Paper memos and letters are at risk of following the typewriter into oblivion. The vast majority of office communication takes place today via e-mail or its transient cousin, instant messaging (IM). These forms of communication have the advantage of instant delivery, and an ongoing exchange of e-mails feels more like conversation than correspondence.
When e-mail first became available, computer technology limited the number of characters that could appear in a line of text. This led to the development of a sort of e-mail shorthand, a system of abbreviations and symbols that convey messages. E-mail correspondence was quite cryptic: “gr8t 2 c u, g2g” was shorthand for “Great to see you, got to go.” Though the technology has improved and nearly all e-mail programs now automatically accommodate line length through a feature called word wrap, some people continue to use the cryptic shorthand. Don't be one of them! Write e-mails in full sentences as you would write memos printed and distributed the old-fashioned way.
Think before you write. E-mail and other forms of digital messaging are instant, and once you hit “Send,” that message is gone. You can't take it back to say something a different way or to delete something you shouldn't have said. Keep your comments brief and to the point without being terse. If what you're saying requires more than a few paragraphs, consider making a phone call instead. And don't type your e-mails in all caps, either. In “netiquette,” this is the equivalent of yelling.
It's not unusual for managers to exchange several hundred e-mails a day. Use the subject line to provide a clue about the nature of your message. This makes it easy for you to remember why you've e-mailed someone. It also helps your e-mail make it through antispam filters on the e-mail servers and on your own computer.
Keep in mind that the instantaneous nature of e-mail gives a false sense of presence, as though you're engaged in conversation. But other important dimensions of communication that add nuances of meaning are missing. The other person can't hear your voice or see your facial expressions. Words on the screen can appear harsh when what they're saying is not. Especially when giving assignments and schedules, ask rather than tell or provide a few sentences to soften the message.
Little is as annoying in the digital environment as spam — those unsolicited messages distributed by the millions primarily as marketing efforts. Most Internet service providers (ISPs, the companies that serve as the “switchboards” for Internet traffic) use filters to intercept as much spam as possible before it reaches your company's network or your computer. Internet experts estimate that 40 percent or more of Internet traffic is spam. What can you do about spam? Beyond making sure you have effective filters to screen it out, not very much. Whenever possible, do not even open spam e-mail messages. In particular, you should never open attachments from unfamiliar senders! Delete them. Sometimes spam carries viruses.
Computer viruses are the bane of the Internet. Viruses are malicious structures of computer code that implement some sort of action on your computer. Many viruses are more annoying and time-wasting than harmful, but others can steal or destroy data, hijack your computer and use it for Internet activity, or damage programs and files on your computer. Always use antivirus software, and keep it current.