Iesha Small
use your uniqueness to add value

Exploring education, society, leadership and how to design a meaningful life.

What’s the point of an email signature?

Most people don’t give much thought to their email signature but does yours do what it needs to?

 

I’ve been noticing and thinking about email signatures recently. Yes, I’m really rock and roll.

The functional email signature

My work email signature is functional.

  • Name
  • Title
  • Phone number
  • Working days

 

It’s practical and pragmatic and tells people the key information they need if they want to refer to me or get hold of me. This information is especially useful when communicating with lots of external people or if you work remotely. I’ve wasted a lot of time searching through people’s email strings to find their contact details before so I want to remove that pain for anybody else.

I’d imagine the reason not many blogs are written about email signatures (to my knowledge) is because lots of signatures fall into the functional category. There isn’t a great deal to say: My name is this. I do that. Contact me this way or that. Thanks.

Managing expectations

Ever received an email with loads of typos? What did you think? Maybe you thought nothing at all but some people would think variations of … This person can’t spell.  They can’t punctuate. Maybe they are dyslexic?

If you knew the email was sent from their smart phone does that thought process change?

The functional email signature from my work phone ends with the following:

“Usual working days Mon, Wed, Thurs.

Sending from phone could be typos…”

A few years ago I was managing a large project. I temporarily changed my working days to Mon, Tues and Wed for a few weeks so I’d have a decent stretch of time to finish writing my book over long weekends. Mondays were often meeting days so I didn’t always get a chance check my emails. The client would sometimes send emails on a Thursday and would receive an email from me on Tuesday. They felt this was unreasonably slow. After that experience I found that adding my working days to my email signature helped to make my availability very clear and managed expectations about when I might respond.

Some people (not me) find short emails disconcertingly abrupt and read all sorts of things into why the sender is being so terse with them. An email signature like this one from my colleague may help put them at ease

“Sent from my iPhone which may explain brevity”

I find it interesting that a one sentence (or even one word) response might make some people feel stressed if they imagine it in a particular tone. However, the same response can be less worrying if the reader imagines it has been written just before jumping onto a train or between meetings.

My working patterns don’t need to affect yours

A large chunk of my working life to date was spent as a maths teacher. I had some flexibility in later years due to the reduced timetable that comes with being on the senior management team but in essence most of my working day had to be in a particular place at prescribed times. Children are in school at certain hours and so teachers need to be there to teach them during those times.

I’ve now left schools and for the past three years I’ve had the flexibility and freedom to be able to work from almost any location for most of my working week. In many respects I can also choose my working hours within reasonable limits.  Working flexibility is one of the benefits of modern technology. However this connectivity can also make people feel that they have to be switched on to work at all times. Recently I received an email with a signature that neatly summarised this:

“At Company X we work flexibly – so whilst it suits me to email you now, I do not expect a response or action outside your own working hours.”

I thought it was a nice touch to indicate flexible working and remove the pressure of immediate action/response.

Working flexibly and remotely is a benefit of modern technology. However this connectivity can make people feel that they have to be permanently available. Click To Tweet

Creating an inclusive digital space

It’s easy for us to separate our online worlds from what we may think of as ‘the real world’. However, many of us meet people online first (professionally and personally) before we get to know them in person. People from certain marginalised groups may even find it safer and more practical to interact online first. I’m really aware of creating inclusive spaces physically but I haven’t always given much thought to it digitally apart from how you might talk to people on social media.

So it was interesting when I received an email signature similar to the one below from a professional contact recently

Eloise Bexton-Shalden

Head of Education Programmes

Pronouns: she/her

This got me thinking about how three words (about pronouns) automatically created an inclusive digital space for any trans or non-binary people interacting with her.

Promotional

If you know anybody who is self-employed in anyway or who runs their own business they probably have a promotional email signature of some type.

I used to crrrriiiiinge when considering this type of email for myself in my personal speaking and consultancy. Now (after being set straight by a few self-employed and artistic friends)  I see it as an act of generosity… it highlights who you are, what you do and often gives an example or link to your work, creation or company. If what we do or create is good or useful then it’s our duty to make others aware.

What next?

What purpose does your email signature serve? Do you even have one? If you have a name that is often misread or mispronounced, like mine, is it too passive aggressive to add a phonetic pronunciation to your signature? Eye-ee-sha.

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What’s the point of an email signature?