Tips for improving your business communication with Netiquette

By Brad Revell, Toastmasters International

We have made a significant transition to online communication in business. However, we have been used to communicating face to face throughout human history, so our brains still need to adapt to this new way of working.

With that in mind let me share some ideas that will take your online communication to the next level of clarity and efficiency.

The starting point

I recommend using these 10 general rules of netiquette.

  1. Include an agenda when scheduling meetings; always. This allows participants to prepare in advance.
  2. Agree on actions at the end of each meeting.
  3. Send through notes and actions to meeting participants in the following format: Who does what by when.
  4. Respond promptly to online communications. For Instant Messaging (e.g. SMS, iMessage, WhatsApp, Slack, Teams etc.) respond within the day. For Email, within 24 hours. If you need more time, send a quick note letting the sender know you will be delayed and when you’ll respond fully.
  5. Ask permission before adding someone to a group or channel etc.
  6. The meetings host should orchestrate short, relevant introductions.
  7. Cameras on and mute always at the ready. Use a global shortcut to turn your mute function on and off (i.e. MicDrop)
  8. Look directly at the camera when speaking during a meeting. It’s a tough habit to establish however the rapport you’ll build is compelling.
  9. Schedule meetings ideally for 30 minutes. If you need more time, schedule 45 or 55 minutes. 
  10. Always use the in-line reply function versus a generic reply to provide context (a good Wikipedia article on the topic for email is here). Point your responses to a particular person if applicable using the @<RECEIPIENT> approach.

TO vs. CC vs. BCC

Email is here to stay. We can help each other reduce our email inbox by making the most of the difference between TO, CC and BCC. For example:

‘TO’ should be for the primary recipients who need to read and action your email. And ‘CC’ for the secondary recipients who should be aware of the email though no action is required from them.

I move people from TO/CC to BCC as a powerful signal to reduce email SPAM. This approach requires clear communication to everyone on that email. Therefore, before sending a “reply to all” response, I move all the redundant recipients from TO/CC to BCC and communicate that change accordingly. That way BCC recipients won’t continue to be spammed with “reply to all” emails that are not relevant to them anymore.

You should always re-categorise email recipients with every reply you send. For example, if you need someone to action a point then move them from CC to the TO field. This saves time for everybody.

The last aspects to note with BCC is its use for privacy and GDPR related communications. If you’re sending a mail-out email, use BCC.

You can reduce your emails by 50%

This is a bold statement, so let me explain! I encourage you to anticipate the response of the recipients in the TO field. Said differently you can potentially reduce sending two emails to just one by asking an anticipatory question. Here’s an example:

Original Approach:

Email 1 (Sender): Hi, can you meet up for a meeting next week to discuss Project A?

Email 2 (Responder): Yes, I can meet next week to discuss Project A. When are you thinking of meeting?

Email 3 (Original Sender): Great, how about Monday at 2pm for 20 minutes?

Email 4 (Original Responder): Sure, let’s do that time. Please send a meeting request for us to connect.

Email 5 (Original Sender): No problem, it’s on its way.

That’s 5 emails to agree on a meeting to discuss Project A. Is there a better way? Using the words “If so” or “if not” are powerful ways of reducing email by at least 50%.

Here is the above example revised using this technique….

Revised Approach:

Email 1 (Sender): Hi, can you meet up for a meeting next week to discuss Project A? If so, can you meet on Monday at 2pm for 20 minutes? Let me know and I’ll schedule a meeting. Email 2 (Responder): Sure, I’m available on Monday and can do 2pm. Looking forward to receiving the meeting request.

The revised approach halved the emails required as the sender is writing the email anticipating the response.

By putting these ideas into action your online business communications will be enhanced and you’ll save a significant amount of time.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Brad Revell is a member of Toastmasters International, a not-for-profit organisation that has provided communication and leadership skills since 1924 through a worldwide network of clubs. There are more than 400 clubs and 10,000 members in the UK and Ireland. Members follow a structured educational programme to gain skills and confidence in public and impromptu speaking, chairing meetings and time management. To find your nearest club, visit www.toastmasters.org

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