Those early few weeks of the pandemic in March feel like a lifetime ago.
Most people and workplaces thought it would all be over soon and looked at is as an excellent excuse to work remotely and stay cozy in pajamas. But as the pandemic wore on, many professionals experienced an uptick in anxiety levels.
Not only did we need to deal with our own fears with health, the economy and care-taking, but we needed to know how to interact with clients and maintain professionalism.
The truth is, there is no perfect science on what’s appropriate since we never know what’s happening in the personal life of the recipient on the other end of an email.
However, now that we are eight months into some form of ‘lockdown’, career experts say it’s time to move on from the canned responses like these:
“These are crazy times.”
Yes, it is a crazy time to be alive. And it’s unprecedented, unpredictable and uncertain. While these are all truths, Amanda Augustine, the career expert for TopResume says it’s not a fact that needs to be said over and over again.
If for nothing else, it’s a reminder of the state of the world that could make your reader feel upset or lose their focus on whatever deliverable needs their attention.
“These adjectives have become so overused in business communication that they’ve lost all sincerity. Even if that’s the place from which they’re being written,” she explains.
Instead, she recommends sticking to a genuine, ‘I hope you’re doing well’ — and leave it at that.
When the news was changing daily with the best ways to protect ourselves against COVID-19, this was a kind, rational response.
Remember when we were all wiping down groceries or leaving them outside to ‘air’ out? Since humans are adaptable, most have grown accustomed to their pandemic routine, where they grab keys, their phone, a mask and hand sanitizer every time they leave the house.
In essence, ‘staying safe’ is now part of daily life since it’s second-nature, so it’s no longer relevant in professional communications, like an email, says Michelle Jacobik, a business profitability strategist. Replace this sign-off with ‘warmly’ or ‘best regards’ since it’s kind.
“In the middle of a pandemic…”
Here’s the deal: unless it directly relates to the topic of your email, Augustine says we all have permission — and encouragement — to mention COVID-19 or the pandemic at all.
It may seem fairly obvious, but it’s important to remember everyone has been in it together for the last several months. And unless they’ve completed tuned-out the news, everyone is aware of what’s happening in their company, city, state and country.
“If you’re sending well wishes to your colleagues, professional connections, and their families, you don’t have to spell out that your concern stems from the coronavirus pandemic. It’s already implied in your message and unnecessary to repeat in the opening of your email,” Augustine explains.
“Also, if your email has absolutely nothing to do with the pandemic specifically, you shouldn’t be working this it into your intro just because.”
“Keep your head up!”
The pandemic has impacted everyone in some way — whether it was the loss of a job, stress managing parenting and working responsibilities, the death of a loved one, or something else entirely.
However, some have experienced more prolonged bouts of negativity than others. Some people may be faring reasonably well right now, so saying something like ‘keep your head up’ implies that your recipient needs encouragement. Unless you know the other person is struggling, Jacobik says it’s best to leave it out of your email.
“I think meeting people where they are is fine, but reminding them that they should be worried about has gotten old. Leadership is not about making things better than they are or worse than they are. It’s about seeing things as they are,” she explains.
Instead, ask the person how they are doing and offer the appropriate response in return.
“While sheltering at home.”
Since many places across the country (and globe) issued shelter-in-place mandates in March, opening procedures have significantly varied, dependent on zip code.
While someone living in New York or Los Angeles may still be spending most of their time within the confines of their four walls, those in Austin or Denver may not be in the same lockdown mode.
“Don’t assume someone’s personal experience — which may no longer be the case — to get your point across,” Augustine says. “So, if you still include a line in your email about hoping ‘you and your family are holding up while sheltering in place,’ now’s the time to drop it.”