Get Your Tech Maintenance Emails Read

Email email email
Image by RambergMediaImages via Flickr

I was surprised when I found out that my co-workers were not reading important emails about our network. It didn’t just come out. No, I had to learn the hard way as employees were starting to complain about things that they didn’t know about when I had sent out an email explaining all about the change. They indicated that they simply didn’t read that email. Emails about tech maintenance or other tech-related topics had been almost relegated to the trash immediately. That was when I started to use Publisher to make the emails pretty. That worked for a bit – but soon, the emails were being discarded again and complaints were piling up again.

To combat this, I have to say, I got advice from someone on our Tech Committee. He outlined what he felt needed to be in an email and I have tweaked it to be this process that I now use. It truly was easy and so far, it has been more successful than ever before. That doesn’t mean that each email that pertains to employees maintaining their email boxes or upcoming outages get fully read, but there is a higher possibility now that they are read with the implementation of these few easy things.

  • Create an internal email account to represent a “tech team” – It was difficult to hear that some employees would read emails from another member of the tech department, but wouldn’t read another member’s emails. It made no sense to me. We wanted to get the information out as quickly as possible so it just came from whomever had the moment. Since that was a problem, we simply created a Tech Team email account which we send out important announcements out from to staff. We also receive email on it, although that adoption has been much less successful.
  • Give Clear, Concise Subject Lines – Subject lines can be the one thing that makes your email get read or not. You can learn a lot about this from marketers. Before when the concentration had been on identifying a date that a task was needed or identifying the project, now the focus is about being short. If the email is going to outline a task that employees need to do by a certain date the subject line starts “Action Needed”. If the email is about an upcoming outage, the subject line starts “Planned Outage”. Make sure that these are used consistently if you have multiple people sending these types of email.
  • Use the “High Alert” Flag Sparingly – Everyone believes that their email is the most important and I think that breeds quickly in a tight-knit organization. I remember the one day sitting in my office after sending out an email about an upcoming outage with a high alert flag on it and listening to all the audible warnings ring around my office. Then some people even forwarded it to their coworkers so there was a second round of audible warnings. Then another coworker sent out an email about an upcoming birthday party for a staff member with a high alert. So all the audible warnings started once more. But it wasn’t done because another worker sent out an email with a read receipt and a high alert flag, which meant all the audible warnings happened along with her machine giving the same annoying alert noise when she received the read receipts.  Obviously, these alerts are used too often and should be used sparingly. If you have a good subject line, you won’t need the alert.
  • Create an email template – A consistent look and feel has been the most successful thing in getting employees to read these emails which they previously would not have read. They know what information that they are going to get in these emails and they aren’t concentrating on what pretty color schema was used in Publisher this time. Make sure everyone on your team uses this email template. Make things easy to fill in and send. More importantly, break this email template up into three different sections:
    • Summary – Start off the email with a quick summary of the most important details. Try to keep this to about a paragraph with 5 to 6 sentences at the most. If they read this part, you have done most of the work the email was meant to do.
    • Action Steps – Outline, in bullet format exactly what you need the staff member to do. If you need them to be logged off the network at 6 am, make that the first bullet point. If you need them to clean out email accounts because Exchange is getting bogged down, write that as a bullet point. Use these bullet points to also point them to further information – don’t try to put step-by-step directions on how to clean up their email accounts here, give them a link to those directions. Try to keep this bullet list short too – if you are getting beyond 10 bullet points, this might indicate you need to replan your email as you might be trying to cover too much in one email.
    • Details – This is the section for the employees who want to know the nitty-gritty details. In my experience, most employees aren’t going to care about the details, they just want to know what they have to do. But there are those few and mighty that want to know exactly why or more of the technical reasons behind why they are being asked to do a task. This section, since it is last, provides that information so you don’t have too many follow-up emails with questions to answer. I will provide internal and external links to information that is contained here and if there is going to be any section that has multiple paragraphs, this is the section.
  • Always offer to answer questions – This is the polite thing to do and it makes for more dialogue to happen. There isn’t a feeling that you are separated from the other employees. Most often there aren’t many questions when I follow this process of writing an email, especially in comparison to when I would put all of this information into a pretty Publisher email – where staff concentrated too much on the pictures and graphics and not the content.

This isn’t a completely foolproof solution. There are still going to be some times when the email simply gets lost because you can’t control how much information overload one of your coworkers may have when your email gets sent out. But having this in place helps so when  you do encounter to the complaint that they didn’t receive an email about an outage or a task they needed to complete, you can explain that the email did get sent out and often the conversation will end there. It has been so much more useful for me and all the feedback has been that staff like this method and more are reading these emails than ever before.


2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Peter Campbell
    Jul 19, 2011 @ 20:18:17

    I have a different approach to my tech emails that I find highly effective — so effective that I think more people read my full emails than would otherwise. My rules are:

    1. Consistent subject lines. Everyone at my org knows that the subject “Network Availability” means that the network won’t be available at some point. No need to flag it urgent (I agree wholeheartedly with the “use that sparingly” advice).

    2. Target the message appropriately — only send it to those who need to know.

    3. Optional Reading. I put the main messages (“The email system will be unavailable from 10:00 pm to Midnight on Sunday”; “The Blackbaud system will be down for emergency maintenance from :200-3:00 pm today”) in brief, simple, jargon-less language. Then I have a second section called “Optional Reading” where I delve into why the maintenance is occurring, or the back story on the issue. I try to avoid acronyms and jargon here, as well, but I assume that those choosing to continue aren’t complete technophobes.

    By making the critical info easy to read and the details optional, I get much wider acknowledgement of the critical messages and more engagement on the details. I swear by this approach.


    • mhinesucpclass
      Jul 21, 2011 @ 12:02:56

      I love hearing about how others handle this situation as I’m always looking to tweak parts of these messages. I think we both have worked on figuring out the audience that we are sending too and tailoring the message. To help me create my method, and to eventually identify that staff would respond to bullets, we ran a survey on our SharePoint about what style of writing they liked to read. I wasn’t sure we’d get a response from that survey and the results weren’t very clear – but the comments that were left in the comments field almost all identified when it came to business-related memos that staff wanted bullets because they could cross of as they went down the list what they had to do.


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