Tuesday 26 April 2016

A few more thoughts on email

A little more netiquette

Sometimes we copy just too many people into an email. It might be because we’re taking a short-cut. It will save writing another one later. Or it could be because we’re covering our backs. We want our line manager to know we’ve had this conversation. Students might copy us in as well with a similar motivation.
Then, of course, there are the congratulations. Yes, good to reply all to these but delete them straight away afterwards though you might want to keep any directed to yourself – keep a folder called Nice Emails. That can really cheer you up on gloomy days.
However, we need to be careful. Copying to every man and his dog can cause confusion and fill lots of mail boxes.
One simple trick makes it much easier:
Address the people who really need to see it, and cc others who might find it useful.
Seriously consider whether cc’ing a line manager is necessary. If the matter is serious you can keep the trail and pass it on later. Give the colleague / student a chance to get it right first. There will be exceptions, of course.  
If you’re only cc’ed, you probably don’t need to reply nor even keep the email.  
What about bcc? It can be useful if addressing a mixed readership of students and staff but sometimes it can even seem rude. You’re holding all of the secrets and keeping them from other people in the group. Should you be sending to a group if those people don’t trust each other anyway? Creating a proper mailing list gets round this nicely.
Yes, recently I got involved in a complex exchange that was copied in to so many people that I became increasingly confused about who I was talking to and didn’t recognise a (deserved) apology when it arrived.   


What to keep and what to throw away

Get rid of the huge attachments. You can take them off the email and save the email if you want to but why would you want to for Student Support Plans or Attendance Letters? Just save the attachment. However, sensitive information shouldn’t be kept on local drives. Of course, our remote F drives fill up quickly as well.
Student Support Plans are kept on the V drive so it may be a matter of noting a name and referring to the V drive from time to time.
Copies of attendance letters go into student files anyway. Look them up when you need to write a reference.   

Promptness of reply

Three working days? Easy – the routines I’ve described elsewhere on this blog usually allow emails to be answered within 24-48 hours. Normally. There are exceptions:
·         When we’re busy marking
·         If we work 0.3 or 0.5 FTE – we can’t quite make it in the three working days and stay sane. But we’re probably getting fewer emails anyway. Train people to know that you can only answer Tuesday and Thursday or whenever. I only answer Monday to Friday anyway. Usually.    
·         When we’re ill ( hey we are human, you know)
·         When we’re away at a conference.  
The out of office tool comes in useful here. Keep people informed. When I’m marking I tend to prioritise students and colleagues with urgent matters. However, it’s also worth considering:
·         If the information is available elsewhere, pointing the student to it. (Blackboard, Blackboard, Blackboard – we have a VLE, we may as well use it)
·         Building up the culture of a visit in office hours being worth pages of emails.
·         Taking a sweep through the building, including the canteen, a couple of times a day and making a point of talking to any students or colleagues you see.     
·         If three people ask you the same question, putting an announcement containing the answer on Blackboard.  

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