Email Etiquette at Work: 21 Tips to Better Professional Communication

Learn tips and best practices to be confident before hitting send.

Every person who has ever worked in a corporate environment has faced issues with email management and email etiquette at work. 

Responding to an increasing number of messages every day makes us feel like Sisyphus — the Greek mythology character that has to push a boulder uphill for the rest of his life, only for it to go down again when it gets near the top. Like an uphill battle we never win, it usually feels impossible to answer every email, get the inbox to zero unread messages, and still be productive on other work activities. 

Still, email management is one of the business-world must-have skills. If you follow a few best practices to plan, write, and reply to emails, life can get much easier — and that promotion you’re working to achieve might get closer in reach.

Companies and business managers should also be aware of how employees deal with their email inboxes. Email management is embedded in team culture and efficiency, resulting in the way customers and the market perceive business. Also, when most (or even entire) company is working remotely, written communication becomes even more challenging.

In this article, we’ll guide you on how to send better emails. Start putting written communication at the forefront of your focus and get to know the rules of proper email etiquette at work.  

What does email etiquette at work mean? 

Email etiquette is a set of rules that guide communication inside email inboxes. Email etiquette in the workplace means paying attention to language, grammar, spelling, and conduct while having written professional exchanges.

When communicating via email, we don’t have our facial and body expressions to express ourselves, as we usually do. And since human beings rely more than 90% of their communication on the tone of voice and body language, it’s essential to be extra careful when the conversation happens only in writing.

Ways Human Beings CommunicateImportance for Effective Communication
Verbal Communication7%
Tone of Voice38%
Body Language55%
Source: Professor Albert Mehrabian study

Although facial expressions and body language are extremely important for communication, we still have to rely deeply on written messages to communicate in the workplace. The average worker spends 28% of their week reading and answering email messages, according to a McKinsey study. That’s more than a quarter of their time!

Therefore, we need to pay attention to the language, punctuation, context, and the proper email etiquette to use at work when emailing our coworkers and stakeholders. The appropriate rules may vary depending on the company, industry, or even the country in which you work. But there are a few guidelines everyone can follow to have successful and productive email exchanges. Let’s get to them.

21 email etiquette rules in the workplace everyone should follow  

Many email etiquette guidelines are unspoken and implied, but managers can also register them in a company’s policy. In the following sections, you’ll learn common email etiquette rules in the workplace. We’ll dive into tips and tricks to make sure you and your team communicate professionally with every message. 

What you’ll learn:  

  • The basics of email etiquette in the workplace
  • Writing a professional email
  • Respecting everyone’s time

Email etiquette at work: The basics

1. Know why you’re writing

This tip may sound obvious, but it’s not unusual to receive a message without a clear goal and get confused about why we were added to a thread, right? So be clear about what you want to achieve with the message you’re sending, who needs to receive it, and if email is the best format to convey it. 

Your goal should be to write about only one subject per email. But if you need to condense more information, use bullet points to make the message clear, concise, and scannable.

2. Always be concise and keep it simple

The average office worker receives 121 emails per day. It’s a massive amount of messages to attend to, a number we should always think about before hitting send. 

That is why shorter is better. When you write emails, make them as short as possible while giving context and explaining the message. Don’t let the receiver wonder what you meant, but be straight to the point to respect everyone’s time. 

3. Use the right structure

If an email is the best way to communicate what you need, use its structure to make it easy for the receivers to understand your message. Take time to create a good subject line, use greetings, and sign your email in the end.  

Subject lines must be brief and specific at the same time — they should clarify what the email is about before it’s opened. Your job is to tell the recipient, as soon as possible, what you need to say using keywords like “proposal,” “help,” or “feedback.” Since the subject line is so important, you should never send an email without one.

4. Introduce yourself

It’s polite to introduce yourself when emailing someone new, even if this person works in the same company as you. Don’t assume the recipient already knows you, and make a brief introduction before addressing the subject. 

If you’re emailing a person outside your company, explain how you got their email address, so you don’t come across as intrusive. Besides, it’s best to find a way to mention how you know each other when sending a first contact. 

5. Pay attention to the format

Fonts and colors should be standard, so the receiver’s attention doesn’t get distracted from the message. Usually, email providers set a standard format, and it’s a good idea to maintain it.

Also, a professional signature usually has a specific format. Many companies have standard templates ready for their employees. But if it’s not your case, the best practice is to include your full name, job title, and the company name.

If you work with sales or frequently contact outside stakeholders, you may also want to include more information in your signature, such as:

  • Your professional phone number
  • LinkedIn profile
  • Company address
  • Company website
  • Company logo
  • Your picture

6. Take extra care with attachments

How many times have you sent an email saying there is an attached file only to find out that you hadn’t uploaded it before sending? Probably many times. And when you’ve realized the mistake, you have to send a follow-up email to forward the file. We’ve all been there. So, one of the necessary email etiquette rules in the workplace is double-checking before sending a file.

Another basic rule is never to attach large files to your messages. If you need to send one of those, upload it to a cloud hosting service like Google Drive with a link to access or compress your file into a zipped folder. This way, you’ll make their life easier and avoid wasting their time and bandwidth with long loading times.

7. Be polite and respectful

Politeness and respect are rules of thumb for any relationship, be it in writing or in person. So it’s always good to remember the importance of treating coworkers, customers, and suppliers how you’d like to be treated. Be polite and respectful in every interaction, even when you’re having a bad day.

One of the worst mistakes you could make regarding email etiquette at the workplace (and outside the office) is being too impersonal. Always mention the recipient’s name and pay attention not to get it wrong. As we’ve seen, we don’t have our facial and body expressions in this situation, so refrain from using insensitive humor and do your best to come across positively.    

8. Emotionally proofread your messages

Liz Fosslien and Mollie West Duffy talk about the need to proofread messages beyond typos and grammar in a piece about digital miscommunications for Harvard Business Review. They bring light to an email’s emotional tone. 

People tend to perceive written messages as aggressive or passive-aggressive more often. That is why we should be careful with words, and never let any matter too open for interpretation. Make an effort to not make people nervous when receiving a message from you by using the right punctuation and explaining context.

9. Be careful when sharing sensitive information via email

Ideally, you shouldn’t share sensitive or confidential information via email because there are several ways in which someone could disclose the message without your consent. For example, you could face security issues or send the information to the wrong address by mistake.

But if you must do so, be extra careful while reviewing the email recipients, and always follow security best practices regarding email communication.

10. Never finish without the next steps  

If the first thing you need to do before sending an email is knowing the reason behind the message, the best way to close is with the next steps. Avoid open-ended emails. Explain to the recipient what activity is required after reading the message and clarify what you expect to achieve with it.

If you receive an open-ended email, follow up to understand the next steps and who’s the person responsible for them. This way, you direct the conversation to keep all receivers and even the sender on the same page, avoiding confusion and miscommunication. 

Pro tip: If you manage an alias such as [email protected], [email protected], or [email protected] along with coworkers, consider using a shared inbox to make collaboration easier.

Writing a professional email

11. Writing 101: grammar and spelling

Beware of making spelling mistakes and breaking grammar rules. These kinds of errors make you come across as unprofessional. You can use a spell check tool to guarantee no mistake goes unnoticed, and there are grammar tools you can leverage as well. Also, reading your message out loud helps to catch the phrases that might sound strange.  

12. Proofreading and editing are key

Always proofread your message before sending it. Look for mistakes, review the receiver’s name, your signature, the message details, and make sure everything is correct. 

Besides, the better you get at editing, the more concise and compelling messages you’ll write. Here are a few self-editing techniques to follow, shared by Grammarly’s team:

  • Review your word choices
  • Eliminate redundancies
  • Shorten long sentences
  • Resolve clarity issues
  • Avoid hedging and check your tone

13. It’s all about your tone

As we’ve established, communicating without facial expressions and body language is hard for human beings. So pay attention to your tone to make sure the email recipients understand you correctly. 

The ideal tone varies depending on your work environment and the person you’re exchanging the email with. It could range from very formal to casual, but you should never sound too informal in the workplace. Refrain from using inappropriate language, cursing, and even making offhanded jokes. 

Be mindful that emails are a type of communication that registers everything for good (even if you delete them from your inbox). Anyone could review your messages if any issues arise. Use a friendly and respectful tone, and you can never go wrong.

14. The importance of greetings

The greeting you choose can also help you set the tone of your email. Once again, the safest way is to avoid being too informal (like “Hey” or no greetings at all) or overly formal (with a “Dear Sir/ Madam”). Find a balance and consider your audience before choosing the best way to greet them. Most times, writing the name of the recipient and then starting the message is a good choice.

Avoid using job titles, gendered language, or exclamation points. Just refrain from starting your email with no greetings because it can make you seem unprofessional and inconsiderate.

15. Emoji or no emoji?

Emoji usage is quite controversial when we’re talking about email etiquette in the workplace. Many resources claim we should avoid emojis in emails at all costs. Others believe we could use them with people we’re familiar with or for setting the tone of what’s written.

According to a 2017 study, smile emojis aren’t well-perceived in a work environment. The findings show that “when the participants were asked to respond to emails on formal matters, their answers were more detailed and they included more content-related information when the email did not include a smiley.” Researchers found that “the perceptions of low competence if a smiley is included in turn undermined information sharing.”

However, Sean Peek points out a few benefits of using emojis in the workplace in his Business.com piece. Getting the reader’s attention, adding a personal touch, and displaying honesty could be good results of using them in your email communication. But, to sum up, avoiding emojis is the safer way to go, while they could be helpful depending on the situation. Use them wisely.

Respecting everyone’s time

16. Be proactive in managing your inbox

When thinking about respecting people’s time, the first person you should consider is you. Email management can be time-draining, and it’s not productive to spend all day monitoring and responding to emails. Although answering the messages you receive on time is essential, you can’t be a slave to your inbox.

So what can you do? Schedule blocks of time to read and answer emails, and implement a prioritization strategy. Eisenhower’s matrix is a great tool to help you prioritize. By using it, you’ll categorize the messages as “urgent” or “not urgent,” and “important” or “not important.” This classification helps you understand what you should be responding immediately, scheduling, delegating, or deleting (ideally with a brief answer to the sender).

To make this process easier, you may use labels, files, or even add due dates to messages as a reminder. And if you notice that it will take a long time to get to a message, it’s polite to reply with a quick receipt acknowledgment and tell the sender you’ll get to the message when you can. 

17. Respect working hours

Proper email etiquette at work includes always respecting your coworkers’ working hours. Don’t send emails over the weekend or after office hours. If you need to write immediately, or else you’ll forget to follow up with the task, there are tools to schedule a message to send it later. This way, you can keep working without disturbing the other person’s rest. 

Also, give time for people to read and act on your messages. This means no more emails late on Friday. Strive to create and be part of a work environment where people respect each other’s work/life balance.  

18. Use a shared inbox for group emails

When email messages are sent to a group address or are not addressed directly to you, there’s more room for miscommunication, mistakes, and rework. So, the best practice is to have a shared mailbox for more effective and productive management of the team’s shared accounts. 

Having a shared inbox allows managers and the entire team to have visibility over all the messages. You can check their statuses and make sure everyone is getting the answers they need. It allows you to talk to your team about the emails directly on the platform (without having to forward messages), facilitate delegation, collaboration, and avoid mistakes like forwarding wrong messages or sensitive information. 

Check out Pipefy’s Complete Guide to Shared Mailboxes for more information.

19. Best practices for forwarding and replying

One of the most important office email etiquette rules is replying and forwarding emails attentively. You shouldn’t reply or forward messages to a person that is not directly involved with the subject. Respecting people’s time also means not cluttering their inboxes. 

If you’re forwarding a long email thread to someone, help them get in the loop and save their time by summarizing the most crucial information. Also, it’s polite to BCC when sending messages to many people, especially if they don’t know each other. This way, you’ll hide their addresses and protect their information. 

Besides, if the message contains sensitive or confidential data, be extra careful. Always review the recipients’ email addresses, and erase information from the original message if you need it. We hear many stories where a single wrong click is responsible for information leaks. Or of customers reading internal conversations about the issue they were complaining about. So be careful when replying to all, and always double-check. In this case, the shared inbox may come in handy. You can talk to your team and comment on emails without forwarding them.

20. Automate messages

Besides helping with productivity, setting automatic messages is also an important email etiquette rule in the workplace. They are helpful when you’re out of office or leaving for PTO because you can warn everyone that emails you that you won’t be able to respond until your return date. When setting this type of message, remember to add the information from the person replacing you in your tasks while you’re out.

You can also go beyond time off and set automatic messages to notify about working hours or tell senders about your SLA to return emails.

21. Beware of cultural differences

Don’t risk offending or not conveying the message you need to a customer or coworker abroad. In this sense, Eric Barton wrote about the art of global email etiquette for BBC

“Sending emails to foreign contacts just like you might to those back home may sink a partnership before it begins. Instead, successfully emailing with people in other countries is more about adjusting to their norms.”

In some countries, email messages are more formal, while it can feel like a chat in others. The important thing is to adjust to the receivers’ manners. Study the social rules of the country you’re corresponding with to build stronger relationships and communicate effectively.

There’s no escaping email etiquette at work

Succeeding in the business world is not only about technical knowledge and achieving goals. It also involves communication and relationships. So, following the proper email etiquette at work can go a long way. Be clear, concise, polite, align expectations, and never promise what you can’t deliver. 

To make it easier for your team to follow office email etiquette rules, you can also use technology in your favor to automate messages and give everyone email visibility. To accomplish it, consider setting up a shared inbox for your team. 

By using Pipefy’s Shared Inbox, you can:

  • Have full visibility over the messages your team receives in a group address such as [email protected], [email protected], or [email protected]
  • Easily set automation rules to route emails, escalate messages, and send standard responses.
  • Add comments, build databases, and consolidate communication and tasks in one place.
  • Increase your team’s efficiency by turning responses into actionable items, leveraging digital workflows.