Email etiquette: How can HR guide employees in effective remote communication?

Emoji or no emoji? To sign on with a ‘Dear’ or a ‘Hi’, or nothing at all? What about whether to use ‘Yours sincerely’, or a ‘Cheers’?

Emails can be hard for employees – especially when many are working 100% remotely.

A well-crafted email can make the difference between a successful working relationship or potential confusion, insult or conflict – all of which can be heightened if your employees aren’t working from the same place.

Here’s what we cover in this article:

HR’s own role in effective communication

There’s no doubt that those who work in HR are great communicators; it’s part of the job.

Whether it’s email, face-to-face, instant messaging, calls, through the intranet or an HR and People system – HR and People teams communicate through many different mediums in order to support their employees effectively.

By setting an example, HR and People teams can guide employees in the different internal communication styles and set the tone for the organisation.

Better still, if you have an intranet or an HR and People portal, you could share communication tips so that they’re easily accessible for your people – irrespective of where they work in the world.

How can HR guide employees to communicate effectively remotely?

As well as having the responsibility of communicating to employees effectively, what role can HR and People leaders play in guiding employees towards best practice in how they themselves communicate?

Here’s some ideas.

Encourage coffee breaks

Some of the best ideas come from water cooler chats.

While you’re working remotely, it’s impossible to do this in the same way as you would in an office. Encourage coffee breaks amongst teams and their leaders, as well as among project teams to get to know one another better, spark ideas and spend time away from the work-related chat.

You may even want to consider introducing work quizzes or Friday team catch ups so employees can get together.

Phone rather than email

Email is just 7% as effective as talking face to face.

While working remotely, video call or phone are employees’ best alternative.

It’s especially important for employees to consider this if they need to hit a deadline or explain something in more detail to get the job done, so work with managers to encourage employees where possible to pick up the phone.

Reward and recognise

Everyone likes to be recognised for a good job well done.

When it comes to remote working, you can’t do this in person, so instead, consider ways employees can send kudos among each other; whether that’s via a recognition platform, the intranet or nominating employees to be called out during a conference call with the team.

By doing this, it means that both employees and managers can record these recognitions so that when it comes to their continuous conversations and reviews, this can be something that can be tracked and recognised officially through this process, too.

A good HR system will enable employees and managers to share recognition, be it by virtual ‘high-fives’ or shout outs.  

Educate on feedback types and styles

Every employee is unique, and the way they want feedback is only naturally going to be different.

Educate managers on feedback types and styles either via a live or virtual training session, or a guide.

You could also look to doing some personality assessments, such as the Myers-Briggs indicator, so managers can find out more about their employee, how they work and how they like to be fed back to.

Highlight the benefits – and downfalls – of video call

Video conferencing is a great way to stay in touch, but it has its downsides.

While it can be great for having a chat, being in back to back video calls can be exhausting. In fact, video calling is causing a widespread phenomenon known as ‘Zoom fatigue’.

If the meeting could work as a phone call or group chat, employees shouldn’t feel obligated to use their cameras.

Make it clear to employees and managers that video calling isn’t mandatory but if they want to use videos, it can be a good way to stay in touch.

Establish an effective meeting process

It’s a fact: poorly organised meetings can be detrimental for employee productivity.

A study found that 44% of respondents said that poorly organised meetings meant they didn’t have enough time to do the rest of their work, and 33% said unclear actions lead to confusion.

Provide some tips for effective meeting management that work for your team, such as suggesting they circulating an agenda ahead of time and some suggestions of how everyone can be heard.

Share best practice email etiquette

With a predicted 306.4 billion emails sent and received each day in 2020, it’s vital for employees to get email communication right.

Share top tips and best practice so they have some guidance as to what an effective email looks like.

10 top tips for email etiquette

Here’s ten email etiquette tips for HR and People teams to share with employees:

1. Include a clear subject matter

Short and snappy summary will likely be more effective than a full sentence. If it’s for review, put that at the beginning of the subject line to make it more eye-catching.

2. Always use an appropriate greeting

If you’re writing to a close colleague, an informal ‘Hi’ will likely be sufficient, but if you’re writing to someone you don’t know so well, then always add a formal salutation and an introduction.

3. Only use shorthand if you know your recipients

If you’re writing to your own team about a project that you’ve been discussing, then you can write short emails with a list of bullet points.

4. Be wary of using humour or colloquialism across cultures

Be aware of funny sayings or colloquialisms. Instead, keep your emails to the point and as clear as possible.

5. Consider the purpose of your email

Always state if your email needs an action and by when. You could even bold this or italicise a due date or the action needed so it’s clear.

6. Think before you use an emoji

If you’re sending them to people you know well, and you know will understand them, then that’s fine. If not, then consider if they’re really needed.

7. Don’t hit reply all or CC everyone

By replying to people who don’t need to be copied, it’ll only clog up their inbox – and potentially yours if they reply to something you don’t need them to.

8. Reply in a timely fashion

Always reply within 24 hours, even if it’s to acknowledge an email and explain that you will revert with an appropriate response within a defined timescale.

9. Think about where your email could end up

Never use inappropriate language in a work email. The reality is that your email will remain on the server long after you have deleted it.

10. Always spell check

Take the time to re-read your emails, make sure they make sense and have the right tone before you send them.

Editor’s note: This article was first published in November 2020 and has been updated for relevance.

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