Audit Advantage (Special Edition): Email Execution - the Essential Edit
I last wrote about Email Etiquette on these pages nearly eight years ago. While those words of counsel still hold true today, the big difference is the explosion of diverse messaging tools and channels that we have at our disposal right now.
Let’s start by assuming that Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat and their ever proliferating progeny are best suited to social rather than professional communications. (Arguably a little naïve, but I’ll come back to that later). For work-related communications that still leaves texting and instant messaging, intranet chat tools and forums, LinkedIn, WhatsApp and the ubiquitous and insidious Email! Granted, this is nowhere near a complete list but it does give you a timely inkling of how massive, volatile and entangled our business messaging platforms have become.
Have you ever remembered a piece of information that you know you have seen; something important from a client or a colleague? You need to access it, perhaps for clarification but maybe even as part of your audit trail. You thought it was in an email but filtering by name isn’t helping. Could it have been via LinkedIn, or in the chat box during a Skype call. Or did you just delete the instant messaging stream in which it was nestling? Sounds familiar? You need our eight step guide to protect, preserve and defend yourself against the burgeoning business messaging morass.
- How many email identities do you actually have? Count them up now. Whether its email accounts, email addresses or other types of messaging channels, you may be surprised at the sheer quantity, even astonished at ones that you didn’t know you still had (think google and gmail for starters). Quantity is risky; not only in terms of what messages are sitting there benignly ignored but also in terms of the vastness of cloud space that you need to navigate to track down pieces of information.
- Adopt email as your workplace default and rationalise to just one business email address. That means that if you receive something work-related via personal email, LinkedIn or WhatsApp, you should be confirming it by business email so you have only one repository for messaging data. It goes without saying that less is more here, so close down as many channels as you can (especially surplus email addresses) to avoid multi-channel traffic congestion.
- Back up and preservation is vital for business related information and this is why you should keep work communications in the correct repository. Whether via server back up or cloud storage, lost email can usually be recovered; other types of messages may not be as retrievable. Even backed-up email is only as good as your filing and searching capability; judicious use of folders, filters and tags is imperative and a protocol for download and filing of attachments, highly recommended.
- Is Email the best channel? If you need an instant response, probably not; telephone, face to face or instant messaging is probably going to be more appropriate. You should also beware of sending sensitive, classified or confidential information via any sort of messaging platform. Always follow your organisational guidelines to the letter and err on the side of caution; you never know what might become of your confidential attachment, who it might be forwarded to or where it might be printed out.
- Who are you talking to? However brief, emails leave an impression. While abbreviations and emoticons are not completely outlawed, think about how they will be received. A new client might not appreciated being shouted at in CAPS, while your peers may well be able to decipher the subtleties of your winking faces. As a precaution, avoid filling in the recipient address until you have proofed your message. Use spell check and watch grammar, punctuation and structure – greeting, introduction, body and conclusion will all aid your recipient and help you get the desired response.
- What is your desired response? Do you want something from your respondent? If so, make it clear; explain why you are sending the message, avoiding double barrelled questions in favour of proposing the way forward. If you want their approval or some feedback, be explicit. Using cc? Who are you copying in? What do you want from them, spell this out too.
- Serve up a Strong Solid Subject line by making full use of the header. Not only will this support your cause in getting your emails opened but it will also help your recipient with their own priorities. As a minimum the header should give a clear indication of content but a suggestion of the action required is also good practice: ‘Widgets.com 2018 Management Letter first draft for Partner Review’.
- Sign off with a Professional Signature. Don’t rescind all that best practice with the standard, paltry sign off, ‘sent from my iPhone’. Set up a professional signature on all your devices, with a formal sign off, displaying your full name, position and alternative methods of contacting you. Email can do this, other types of messaging are not geared up for this formality – yet another argument for treating email as your business default.
Of course, there will be occasions when the social and professional merge and you find yourself receiving something sensitive through Facebook, Twitter or the like. Firstly, be sensible; set boundaries and avoid initiating communications through these platforms in the first place. If you do receive information in this way, you can cut short a message thread by suggesting a move over to business email. If all else fails, make sure that you’ve backed up information and conversations to thwart any potential lack of audit trail. As a general rule, strive to keep business and social completely separate and avoid accepting invitations to socially connect.
And that of course is the crux of the communication conundrum. As an auditor, you are not just interested in data and facts; you need to be objective and independent but you also need to use professional judgement in evaluating what your client is telling you. There will be times when, to appreciate true meaning, you really need to look into the white of the eyes, to comprehend subtleties and sensitivities and to reach a mutual understanding. And that, my friend, is not the place for email!
Which topic would you like to read about next month? Look over the list of topics in the original Audit Advantage article here