It's a normal morning at work and as usual, you start by checking your emails.

The first message is one which has been CC'ed to multiple people (to absolve the sender of responsibility) who are not all involved in the situation, including you. You delete and move on.

Email two is a request to set a date for a meeting (which is likely to then be moved a number of times to accommodate the people who don't actually need to be involved in the first place). You delete and move on.

The third, fourth, fifth and sixth emails are people who have pressed 'reply all' to the first ones which you have no need to read, but of course you only know that now that you've read them and realised you didn't need to! You delete, delete, delete, delete and move on.

Does this sound familiar?

Emails can be a time-consuming task, especially when you have been copied into an email chain (or chains) that have very little or nothing to do with you. So, how can you avoid this 'email storm' and keep up productivity? Ensure your staff understand the etiquette of 'reply all'!

There are three types of email reply:

  • Reply - this goes to the sender only
  • Reply all - goes to every person in the 'To' or 'CC' fields of the email you are responding to
  • Blind carbon copy (BCC) - the recipient is sent the email but is prevented from automatically receiving future emails in the chain

So, when is it ok to reply all? Mostly never! Check out this useful flowchart to help decide why type of reply is appropriate:



The sender should also make these considerations when directing the initial email. This will save more people having to work out the right way to respond.

It is also important to consider how to direct your emails when sending to client lists. If you don't put them in the BCC list in the original message you risk breaking privacy laws.

There are a lot of examples of 'reply allpocalypse' events where large companies have had their email system crash due to the torrent of 'reply all' emails to a message that was sent to tens of thousands of people. Although this is less of a risk in small businesses, there's still no excuse not to know your email etiquette.