Internal email (or inter-company email as some people like to call it) is one of those topics that unfortunately seems to get omitted when discussing the keys to creating a successful business. My experience has always been that if it’s done well it can improve productivity and moral drastically. Conversely, if it’s done poorly it can do the exact opposite.
I think that this is one area that our current team excels in. For us this is especially important because we’re scattered in various locations. It’s very rare that my partners and I are all at the warehouse on the same day, so at least one or two of us is working remotely in addition to our three contractors who all live in other regions of the country.
It’s a particularly fascinating topic because I think doing it successfully is part cultural, part training, and part each individual’s personality. My partners and I can affect the first two, but you can’t make other people be be unselfish and value other people’s time as much as their own. That’s something that we have to do our best to vet in the hiring process. It’s one of the many reasons why we communicated with our applicants so much via email prior to even interviewing them. You can learn a surprising amount about someone by observing their email behaviors.
Having worked in organizations of various sizes as well as being a part of a growing company that’s constantly changing in size, there are a few rules that I’ve adopted as the keys for doing internal email successfully:
- Know who to CC and who not to CC. We’ve all seen organizations where everyone CC’s everyone to cover their own ass. My rule: if someone isn’t directly involved in a project, don’t CC them.
- Know when email is the right medium and when phone/IM is better. I wrote about this in detail last year. In most cases email is sufficient. We generally respond to each others’ emails in less than 24 hours. Only interrupt with IM or a phone call if you need an answer sooner.
- Know when to respond and when not to. This is a tough one. I like to put myself in other people’s shoes. If I would want a response from them – even if it’s just “great idea!” or “keep me posted, I’m interested” – then I write a response. If it’s more of a FYI type of email then a response probably isn’t necessary. If you’re not sure, I think you’re always better spending a minute and writing a quick response to show the other person that you’re paying attention.
- Keep personal stuff out of it. We don’t send any chain emails or pictures of cats dancing on telephone poles. Keep work email for work, and personal email for personal stuff.
What about you: what are your best and worst experiences with internal email? How would you make it better?