Email has obliterated the time and distance separating us from our friends, family,
colleagues, and customers.
And while that's been a good thing for individual efficiency—and for the global economy—it also means that expectations around how long it should take for someone to respond to an email message have shifted dramatically.
Whenever we hit "send", an invisible timer is set for, say, 24 hours max. Maybe more. Usually less.
We want a reply, and we want it now. And when we don't see the bold lettering at the top of our inbox indicating the other side has responded, we hit refresh in the hope that will trigger the email server to release the goods.
We get agitated when we don't get a quick reply. Sometimes, we even get angry.
The content of your emails, the tone, and the length: These are all critical components of well-crafted emails that effectively convey the messages you want to deliver.
But in an information-drenched world, where we can instantaneously communicate with people around the world through email, the speed with which we reply to emails becomes an indicator of how we value our relationship with the sender.
If you want to cultivate trust with the people you work with—employees, peers, bosses, suppliers, customers—then share information, and share it quickly. And that usually (though not always, of course) means replying to emails.
You may not always be able to reply immediately, or even with 24 hours. But try to set a personal standard for response time—24, 48, or 72 hours—and stick to it.
Sure, there will be times when you're too consumed with a priority project, or you're traveling half-way around the world and you're "out of pocket", or you're on vacation and have successfully unplugged from the digital matrix that normally controls your life—to respond quickly to an email.
It's good, therefore, to have a boilerplate, automated "out of office" reply saying you're busy and will give a real response within a certain period of time. And it can be helpful if you can include in your automated reply the name and email address of a colleague who can serve as a temporary contact while you're away (but as a courtesy, and for practical purposes, do ask them first).
Outside of those times, however, when you're working and people rely on you for decisions, or input, or advice, then respond to their emails.
Not responding within, say, a couple of days or less, tells the sender of an email that you aren't interested in what they have to say. Or it says you don't respect them enough to bother with a response
This might not in fact be the truth, of course. Sometimes, however, perception is reality.
How long do you usually set as a maximum time before you try to reply to emails? How do you prioritize how you reply to messages? Share your email strategies in the comments!
Thanks for reading. Please reach out and connect with me here on LinkedIn.
McKinsey Head of Communications, Greater China