It’s time to kill the “Reply All” button

We have seen that email come in.

“Let’s all congratulate Susie and team for successfully making Contoso’s Go Live a success last weekend!”

Nothing wrong with that, its important to highlight and recognize team successes.

Then it starts…

A string of emails come streaming in. “Great work team”. “Congrats” “awesome”.  Nice gestures, and again, important to recognize personal and team achievements.  However, do they need to be “Reply All”?

If you happen to be in a meeting, offline or away for a day, and you go and check email, you may see you inbox explode “100 unread messages”.

Or you get easily distracted with email notifications popping up (I have these shut off) causing your productivity to drop.

Working in an environment that also entails a certain level of customer support means that seeing a mass amount of email activity results in a spike of anxiety.  You question if there is a critical issue at play and you need to jump into the conversation.

The madness needs to stop.

reply-all-meme

Don’t get me wrong, having a message go out that Susie and team did a great job is not a bad thing. Replying to Susie with your own personal congrats is OK too.

But why the “Reply All”? We all got the message, we don’t need it again.  I really don’t care that you think Susie did a good job.  I don’t need to be included on that email.  I get more than enough email.

The “Reply All” was meant to be a collaboration tool, long before there were tools like VSTS, Slack and Teams.  It still can serve that purpose, but I feel there needs to be some sort of protocol in place.

Working on a particular issue, we may need to ask a question to your team, and the answer may actually be important for everyone to be aware of.  That to me is a good use of “Reply All”.

Since becoming an MVP, it has opened up some more communication channels and of course being on specific distribution lists.  This adds to the amount of email, but I have seen a couple of techniques that I have started to use in my day-to-day email usage and I think are key to helping with the overloaded email problem.

Little r

If someone asks a specific question or makes a request e.g. “Anyone available to help me put together a presentation on PowerApps?”  I have seen the statement “Please little r me” added to the end of the request.  This means, “Don’t Reply All, just reply to me, no one else needs to know that you have volunteered, I will manage all the response myself”.  This is a brilliant technique!

Moving everyone else to BCC

This is great for distribution lists.  Someone asks a question, perhaps a “Reply All” is warranted as everyone could benefit from the information.  However, when the email chain gets specific, and key players are identified in the conversation, I have seen where the “rest” of the folks on the email chain or the distribution list alias is moved to the BCC.  This means any further “Reply All” will go to just the key players that need to be involved in the conversation.  For the rest of the folks on the BCC, what this means is that “FYI – The problem is being taken care of and by moving you to BCC means that you know this is being addressed but you won’t get any further communication on it”.  I like this method because you aren’t left wondering if the issue ever got taken care of.

The “Hi Nick” Skype Message

This is not email related, but falls into the communication tool best practices.  You could be working away, and you see a short greeting on your instant messenger app.  “Hey Nick”.

skype

Pause.  You are now interrupted.  So you type back.  “yes”

A few seconds pass.  Can you go back to your task, or do you wait?  Finally the question or comment may come.  Usually the person asks, “just see if you are there”.  Um, if my status says that I am here, well, then I am likely here.

Maybe its me, but I find it annoying that my workflow is now disrupted.  I get that we want to be polite.  The better way would be “Hi Nick – I am having an issue with Power Apps and I got stuck, can you help?”

I am still interrupted, but now I can start to take action.  Instant Messaging is great because its instant.  Great when you need the immediate answer and can’t wait for an email response (despite folks sometimes treating email like an instant messenger).  However, please don’t make me wait around, if you have a question, spit it out!

Other Communication Tool Issues that Drive Us Crazy:

Phone call: “I just sent you an email, did you read it?”

No, I didn’t.  If it was important to get an immediate response, you could have used instant messaging or even just called me without wasting time on an email.  Email is NOT instant messaging.  I don’t know if there is an established standard on response times, but I feel a few hours to a day to respond is quite reasonable.

Phone call: “I thought it would be easier just to have a call and chat about it.”

This is fair, but in some situations, where documentation and action plans are important, spending time to articulate the issue and proposed plans in an email would actually make an actual conversation smoother.  In some case, not doing this is saying “I was too lazy to write anything down, so that is why I would rather talk about it.”  However, in a lot of cases an actual conversation is a good thing.  Writing up a summary email after the call does capture the issues and action plan, and in my opinion would be a good practice.

Summary

Common sense is not always common practice.  We have a plethora of communication tools available to us, the problem is that they can be very distracting and actually impede productivity.  There is a lot of room to use these tools wisely.

The “Reply All” button may still have some life, but I think we all could use it a lot less.  Fellow MVP Neil Benson suggested adding a PayPal link to the “Reply All”, I think that might be a great idea and could solve world hunger.

What I have stated above is my own personal opinions.  I know that I may have broken some of these rules before, and I am also calling out some of the habits of my teammates, colleagues and even a few superiors, please don’t take it personally (but please don’t Skype without some context).

Nick Doelman is a Microsoft Business Application MVP.  Nick can be reached via fax, telegram or Morse code.

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