Reply all: Time saver, time suck or career killer?

reply all

Reply all can save time as long as it’s used wisely and with caution. Credit: RambergMediaImages via Compfight cc.

Reply all is either the best or worst technological invention of the computer age — depending on who you ask.

The email function, which allows users to respond to every address on a thread — sometimes reaching hundreds or even thousands of people — has generated some extremely awkward and inappropriate professional situations.

One college admissions staffer at the University of California San Diego accidentally sent a mass congratulations message to more than 28,000 applicants who were actually rejected by the school.

Unfortunate incidents such as this require a lot of back-pedaling, fixing and, of course, apologizing. It has even prompted the creation of a reply all-blocking program that businesses can install on their email systems.

Other instances involve personal emails that reach too many friends, and those situations can be extremely difficult.

The real career-killers, though, happen when personal and professional emails merge. Aljosha Novakovic, founder and CEO of Medko, a website that helps people find doctors, recalled a reply-all debacle involving a job applicant who had received a rejection email from a business incubator.

He meant to forward the message — and some negative commentary about the company — to his friend.

“Instead he replied to the entire staff,” Novakovic recalled. “The best part
 is that he followed up the email a few minutes later greatly apologizing 
and saying that he really didn’t mean anything he said.”

Such matters happen all the time within companies as well, like when a hotheaded employee mouths off about a project in an email inadvertently sent to the entire network.

Shawn P. Walsh, president and CEO 
of New Hampshire-based Paradigm Computer Consulting, encountered one of these cases after referring a programmer to one of his clients. The programmer had used mass emails to keep in touch with his clients, but Walsh’s client apparently didn’t realize that and accidentally responded to the programmer’s entire network in an unprofessional manner.

“The client I had referred to the programmer accidentally hit reply all on the email he sent, and sent an email to him and all his clients, ripping him to shreds about the length of the project, the project being over budget … also, going into some information about her personal and business financial situation, and on and on,” Walsh said. “Needless to say, when I received this email, it was a very uncomfortable situation. Of course, nowhere near as uncomfortable as it was for the business owner, when she realized what she had done. About an hour later a new reply-all came out with a very regretful apology. I think the programmer pretty much got a pass on all future issues on that project.”

It’s an interesting case that questions the nature of professional emails, Walsh said.

“This experience has reinforced my long standing belief that positive or neutral things can be communicated by email — bad things or emotional things should always be communicated in person,” he added.

Business-to-business reply-alls are most common because that’s where the function is used most. It can be an effective and time-saving form of communication. Sometimes, though, reply all can have the opposite effect by including recipients in discussions they have nothing to do with, wasting their time.

“Reply all is one of the worst inventions of all time,” said Scott Regan, founder and CEO of the business management consultancy AchieveIt, which specializes in eliminating inefficiencies. “I don’t need to be CC’d on every email.”

Andrew King is a former editor and business reporter for the Journal News in New York. His work has also appeared on the website of USA Today.

Andrew King
Andrew King is a former editor and business reporter for the Journal News in New York. His work has also appeared on the website of USA Today.
Andrew King
Tags: Business,Productivity
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