Wednesday, November 06, 2019

The wee small hours of the morning and 21st-century email etiquette

Ask a Manager, one of favorite sites for avoiding work, has a lot of useful advice about, you know, work.  Recently, Alison Green tackled the issue of whether it's rude to send emails late at night. A student worker asked this, and her advice was that while that's fine if you're sending emails to your peers, if you're a manager of some sort emailing your subordinates, it sets up an expectation that the emails will be answered immediately even if you say otherwise.

The academics that chimed in had a few takes on it:

1. We know that students stay up late and hey, sometimes we do, too, so no big deal if you answer an email late or on a weekend. Maybe we're traveling in a different time zone, too, so no worries about email at odd hours.

2. Also usually not a worry: waking people up as their phone buzzes with an incoming email. They can join the 21st century and turn off notifications like the rest of us or--here's a novel thought--not keep the phone by their bedside.

3. Schedule the email to go out later--at 8 a.m. instead of 2 a.m., for example--which you can do in Outlook and Gmail.

4. Draw a bright line between work and not-work; don't respond to email in off-hours.

What's your take on this?  I have a few new private email rules and questions since I last wrote about this:

1. What do you do when someone flat-out ignores their email and it's well known that you can only reach them through another form of social media that you may or may not use--and everyone just accepts it as an endearing personality quirk? My usual response is to send stuff through official channels (e.g., email) and let the chips fall where they may, unless they're going to fall on me--and then I knuckle under and use the other social media. A sellout position? Probably.

2. What about student or other emails sent after hours or over the weekend? Most of it still sits in my inbox like snowflakes falling on a windowpane, and definitely anything related to department politics can wait, because you know what kind of storm that's going to be. But when students are wrestling with The Great Demon CMS and trying to submit papers, I try to reply if it 's a weeknight (and papers aren't due on the weekend).

3. What if people ignore your carefully written email that took, yes, an hour to write in answer to their questions and then ask the questions again? Do you explain again, or do you say "you may have missed my response to this," copy and paste the first one, and send it--boom, done, with no further thought?

Any other email quandaries?


gasstationwithoutpumps said...

I respond to e-mail when I read it, whether it is the middle of the day or the middle of the night—otherwise I'd have too many messages to deal with. I send out e-mail when I have time, which often means on weekends or at night. I can't always respond to students immediately (some of their questions take time to research or make decisions on), but I try not to keep them waiting unnecessarily. When questions come up about a course I am teaching, I often respond on the course forum (Piazza), rather than individually, so that all students get the benefit of the response.

I use e-mail for anything official, but also for many social things. I don't use other social media (other than blogging, which is more like publication than like conversation). Many faculty don't read their email, so I often have to send them a copy of a message that they were sent weeks earlier.

Jonathan said...

It's irritating when your department chair emails in the middle of the night. Otherwise, it's ok because you simply don't check your mail until the next morning if you are a sane person.

undine said...

gasstationwithoutpumps--I do a similar kind of triage. If it's going to take me less time (and clear mental space) to answer it right then, I will. If faculty don't read their email, like you I'll send it to them again, but it's irritating to have to be Keeper of the Email Archive for those who think their time is more valuable than yours, which is how this seems.

Jonathan--zie/he/she/they can email to their heart's content in the middle of the night; I'll never see it until the next morning because I'm a sane person.

gwinne said...

1.I read email whenever I want to read email.

2. I almost never reply to email sent by students after 5:30 pm on weekdays and at all over the weekends, except when there is something legitimately urgent, like a student doing a presentation on a Monday who needs to check in.

3.I don't send email to colleagues generally after 9 or on the weekends, mostly because I don't want to be reading email at that point, and I don't want to perpetuate that tendency. I REALLY resent colleagues, always younger, who start sending texts in order to get a faster response. (Often after sending an email.) This is a new phenomenon. There is rarely a true academic emergency.

4. I very much appreciate department chairs/administrators being aware of this problem and trying to avoid it as well. All this is sort of arbitrary. Mostly I feel that many problems can be solved via waiting to reply to email.

OMDG said...

I really need to get better about this, but I usually try to respond to email when I read it, otherwise it piles up. The only problem is that not infrequently a nuanced reply is required, which will take 15 min or more, and I can't do it when I read it because I'm in the middle of something else. Then when I get home completely zonked, I forget about the email. I have a lot of stress about being afraid of forgetting things (which doesn't happen often, but still). I flag emails that I need to address later, but then can't find them later anyway. Gah. There has to be a better way.

undine said...

gwinne--"No such thing as an academic emergency" ought to be an embroidered motto. Email will almost always cover it.