The Way We Work
September 21, 2011 by Tamara Rice

Communication for distributed or remote teams can be quite email heavy — I mean, it’s not like you can yell your question to the next cubicle over, right? And most of us do avoid Skyping or getting on the phone if a quick email can suffice. So how do you make those emails count?

1. Have a professional email address. It doesn’t take a genius. is not going to convey the right message to your remote coworkers. Use your actual name or business name or occupation — something simple, something people can remember.

2. Keep subject titles specific and concise. Don’t title your email “hello”, unless you really are just saying hello. Here are some examples of the right way:

  • Subject: The Gambino Project Deadline
  • Subject: Will be out of office May 1

3. Always greet. Granted, after you’ve been exchanging emails rapid-fire all morning with the same person, you can stop saying, “Good day to you!” each time. However, as a rule, always say a casual hello, greeting your coworker by name, before launching into business.

4. Get down to business. Keep it quick. If it’s taking you more than two or three paragraphs you should probably be doing it by phone. Emails are for sharing information quickly — not writing manifestos.

5. Watch your style. Caps are yelling — always. Don’t use them. Ditto for exclamation points. Unless they are following a positive statement, they should not be used.

6. Set up a signature. While you should always, always sign your name, you should also have an automatic signature set up that looks a little something like this:

Jane Contractor
Graphic Design & Custom Art
Phone: 555.555.5555

7. Know when an email is not appropriate. Just as in number four, there are times when email just won’t do. Quitting your job, offering constructive criticism, giving negative feedback or opening a difficult conversation are things best done by phone or Skype.

What rules of thumb do you follow in your remote work emailing? Tell us in the comments below.

Tamara Rice

Freelance Writer and Editor

Tamara Rice is one of several freelance writers on the oDesk Blog team. She joined the oDesk marketplace in 2009, after more than six years on staff at an award-winning national magazine.