Discussion Thread

  • 1.  Email Etiquette and Digital Messaging

    Posted 05-02-2019 09:56 AM
    As offices become more virtual; we do more of our communication over email - especially professionally. What are some advice folks have of proper email etiquette? How about with new mediums of communication such as Slack, Skype, digital conferences, and even text messaging with co-workers? When I was starting my career I was always wondering whether I should call, email, instant message, or even text someone in a given situation. 

    From my experience emails are good for when you want to leave a paper trail of a conversation, particularly when it comes to action items and project updates. I draft emails to be concise and to the point to avoid any confusion. If an email comes out longer than 2 paragraphs then I consider other options.

    What are people's best practices for digital communication? Any email do's and don'ts? How do you decide what messaging medium to use?

    Paul Lee P.E.,M.ASCE
    Civil Engineering Associate
    Los Angeles Dept. of Water and Power
    Los Angeles CA

  • 2.  RE: Email Etiquette and Digital Messaging

    Posted 05-02-2019 01:07 PM
    Hi Paul,

    This is becoming more of a concern as more digital means of conversing are becoming popular.

    Email: I would say generally, email is the best method for communication but not for conversation. With an email you can easily archive information, provide attachments, use features within Outlook or other tools, and maintain that level of professional communication. Also as a rule, I try to start with Hi and end with Best or something of that nature as opposed to carrying on like you would in a text. Also, if there is too much information to be conveyed, an email is likely not the best option and a meeting is better. That being said, if it is a conversation that is needed (or 3 emails back and forth) a call is the best means for communications, closely followed by Slack or Skype.

    Call: As you mentioned, a call doesn't have archival ability so a follow up email is often necessary, but you can get more done in a call than in Slack or Skype. It is better to make relationships and to discuss delicate or tricky issues. It is also easier to explain over the phone than in an email (unless you need a picture). I always try to make calls if I can because I know I can get answers right then or something moved to the top of the pile.

    Skype/Slack Messaging: I use Skype every day to relay communications as if I were to pop into an office and mention something, or if somebody is in a meeting or otherwise can't talk on the phone. It is very convenient and sometimes better to work over this messaging than a call or email, but never paragraphs. Also, this should be still formal communication style, with proper spelling and grammar.

    Text: Lastly, never use text unless you are in the field. I imagine most people can get email on their phones now, but often a text is better than the dozens of emails you get a day, especially in the field. Text should not be a means to communicate with clients or agencies or to give approval to anything. I do text with coworkers, but mostly about field issues or where to meet for drinks after work. 

    Hope this is clear.


    Zachary Gautsch M.ASCE

  • 3.  RE: Email Etiquette and Digital Messaging

    Posted 05-03-2019 06:07 PM

    Good question. I would like to add a little to Zachary's comments. I work in a branch office and my boss and the rest of my department are located in our main office which is 200 miles away. I also work remotely from home twice a week, so I have a bit of experience with maintaining communication outside of traditional face-to-face interactions in the office. 

    When working with clients or reviewing agencies, I typically always stick to email and phone communication. I agree with Zachary's comments on using the phone for conversations, and then following up with an email to note key items that you want to keep a record of - like action items or decisions.

    As far as communicating with co-workers, I use a combination of email, phone calls, skype conversations, and text messaging. I typically use email to communicate project questions or details - especially items of which I want to keep a written record. Since I am remote and can't stop by my boss's office, I typically check Skype to see if he is at his desk. Typically I send him a message to see if he is available before I call him. Occasionally, if he is not available on Skype, but doesn't have an appointment listed on his calendar, I will send him a text to let him know I need to talk to him. We have also used Skype on occasion to supplement a phone conversation if we need to share screens. I usually use texting as more of a last resort though, and unless something urgent comes up or I know he is working at a particular time, I don't text on weekends or evenings. I think it is important to respect other people's family time.

    This method of communication has worked well with my boss, but everyone is unique and I have other communication patterns that I tend to use with other coworkers. For example, I have one team member that I primarily just email with. She doesn't use her Skype account, but she is very responsive to email and we typically seem to be able to answer each other's question that way. 

    I will add that, regardless of what seems to work well for your team, if you ever find yourself having a more heated or passionate disagreement with a team member, I recommend that you pick up the phone! Sometimes a simple misunderstanding can get blown out of proportion in emails and skype/text messaging. A quick phone call can be a great way to clear up confusion. Or, if you find yourself in a situation where you are having a conflict with a coworker, it's a good idea to talk either in person or over the phone.

    Kelly Farabee P.E., P.T.O.E., M.ASCE
    Savannah, GA

  • 4.  RE: Email Etiquette and Digital Messaging

    Posted 05-03-2019 06:06 PM
    I have a blog I wrote about best methods of communicating, including some email do's and don'ts, that you can read here: https://www.engineersrising.com/blog/communicationstrategies

    I use emails to confirm discussions. My general rule is that if it will take more than three emails to resolve (or if you've hit the third one in what you thought was an easy conversation), to pick up the phone.

    One of the concerning trends I have seen recently is the trend towards using email/text/other methods of virtual communication to avoid conflict, confrontation, or a difficult conversation. If there's bad news, or even news that could be interpreted in different ways, email should NEVER be the first place you hear about it.  For example, engineers emailing each other who are literally sitting in adjacent workspaces, managers sending criticism via email without discussing it with the recipient, someone deciding to email 5 minutes after an in-person meeting starts that they are going to be late, "reply all" trains where team members snipe at or blame each other........all very unprofessional, and it seems like we are seeing more people (both in our industry and across society as a whole) willing to say things virtually that they'd never dream of saying face-to-face. 

    Texts should not be used professionally, with a rare exception for things like "I'm getting ready to walk into this meeting, where are you?" (to the team member who is supposed to be meeting you there).  

    Stephanie Slocum P.E.,M.ASCE
    Engineers Rising LLC

  • 5.  RE: Email Etiquette and Digital Messaging

    Posted 05-08-2019 05:24 PM
    I would agree with everything others have posted by and large.  Something I would expand on is to be mindful of what you say, and also how you say it.

    What you say: Anything you put in an email can be used in court.  Sometimes that's important to your benefit, if a client wants you to make changes having it documented that they know there will be cost changes has saved our firm from litigation in the past.  It exonerated use of any wrong-doing.  Alternatively it's important to note that if you're a P.E. just casually stating your opinion in an email could be construed as your professional opinion.

    Also along these lines is being sure to never bad mouth a co-worker, client, firm, or otherwise.  It might be a casual conversation between you and a friend but if it is accidentally forwarded or buried in the email chain it can be seen by unintended parties.  It might not be anything as serious as legal matters, but could still cost you a client or even your job.

    How you say it: A lot of people are pretty comfortable saying a lot they wouldn't face to face.  Which is fine if you're shy and handing out compliments, but more often than not it's snide remarks sent to multiple parties.  If you have an issue with someone, call or meet in person.  Even if the disagreement will require follow-up with other parties, discuss with the involved person(s) first.  Confrontation is uncomfortable, but if you wouldn't say it to this persons face, your probably shouldn't put it in a digital format.

    James Smith P.E.,M.ASCE
    Design Engineer
    Grand Rapids MI