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Common questions covered here
Should remote teams use email?
What are the best practices for using email on remote teams?
Is email better than Slack?
Email is a method of sending electronic messages between individual people or groups of people. It’s semi-synchronous, meaning it can be synchronous or asynchronous, depending on how an organization uses it. Examples of email tools include Outlook, Gmail, ProtonMail, Superhuman, and email accounts from Internet Service Providers (ISPs) like AT&T, CenturyLink, and Comcast.
Broadcasting. Email can be useful to broadcast information. For example, it can be used to inform the company of new funding, to describe new features coming soon, or to share a summary report for last quarter sales.
Sharing. Email makes it easy to share and re-share information. Messages can be forwarded or other people can be added into the conversation. This is very helpful when collaborating with other organizations outside your own, as you don’t have to set up permissions or access to your own internal tools.
Focus. When used exclusively as an asynchronous channel—where people don’t expect others to monitor and respond to email immediately—email allows you to maximize your focus. You can choose when to read your email and take time to think about how you’ll respond.
Email Risks and Pitfalls
Volume and discoverability. Inboxes flood easily, obscuring important information. Counteracting this requires active management, either via labels and filters, or using other email management techniques.
Unclear expectations. People outside your organization may have different expectations for the use of email. If your role requires that you regularly interface with people outside of your company, you may not be able to control whether or not you can use it asynchronously.
Lack of boundaries. A company that doesn’t explicitly discourage responding to emails after hours can lead to unhealthy work-life balance.
When to Use Email
Email is best used for:
Asynchronous, uni-directional broadcasting of information, such as announcements, updates to company policy, and other timely information.
Communication with people external to your company.
Fostering good work-life balance requires setting explicit expectations about responding to email after hours, with senior leadership and management leading by example in upholding those expectations. You may wish to consider using scheduling functionality to reduce the “after hours” messages you send to peers. Using established chat channels for emergencies or incident responses can also help prevent the expectation of constant email checking.
Including the frequency and the time of day that you read your email in your signature can help set expectations for people who may be accustomed to immediate email responses. “I review my email every day at 5pm EST; please text me for urgent matters.”
When broadcasting information to large groups of people or mailing lists, a good practice is to address recipients via Bcc instead of using the To or Cc fields. This prevents people from accidentally replying-all.
Further Reading About Email
Web forums are web-based messaging groups where people write messages (typically called “posts”) in a hierarchical category structure organized by topics. Forums can be either public or private. Typically, public forums are for communicating with customers and private forums are for internal company communication. Examples of forum tools include Discourse, Flarum, and NodeBB.
Asynchronous. Forums can be used in an asynchronous manner to provide more static, broadcast-worthy information that people can refer to as needed. Forums can also work for brief discussions or to expand on clarifying questions. For example, a new employee can ask where to find important information in a forum, and get answers from their peers. From then on, all new hires can use that same post to get up to speed.
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