E-mails never die. They lurk in the hidden recesses of not only your computer, but also the computer of everyone that received your message. They must be disclosed in a lawsuit, and if you are up against a reasonably competent attorney—trust me, they will be discovered. That joke you sent to a colleague about jobsite conditions? Well, it just bought you three hours in a deposition explaining what your “joke” really meant. You don’t know it yet, but there are e-mails stored on your computer that can be taken completely out of context in litigation. Frightened? You should be.
Zombie e-mails are out to destroy your business.
There are four rules to consider when developing an e-mail policy for your company:
Rule #1: What did we do before we had e-mail?
We used to make telephone calls when we had issues with our business. If it was really important, we would schedule a meeting to discuss it in person. E-mail is great for handling day-to-day activities, but when sensitive issues arise, my suggestion is to use the telephone or schedule a meeting. This ensures that a message is not misconstrued, and will be time well spent if you are ever faced with litigation.
Rule #2: Beware of ‘Reply All’
There is an interesting story about an advertising executive who hit “reply all” and sent an e-mail to his entire firm. His message was intended for one person, but instead went to the firm’s entire distribution list, bad-mouthing most of its recipients. Did he get fired? Shockingly…no. Instead, he repackaged his mistake into a popular Super Bowl commercial. But don’t get too excited: this probably won’t happen to you. Always consider the content of the message and the recipients before you hit send.
Rule # 3: Cocktail Rule
Happy Hour is a great way to maintain relationships with your colleagues and clients. But what tastes good at 5:00 p.m. won’t read so well in an e-mail you want to send at Midnight. That lawyer spelled your entity’s name wrong on that Certificate of Service? Well yeah, that’s a big deal. You’re angry and sending him a hostile e-mail after that last beer? Hold that thought. Nothing good comes out of messages sent by anyone in an upset or angry state of mind, and any such messages will be read by opposing counsel or presented as evidence to a jury. Sleep on it and call the respective party the next day to discuss issues or mistakes that require a more in-depth explanation.
Rule #4: Local Paper Rule
“Extra! Extra! Read all about it!” As a society we rely on the media for business news, but it’s a different story when you pick up the Sunday paper and discover your lawsuit is front page news. Anything you communicate in writing to your employees faces the risk of release to an outside source that could use that information to potentially harm your business’ image. The solution? Don’t put anything in an e-mail that you wouldn’t want outsourced to local journalists.
Implementing these rules within your company could go a long way in protecting your business from Zombie e-mails and other threats to your bottom line.