No Reply Necessary

As I’ve written about before, internal email can be challenging. The most ambiguous part of internal email – email sent within the company – is knowing when to reply and when not to. As I wrote in that post in 2012:

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.

I still like that rule when it comes to external email, however internally as we’ve grown that ambiguity has become more and more of a problem. We’d send out a message to our employees and then wonder if they read it or acted upon it. After some discussion, we decided to add one simple rule to completely remove the ambiguity: respond to every single internal email with a reply-all unless the sender specifically writes “no reply necessary”. That puts the onus on the sender – if you don’t require a reply, say so, otherwise you’re saying that without a doubt you do want a reply.

Of course, we also have the rule that if you have a question or concern that you should ignore the “no reply necessary” and reply anyway. This rarely happens though, maybe 10% of the time at most.

In retrospect, this was so obvious. We should have done it sooner. We’ve had almost zero problems since then. I send a decent amount of FYI type of emails, particularly when I make a small programming change and want to just keep everyone in the loop. I don’t have to worry about clogging up everyone’s inbox with a half dozen replies saying “cool”, but in the same breath I know they all read it and if there are actionable items on their end I just keep the “no reply necessary” out of the email.

Such a simple solution to a long standing problem!

2 comments on No Reply Necessary

  1. Rob says:

    Do you have an internal blog? This seems to me just the kind of thing that could be handled by having an internal blog that sends a daily digest to everyone.

    I personally feel that different levels of importance of communication can be handled in different ways – whilst a message about a longstanding issue with the break room vending machine can be given in a weekly roundup type of communication, “Shit’s on fire yo” type communication is probably best done over the phone. A benefit of a blog, as you well know, is that you can have threaded comments, related posts and many other features that email simply doesn’t support – I bet everyone reading this has been in a reply-all type situation where the conversation moves very fast, quickly gets sharded as two people reply at once and all of a sudden you’ve got multiple email threads going on contaminating people’s inboxes. It might be okay for a team of two or three, but an internal blog/bulletin system will scale much better.

    • Adam McFarland says:

      That’s a good question. We did have an internal blog a while back before we had employees (wrote about it here). We had a few problems 1) some people didn’t read it regularly despite having a widget on everyone’s start screen (an email could solve this, to your pt), and 2) there was confusion over what to put into the blog and what to email.

      That additional ambiguity is why I don’t think we’d consider that or other systems right now. There are a lot of good options for different types of companies, but for us they always seem to introduce more complexity or ambiguity. Skype vs Phone vs Email took us enough time to get on the same page with.

      I personally like having one universal search. Keeping almost everything in Gmail is a huge advantage for me, it’s so easy to search anytime, anywhere. Gmail also searches drive and sites (where our wikis are) so aside from Skype and Phone I have everything important coming up with a single search.

      We also don’t send all that much internal email. I usually get a few threads worth per business day, consisting of maybe 10 emails total. We tend to naturally batch together uncritical things to create summary-like emails (for instance, our warehouse manager might send out an email at the end of the day with 5 small updates). Really the only problem we had was this “no reply” problem and it’s not an issue anymore. In the future if more employees are involved we might need to tweak the system or consider other alternatives.

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