Email Etiquette for Professionals

Saturday, 5th March 2016 | by: Justin Burns

I was recently appointed to agree a party wall award with another surveyor whom I had not worked with before. He sent me the usual formal letter confirming his appointment and I responded by email, being my preferred method of communication, but otherwise adopted his formal tone. He started his reply by suggesting that, as we were now using email, we might address each other by our first names. I was fine with his suggestion although it didn’t help that on the first opportunity I had to take advantage of our new found familiarity I got his first name wrong. Anyway, it got me thinking about the difficulties that professionals have had in adapting to the widespread use of email over the years.

If I’m emailing another surveyor that I know reasonably well it feels odd to get straight down to business so I’ll usually open by checking on their health, enquiring about a recent holiday or maybe asking whether they’ve seen this video of Bernie Ecclestone getting lost in a revolving door? But is it acceptable to include such small talk in professional correspondence and what is the effect of our clients’ bills? I have yet to see a time sheet entry that says ’email to building owner’s surveyor – 15 mins (minus 3 mins of bantz)’.

Rather than commit fully to email several surveyors I work with are keeping a foot in each camp; they’ll write a letter but send it by email. They like the formality of a letter but not enough to pay for a stamp when they can email it for free. But why not just put the contents of the letter into the body of the email? It’s a bit like having pizzas delivered to restaurant tables in takeaway boxes (by motorcyclists).

My accountant point blank refuses to use email. I’ll send an email asking him if the lunch I’ve just had with my wife (who also does our books) is tax deductible and he’ll phone back with the answer. I like that fact that he’s paying for the call but I do wonder whether he just doesn’t want a written record of his answer to exist if the tax inspector comes knocking.

Email by its nature is more informal but I’m not sure how I would feel receiving a message asking “r u free 2moro 2 meet on site?” Is that any different to abbreviations such as SoC (schedule of condition) or BO (building owner) that I already use regularly in emails to colleagues? As most of us now have our work emails coming through to our phones could we even take it a step further and start using emojis? If I were having a bad day it would be very tempting to respond to a couple of the more difficult surveyors I know with a ‘Zzz’ or maybe even a gun pointing at a frowning face.

The relatively minimal effort and zero cost involved in sending an email means that you do sometimes receive messages with passive aggressive undertones. There’s one surveyor who will follow up every other day until I respond with the word ‘reminder’ without so much as a ‘Dear Justin’ and another who keeps re-sending the same email with ‘Re-send No1’, ‘Re-send No 2’ etc. added to the subject line. It does make me wonder whether they are being generated by a piece of software that is out of their control. I’ve thought about sending a reply that’s just 2 words long but so far resisted.

There’s something about auto responders that I find annoying. If you’re on holiday, fine, I guess if it’s an important matter I need to know that you’re not going to be responding for a week or so but do you really need to turn your auto responder on when you’re at lunch or have gone home for the evening? It does smack of self-importance. It can only be a matter of time before I receive an email along the lines of ‘Thank you for your message. I am currently on a comfort break but will come back to you in 5 minutes (or so)’.

I’ve often wondered what would happen if someone sent you a message and then turned on their auto responder before receiving your auto responder reply? I like to imagine a battle of the auto responders which quickly multiplies and gradually fills cyberspace causing it to explode. Then we’d all have to go back to writing letters.

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