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When Can I Expect an Email Response? 232

An anonymous reader writes "Ever sit there waiting for an email response and wonder what's going on? Did they get it? Did it get filtered? A study looks at the responding habits of a large group of corporate users. They find, among other things, that users would try to 'project a responsiveness image. For example, sending a short reply if a complete reply might take longer than usual, intentionally delaying a reply to make themselves seem busy, or planning out timing strategies for email with read receipts.' Tit-for-tat, 'Users would try to reciprocate email behaviors -- responding quickly to people who responded quickly to them, and lowering their responsiveness to people who responded slowly to them in the past.'"
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When Can I Expect an Email Response?

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  • by hellfire ( 86129 ) <[moc.liamg] [ta] [vdalived]> on Wednesday August 30, 2006 @06:01PM (#16011213) Homepage
    The first comment to the article on that page is awesome and must be shared:

    some additional behaviors that I've seen while working at a 30+ person startup:

    - certain people respond to all emails in person, by getting up to talk to them or yelling across cubicles

    - certain people prefer to communicate by email even when the recipient is sitting right next to them

    - there is another group of people who send very few work-related emails, but who send interesting and/or funny emails to the entire company now and then.
  • 3 hour rule (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday August 30, 2006 @06:04PM (#16011239)
    I have a rough rule of responding to every email within 3 hours. If that's unreasonable I flag the email to start popping up notifications. Since I started doing this I have noticed that people I correspond with at work tend to be much more responsive. Even if you send back a quick reply saying something like "I'm busy and will deal with your issue later/tomorrow/whatever" it's better than not acknowledging the email until you can fully deal with whatever it contains. I actually started this because people sucked at getting back to me and it was pissing me off and I didn't want to be that person that other people were pissed at because it seemed like they were ignoring emails. I hate that person.
  • Email all day (Score:5, Interesting)

    by floppy ears ( 470810 ) on Wednesday August 30, 2006 @06:05PM (#16011247) Homepage
    At my company, almost everything is done by email. Most messages are responded to nearly immediately, and so everybody's expectation is that email is more of a conversation than something that will be looked at in 24 hours (may as well be 24 years).

    Of course, little actually gets done since interruptions are contstant. Seriously, probably 2/3 of my time is allocated to just sending and receiving emails. And I work in a major, highly profitable company. I just don't understand how we do it.
  • Black Hole (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday August 30, 2006 @06:17PM (#16011341)
    I'm surprised they didn't mention the people who are black holes. You send them emails, they read them, but they do nothing until you walk over there and prod them to see if they have read it and only then will they give you an answer.

    I've tried all sorts of things to coax an answer out of people like this through email... writing shorter messages which only ask one yes/no question, writing longer ones, etc etc nothing I try seems to be able to make them type that damn reply.
  • Re:Email all day (Score:3, Interesting)

    by susano_otter ( 123650 ) on Wednesday August 30, 2006 @06:18PM (#16011347) Homepage
    Seriously, probably 2/3 of my time is allocated to just sending and receiving emails. And I work in a major, highly profitable company. I just don't understand how we do it.

    Labor-saving devices at all levels of your operation, painstakingly integrated into your operation over more years than you've been alive, allow you to get more work done than previous generations even in the face of greater distractions.

    (Indeed, it allows your employer to grow into a major, highly profitable company even while employing people who don't have any clue how the company actually runs.)
  • And (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Fred Porry ( 993637 ) on Wednesday August 30, 2006 @06:24PM (#16011413)
    Its also really interesting, how people behave when you send them a job application: they just wont send a reply, even if you send another shit-friendly email, you can do whatever you want, they just wont effin' reply to your emails/whatever! No way!!!
    I'm sorry, beeing unemployed just totally sucks...
  • by Naviztirf ( 856598 ) on Wednesday August 30, 2006 @06:25PM (#16011416)
    What I hate is taking the time to compose a long email in which multiple issues need to be addressed and receiving a short reply that answers only the first question. For those people I end up sending them an email for each question... Well at least is isn't paper *sigh*.
  • by Dock ( 89815 ) on Wednesday August 30, 2006 @06:34PM (#16011476) Homepage
    Not a study, but I did write about it...

    "When I send somebody an e-mail, I expect them to respond. One day is nothing. Two days if you're busy, I can understand and appreciate that. Three days is rude, and anything beyond that is stupid. We're not talking about sitting down to write an essay here, some grand quest to prove to everyone that you do actually know how to spell, use grammar, punctuation, and occasionally capitalize letters. I'm talking about a simple "Sorry, I don't have any information about that." How hard was that? It takes a few seconds to read, a few to comprehend, and a few more to pen an answer.

    Seriously, what is the point of having e-mail if you aren't going to use it? How can you ever expect it to be useful when you treat it with all the responsibility of a two-year-old? When the phone rings, you answer it. You wouldn't for a second think about letting it ring, figuring they'll just call back in a few weeks. And what the hell makes you think you're so special that someone who obviously wants something from you is going to find it acceptable that you made them wait days if not weeks to be blessed with your response?

    This past week, I sent an e-mail to an executive producer for a TV show that airs on the SCI FI channel. I'm pretty sure I sent that on either a Friday or a Saturday night, and got a reply on Monday. That's fine, business and all that. I pinged him back, and within minutes got another reply. He was obviously sitting right there still dealing with his mail, and I appreciated him taking the time to help me out with something. But that's the rub, I appreciated him not taking a month to get back to me, something that otherwise should be baseline. It should be commendable that you answer your email within hours, not that you answered it at all." [...]

    Rest is over here - itch-and-so-am-i.html []
  • 24 hours (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Wylfing ( 144940 ) <brian.wylfing@net> on Wednesday August 30, 2006 @06:40PM (#16011511) Homepage Journal

    Cripes, what is funny about this is that I have already metmodded posts from this topic.

    Anyway, when I first started in business, which was a surprisingly long time ago given what I'm about to say, the head of our company met with every new hire and, among other things, said this:

    Respond to every voice-mail within one hour, and respond to every e-mail within one day.

    I have always taken that as a maxim of business communication. Professionals should respond in those timeframes, or else you need to assume (a) something went wrong with the transmission (this covers a lot of professional gaffes, which is good when the person you are accusing is your client), or (b) they have been too busy to respond (which means you should "annoy" them anyway -- busy people like to be gadflied with important items), or (c) they are intentionally ignoring you, which means you should assume #1 or #2 anyway.

  • by Threni ( 635302 ) on Wednesday August 30, 2006 @06:43PM (#16011530)
    Ok, mod me down if you must, but I'm genuinely interested in this.

    I work for a company in the UK which works with a company in the States. Sometime I have to email fairly technical (ie its about source code and programming in general) messages to my counterpart in the States. To make the process as simple as possible I spend some time breaking my question(s) into pieces, numbering them, and making them clear and hopefully straight-forward. The American company practically *always* only replies to the first point in the email. If their reply addresses the problem, we still have all the others to go through, as could be seen if they'd been read at the time the first one was.

    I've had this with a couple of other companies which are based in the US, and even in the company I'm talking about I've emailed several different people with the same response.

    Is this a widespread practice? And if so......why?
  • by jeblucas ( 560748 ) <jeblucas@ g m a i l .com> on Wednesday August 30, 2006 @06:44PM (#16011539) Homepage Journal
    ARRRRRGGGGHHHH! I can't stand these. I hate them times a million. I have one vendor that wants a receipt sent when I DELETE their message. (I'm CC'd only, I'd yell if I could). I, as a rule, never send receipts back. Never. Not to my boss, no one. If you want to know that I got your message, call me and speak to me. That's a pretty good way to verify, and say, while you're at it; maybe you could just tell me what's up. If you want the aloofness and lack of immediacy of email, then I'm sorry, you don't get to immediately know when I've read your message.
  • Heh (Score:3, Interesting)

    by andreyw ( 798182 ) on Wednesday August 30, 2006 @06:59PM (#16011631) Homepage
    I tend to reply as quickly as I can (that might depend on a lot of factors), but I never take into account how slowly someone responded. Just because (for example) someone doesn't have any respect for me to convey a timely reponse to me via email/sms/im/pm, doesn't mean I need to lower myself to that level.
  • My tuppence worth (Score:3, Interesting)

    by TractorBarry ( 788340 ) on Wednesday August 30, 2006 @07:04PM (#16011680) Homepage
    Personally when I'm at work I only look at my emails about once or, if I get really bored, possibly twice, a day. With my private email accounts it's now got to the point where it may be as little as once a week. There's just that much crap being transmitted by email that I can barely be bothered to use it at all any more.

    At home it's the never ending spam that's worn me down. My ISP runs spam filters and I run local spam filtering prior to downloading any actual messages and, whilst the level of spam became reasonable for a while, it's getting worse all the time and I get really bored deleting all the crap - even though most spam is automatically marked for me by software.

    At work 70% of the email is useless noise which has been forwarded down the entire management chain with a message to "cascade to all staff". Sadly these message are usually along the lines of "Fred Bloggs has just been appointed as deputy leader to Mike Hunt and will now be reporting to Freda Smiggles" and whilst this is obviously a source of pride for Mr Bloggs, and undoubtedly useful for anyone who has dealings with Mr. Hunt and Ms. Smiggles, it has absolutely nothing to do with me or the team I work for. And in case you're wondering the other 30% consists of:

    10% poor quality or old jokes, "unfunny" images and simply awful powerpoint slide shows.
    9.9% good jokes or "funny" images.
    0.1% funny powerpoint slideshows.
    4% false rumours,
    4% true rumours and
    2% useful information.

    Luckily though most of the mangement stuff get's processed by my mail filters so that it's automatically "marked as read" and moved into a spam folder (which is named "Management Information" :) as I simply can't be bothered reading it. It's somewhat depressing really as everyone is aware of the problem and if there's actually important information in one of these mails then either a telephone call will ripple down the management chain or there'll be a desk visit to pass on the information as well.

    I've found that the more prevalent the use of email technology, the poorer the "signal to noise" ratio has become. I therefore long ago took the decision to give email less status than normal mail. So I have a quick scan first thing in the morning, seperate out the stuff that looks interesting and then either bin or ignore the rest.

    If I'm sent something that requires a reply then I'll usually get round to it but very rarely with much regard to timing. I also always refuse to allow anything like "receipt reports" or "the email has been opened reports" and if I ever lose the ability to do this I'll just not run my mail client more than once a week.

    So if you're expecting a reply to an email you've sent me then don't hold your breath. I'll do it when I get round to it. But by the same token when I send emails I don't expect a reply in any great hurry so at least I'm consistent :)

    Personally I think the whole idea of a letter, whether transported via a physical medium or the aether, is to facilitate offline communication. You send it when you feel like it and I reply when I feel like it. That's a civilised way to communicate.

    Devices and methods which facilitate urgent communication should be used sparingly and should be restricted to life changing/threatening events such as a loved one being taken ill or imminent disaster. Personally my job involves me concentrating on the matter in hand and I do not appreciate being continually interrupted with trivial crap.

    Just my tuppence worth.
  • Re:Not my experience (Score:3, Interesting)

    by WuphonsReach ( 684551 ) on Wednesday August 30, 2006 @07:16PM (#16011747)
    It depends on the person's preferred method of communication. (I'm sure I'll mess up the categorizations.) Most people prefer one specific type with less preference for the others. Some folks are equally comfortable with multiple types.

    Tactile? Those are the face-to-face meeting folks. They're not comfortable unless they can see you in the same room and watch the body language. They process new things by working with them in a hands-on fashion.

    Visual? The e-mail and IM gods. Written is best for them. Very good readers (they tend to learn a lot from written texts).

    Aural? The phone for everything folks. Or a cross-over with the face-to-face meeting folks. They are great at communicating and learning via verbal communication. These folks can repeat a conversation verbatim (or darn close).

    I forget what the estimates are for the population at large for each category. But a lot of aural-centric folks simply aren't wired for communicating via e-mail / IM and have to be taught. They might come across as abrupt in written communications or leave IM conversations without saying goodbye.
  • Re:I've cut back (Score:5, Interesting)

    by SanityInAnarchy ( 655584 ) <> on Wednesday August 30, 2006 @07:18PM (#16011764) Journal
    I generally check my email at least once a day, probably several times. I can use the distraction.

    It's extremely odd. As a programmer, distractions make me more productive, so long as they aren't actually interruptions. In Deep Hack Mode (TM), I won't be interrupted at all, so I simply won't check my mail. But most of the time, going to lunch, going for a walk, putting my feet up on my desk, or reading Slashdot will make me more productive, because it makes me think about something else.

    Counterintuitive, but it works, because when I come back to what I was stuck on, I see it in a new way. It's almost as if the less I work, the better I work.

    Of course, a significant amount of my time is spent doing more of a grind -- fix this bug, tweak this margin, look up that CSS property, go back to a co-worker and explain a fix I need. I can do that for days at a time. But when I'm actually doing what I'm good at, the programming work itself, that's when breaks make me productive.

    However, even if this were not the case, I doubt I'd put it off for more than a few days. Unless I'm really that busy, I see no reason to. If it can reasonably be done over email, it makes sense that way, and when it can't, I pick up the phone or I walk into someone's office. I don't often see flamewars, and I don't try to formulate the perfect email -- I type in a normal conversational style.

    I guess I separate interactivity from urgentness. For instance, if a server goes down and I'm needed to put out fires, a simple email, IM, SMS, phone call, or absolutely any way of getting the message "COME TO WORK" to me is fine. Another example: Discussing requirements with a client must always be done in person, but isn't necessarily urgent -- that meeting could be set up five days from now.

    But that's just what's worked for me. I can understand people crafting the perfect email, or avoiding email for various reasons -- it doesn't have to make sense to me. It's probably the same sort of psychology which causes people to have rules about never taking work home, and having a place of work and a place of play that are distinct and separate -- the same psychology which suggests that you shouldn't do anything in bed other than sleep or sex.
  • by X86Daddy ( 446356 ) on Wednesday August 30, 2006 @10:52PM (#16012826) Journal
    Lotus Notes also has the Important flag available, in a column to display various pre-set icons for type of message... I've built dialogs for myself to insert custom icons into my messages (Notes hackers: the field is "_ViewIcon", values are positive integers). If used sparingly, you can definitely get someone's attention when your message shows up in their Inbox with an icon they've never seen there before. :-D

Mathemeticians stand on each other's shoulders while computer scientists stand on each other's toes. -- Richard Hamming