Electronic Communication Guidelines
E-mail Protocol and E-voting Guidelines
Electronic communication is increasingly fundamental to collaboration, decision-making, and general office functioning in the workplace today. Given the centrality and prevalence of electronic communication in the day-to-day operations of the Office of the Dean, we have developed a general e-mail protocol and a set of e-voting guidelines to inform our work. The Office of the Dean strives to follow these guidelines as best we can.
We offer these guidelines to the broader university community for consideration in the hopes that all or parts of the document may serve as a helpful framework for other units or departments. These guidelines are by no means prescriptive, as we recognize there are unique situations where good judgment will inform individual action. However, this initial attempt at articulating a set of guidelines includes general points upon which all members of the team in the Office of the Dean could agree upon. We are pleased to share our work.
General E-mail Protocol*
- Think about the content. Remember that e-mails can end up being forwarded to others in an organization. If the topic is one that should be discussed behind closed doors, or outside of work, think about this before clicking ‘send.’
- Watch your tone. Judgmental and negative tones are amplified in e-mail. Avoid negative words and use positive and professional language. A friendly salutation often helps ease the way into a difficult request.
- Use respectful language. Your e-mail communication is most effective when written in respectful and collegial language. It is generally appropriate to include a signature with all of your contact information at the end of a message. Remember, your e-mail is a reflection of you.
- Use appropriate grammar. It is necessary to use proper grammar conventions in all correspondence. Not capitalizing the first letter of the first word in a sentence, for example, conveys a lack of professionalism. Be aware that USING ALL CAPITAL letters is considered shouting.
- Briefly introduce yourself. If you are sending a message to someone with whom you do not regularly communicate, do not assume the person receiving the e-mail knows who you are or remembers meeting you.
- Avoid sending e-mail when you are angry. Anger can come across in the tone and language of an e-mail. Make sure you are calm and clear-headed before composing or replying to a message. Similarly, do not hastily respond to an e-mail that has upset you. A common guideline is to wait one business day before responding. If you feel you must compose a message in the moment, save it as a draft and re-read it the next day with fresh eyes. If the situation requires an immediate response, speak with a colleague for another perspective prior to replying.
- Use exclamation points sparingly. The maximum number of exclamation points in a business e-mail is 1. Any more looks unprofessional!
- Respond in a timely fashion. You do not need to respond to each e-mail the instant it arrives. Depending on the nature of the e-mail and the sender, responding within 24 to 48 hours is the general expectation. If you do not receive an immediate response, do not assume the person will never respond.
- Check the ‘To’ box before sending. Particularly when using the global address book, it is easy to mistakenly insert the incorrect e-mail address in the ‘To’ field. Double-check before you hit ‘send’ that your message is going to the correct person.
- Be careful with the use of ‘cc’. Refrain from playing politics with the ‘cc’ field. If you strongly feel someone else needs to see the message, share this sentiment with the original sender. In many situations, this requires the use of good judgment.
- Send or copy others on a need to know basis. Before you click ‘reply all’ or ‘cc’, ask yourself if the recipient needs the information. If they do not, perhaps consider not sending it.
- Double-check content. If you are sending a message containing facts, numbers, or important information, you may consider double-checking key information before sending the message.
- Avoid using shortcuts, emoticons, or jargon and monitor use of acronyms. Shortcuts to words such as “LOL”, “4 U”, or “Gr8” are generally unacceptable in work-related e-mails. Use acronyms only when you are confident the receiver of the e-mail is completely familiar with the acronym; otherwise, write it out in full.
- Be clear in your subject line. Remember many of us get dozens of e-mails each day. It is critical the subject says enough about the content so it can be easily prioritized and filed.
- Ensure attachments contain descriptive information. Do not assume attachments will remain attached to an e-mail. Include important information such as dates, approval bodies, a descriptive title, meeting attendees, or any other contextual information in the body of the attachment.
- Consider whether e-mail is the most appropriate medium. When a topic has lots of parameters that need to be explained or questions that need to be asked, don’t handle it by e-mail. Consider whether or not difficult news should be delivered by e-mail. Alternatives may include visiting people in person or picking up the phone.
- Evaluate the importance of your e-mail. Do not overuse the high priority option. If you do, people may not take it seriously.
- Maintain privacy. If you are sending a message to a group of people and you need to protect the privacy of the list, consider using ‘bcc.’ Additionally, avoid giving addresses to a third party unless you have been given explicit permission by the address owner.
- Keep it short and to the point. Write concisely, with lots of white space, so as not to overwhelm the recipient. The purpose of the e-mail should be stated in the first two sentences. Be clear, up front, and do not hesitate to use bullet points. You may wish to clean up formatting such as excessive carets (>>>>); however, when an e-mail is attached to a chain of correspondence be sure to keep the entire chain as appropriate.
- Provide meaningful redirection when using the out of office function. When you are away for a day or longer, your out-of-office message should redirect inquiries requiring an immediate response to another person who is able to assist.
*Adapted from the following:
Electronic communication is gaining in popularity as a practical and efficient way for members of a group to express their views on a topic. There are situations where it is appropriate for e-voting to be used to cast ballots as an alternative to paper based voting or an in-person meeting. E-voting is appropriate in situations where a matter is time-sensitive and a committee meeting cannot be arranged, travel time needs to be reduced, or when a matter is straightforward and standard. E-voting is not suitable when dealing with complex matters that require in-depth discussion and should not be used routinely in lieu of a regular meeting.
When using e-voting, the following guidelines form the basis of acceptable best practice:
- Ensure all voting members consent to the e-vote. As long as all members consent, a resolution passed by a majority of voting members shall have the same force and effect as if passed at an in-person meeting.
- Present material in a clear and concise format. All material presented at meetings is expected to be clear, concise, and complete. The same standards are expected for material circulated to inform an e-vote.
- Make participants aware of timelines. Group members should be informed of the deliberation period and required response time. Timelines will vary depending on the urgency and nature of the matter.
- Share all communication/deliberation with the group. All members should select ‘reply all’ when providing comments so that these will be shared simultaneously with all members and a record is kept of the e-mail exchange. If the discussion becomes complicated and extensive, it may be an indication the matter cannot be resolved without an in-person meeting.
- Submit votes upon completion of the deliberation period. Following the end of the deliberation period, the Chair or designate will initiate an e-vote. Group members will vote ‘yes’, ‘no’, or ‘abstain’ in an e-mail sent to all members of the committee. E-votes should not contain any additional commentary on the matter at hand. All members should be advised of the timeframe for voting.
- Communicate results promptly. When an e-vote goes out to a group, the person who initiated the vote should collect the responses. The Chair or designate tallies the votes and communicates the results to the committee. Every effort will be made to allow each person to register their vote.
*Adapted from the following:
- University of Western Ontario, Student Services Committee Protocol (2011) http://www.uwo.ca/univsec/board/minutes/2011/r1106pf_ann1.pdf
- Nipissing University Email Polling and Voting Policy (2013) http://www.nipissingu.ca/about-us/governance/board-of-governors/policies/Pages/Email-Polling-and-Electronic-Voting-Policy.aspx
- Algoma University Board of Governors Policy for e-voting (2010) https://my.algomau.ca/tools/documents/policies/Board/Policy_for_E-Voting.pdf
- For further reading on the topic of using electronic messaging for academic committee deliberation, refer to Horan & Benington (2000) at http://www.sbu.edu/docs/default-source/Faculty-Profile-Documents/Benington-Documents/journal-of-higher-education-policy-and-management.pdf?sfvrsn=0