People want you to be responsive to their emails. In fact, a recurring frustration that I hear from co-workers, management, volunteers, board members and donors is when they take the time to write an email and get no response. This is unacceptable. You are not that busy and if you are, hire an assistant.
Being professional means being responsive to all emails received during business hours within 48 hours if the email: (1) is addressed to you in the “to” line; (2) mentions you by name in the body of the email or is directed to you whether mentioned by name or not; and (3) poses a question, asks for a comment or feedback or otherwise would require a response from you if the same words were spoken by the sender in person.
That being said, what it means to be responsive to an email certainly can vary. Generally speaking, you can respond to an email in three ways:
1) Reply: A reply can be as simple as, ” I got your email. I am on deadline [or am leaving for vacation ] and will look at this next week.” The receiver is letting the sender know that she got the email. The recipient has not necessarily read and processed the content. Note that an automated out of office reply is sufficient for periods of time when you won’t be checking or reading emails.
2) Acknowledge: An acknowledgement of an email means that you received it, read it and the recipient acknowledges the content. An acknowledgement can be as simple as “Got it, thanks!” or “I am not sure, but will ask NAME.” or “We have a meeting about this next week, and I will circle back after that.”
3) Answer: An answer to an email is the most thorough and responsive communication. An answer gives the sender the information they seek or provides them with a place or person to get that information. It can be as simple as “Confirmed,” when a sender is asking for confirmation of an appointment or meeting or has a simple request or as complicated as many paragraphs with attachments.
It is possible that one email can generate all three responses. You get an email and don’t have time to read it so you write back a REPLY. Later you read it and then send an ACKNOWLEDGEMENT of the information contained but you are not ready to answer. Finally, when you have the information, you send an ANSWER.
A key measure of professional success is communication. Email is a primary mode that professionals today use to communicate(more about Social Media and Texting later). Make sure that you adopt proper email practices early on. Like all habits, it’s easier to create good ones than break bad ones.