Beyond the Build

Customer Relationships

Subject: Email Response Time

Before email came on the scene, in many ways we were restricted to communicating during business hours. No one wanted to bother someone with a call to their home phone unless it was a real emergency. Email transformed this notion by giving the sender the option to write at his or her leisure. The receiver could respond likewise, dismissing the immediacy of having both parties on the phone.

At least that’s how things started out. It seems when I’m in most airports these days, there are more people glued to the screen of their smartphone than ever before. So how do we decide the appropriate response time for an email? Should you be checking your Outlook on Saturday, and if you do, is an immediate response necessary? Or can it wait until 8 am on Monday?

I wish there was a hard and fast rule, but I think context matters. Around here, most of us do check our email via smartphone after hours. If a matter can wait, we let it rest until we are back in the office. If not, we jump to reply more quickly.

Personally, I often find the quiet of Saturday morning the best time to go through my inbox, when I have no deadlines and I can comprehend each communication. When I do this, I use the “schedule” feature of my email to delay my send time until Sunday evening or maybe better Monday morning. This allows me to get caught up without pressuring others to respond while they are away from the office. Just a thought.

Merrill Stewart Jr.

Merrill Stewart is Founder and CEO of The Stewart/Perry Company, a commercial building contractor based in Birmingham.