employer, but it is often a sackable offence. It is good to note that your work email reflects not only you, but your company. “It represents your company and its reputation,” says Yantin.

The ease and speed of email justifies its importance in the business world, but make sure you are aware of its drawbacks.
Emails are, after all, just words and they cannot give a full impression of the person typing them behind the screen. Botting points out that when you speak to someone in person “your whole body is talking, you build rapport with your body language.”

Yantin warns against using email as an avoidance tactic: “Email used properly is fine, but using it incorrectly to avoid talking to someone is not.”