Using the Tools Effectively‏

“She is starting to damage my calm.”
–Jayne Cobb, Serenity 

Everyone has their little pet peeves. One of mine is improper use of office email systems, particularly Outlook, and I’ve seen a lot of it. And let me clarify here that I don’t mean offensive, pornographic, or other flat-out illegal uses. I presume everyone has enough sense not to do that at work. If not, well, maybe when you’re fired you’ll learn something. The point of this entry is to focus on ineffective uses of Outlook, many of which can annoy your coworkers. I’m here to help, really.

Replying to All

My numero uno pet peeve. Let’s say someone has just announced that someone in the office has won an award, had a baby, or ended up in the hospital. A general announcement is sent out to all concerned. Fine, great. Leave it alone. Or, if you know the person affected for good or ill, reply to that person directly. There is no need for the “YAY TEAM!” emails to circulate all day. I realize I’m going to lose on this one, but really, there are folks out there who do not appreciate having their inbox clogged with ten forms of congratulations where one was sufficient. I’m definitely one of them.

Another example: Someone sends out a link that is broken, inappropriate, a virus, or more likely “social engineering.” They send this thing out to a bunch of people, like the entire company or a whole department or something. Ideally, ONE person or several can reply to all to let people know of the problem and then report it to the IT department. There is absolutely no need to Reply All after that. READ your messages to see if someone else has already noted the problem, and then delete the message to move on with your day. However, it seldom happens that way. NASA’s email server was overloaded and then SHUT DOWN because dozens of people felt the need to prove that they were the smartest people on the network and had to set the original sender to rights. The IT department shut down the server for 30 minutes and then basically told everyone to shut up and move on with their day.

Sending Emails Instead of Meeting Notices

Perhaps they don’t teach this function anymore. Here’s a wild thought, though: if you want people to attend a meeting, go to the calendar and create a new meeting, then send out invitations to people you want to attend. However, it’s ineffective if you send out a meeting notice as a simple email. Here’s why: a meeting notice appears as a different item from a regular email—of which some people have hundreds, but only a few meeting notices—on the individual’s calendar. They are more likely to pause, read the meeting notice, review their calendar, and then respond about whether or not they can attend. Emails are easily ignored, as are the meetings you invite people to with them.

Not Including a Clear, Succinct Subject

Using “Hi” or some other unrelated words in the subject line (or no words at all!) will not get as much attention as “Decision Needed About Budget” or something more to the point. With a direct, to-the-point title, you give your reader some idea of what you want to talk about and make them more likely to read your message. Again, people are being bombarded with “communications,” not all of which are effective or read simply because the sender isn’t taking into account the workload of others. If it’s urgent, click that little exclamation point or one of the flags to indicate you need an immediate response. Don’t do that with everything, either, or you’ll find people are ignoring you. Be judicious, but get people’s attention in a clear, direct fashion.

In any case, you get the point. If you’ve done any of these things and you’ve heard someone gripe about them, consider asking for a refresher course on Outlook. As with any relationship, work relationships are often made up of little things, and if those little things annoy you, they begin to pile up after awhile. And if you make the effort to fix the little things, people are more forgiving when the big things go awry. Some bits of office advice a few days before Christmas. Be well, y’all.

About Bart Leahy

Freelance Technical Writer, Science Cheerleader Event & Membership Directior, and an all-around nice guy. Here to help.
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