Oct 29, 2015

Though it has been around for a while, email isn’t going anywhere anytime soon; make sure you’re using it effectively.

Email is not going away for those of us in the A/E business – even though, I confess, I didn’t really see the need for it when Fred White first told me about it years ago and suggested we both get AOL accounts. Email is one of those tools that we all use and assume our employees know how to use. The problem is they don’t always know how to use it (properly). Here are my thoughts about email and how to make it better:
  1. Email isn’t always the best tool. Sometimes you have to pick up a phone and call someone. Or get up, walk down the hall, and go see them. Or leave your building entirely and go see them. Not everything can be done via email. Put a bunch of non-confrontational, introverted design professionals together and they will email the person in the desk next to them before having any other type of interaction. Not good!
  2. Emails can be misinterpreted. This is one reason you need voice and face-to-face conversations. If you are too brief, someone could accuse you of being terse. If you don’t use exclamation points, someone might think you aren’t excited (enough). There are many other signals one sends out when communicating other than what they actually say. Email doesn’t have these other signals.
  3. Signatures should be uniform within a firm. Everyone’s email signature should be the same and include their name, title, company name, logo, main number, direct-dial extension (if you have them), and cellphone number. The idea is to make everyone accessible to those who need them.
  4. Clean out your inbox every day. Show me someone who forgets to do things and I guarantee that they have an inbox that has thousands of emails still in it. It’s a discipline. Process immediately. The fact that we spend more time with our cellphones on email than our regular computers doesn’t help. I delete everything I can as it comes in and then go back and file the rest later (as in soon after!).
  5. Email folders really help. Get organized. Get file folders. Then you can find what you need to later. And name your folders consistently so this doesn’t become a jumbled mess, which is as bad as an over-full inbox.
  6. Respond quickly! Speed is everything today. Twenty-four hours is not nearly soon enough. A few hours might be too long. A few minutes is better. Lack of timely response implies lack of interest.
  7. Out of office assistant is bad. I’ve said it a million times. Do NOT let your people use this. It connotes poor service when you are telling the world you aren’t accessible.
  8. Acknowledge when someone responds to you. If you ask a question of someone and they respond, or if someone tells you something you need to know or gives you instructions, acknowledge it. Say “thanks, “ “got it,” or something similar. Saying nothing means “you didn’t get it” or aren’t thankful or don’t care or, worse, didn’t like the response you got. All of these are bad.
  9. Employees need training! Don’t assume your people know ANY of these things. Who would’ve taught them? You have to teach them, or they won’t know. It might seem hard to believe, as these things seem like common sense, but, as they say: “Common sense is not so common.”
MARK ZWEIG is founder and CEO of Zweig Group. Contact him at

About Zweig Group

Zweig Group, three times on the Inc. 500/5000 list, is the industry leader and premiere authority in AEC firm management and marketing, the go-to source for data and research, and the leading provider of customized learning and training. Zweig Group exists to help AEC firms succeed in a complicated and challenging marketplace through services that include: Mergers & Acquisitions, Strategic Planning, Valuation, Executive Search, Board of Director Services, Ownership Transition, Marketing & Branding, and Business Development Training. The firm has offices in Dallas and Fayetteville, Arkansas.