Reply to all

by | Apr 1, 2011 | Business, Quick Skills

A few of us Smart Dolphins folk watched a webinar a few weeks ago on how to institute change in the workplace.  During one of the examples given in the webinar, the presenter suggested that Microsoft should remove the Reply to All button from Outlook. His thinking is that by the removal of this button, productivity on a worldwide scale would increase dramatically. Small change, massive end result.

We’ve all been there. Someone sends an email to a Distribution List (DL) and before the day is over we have ten replies sitting in our inbox that seem to reappear faster than we can delete them. I believe that the way most of us mash Reply to All and abuse our DLs is poisonous to our efficiency and creates a lot more noise than people realize. Consider this: An email sent to a 10 member DL which is replied to 4 times throughout a day has been read or at least skimmed 50 times (the original + 4 replies). Most of the time we only think about how these things affect us as individuals, but if you expand some of those DLs and think about how many people are reading some of those messages it can be quite disheartening. At Smart Dolphins these ‘unnecessary’ emails equate to thousands per year, but I’m happy to say that this is shrinking.

When you’re hitting the Reply To All button, take a couple of extra seconds and decide if it is really necessary. Why not target your recipients directly instead? If your email is worth reading then it’s also worth spending the few seconds to direct it to the right people.

  • For the great majority of your emails that utilize DLs, use the BCC field. The BCC field masks the recipients, meaning that only the original Sender will show up when the Reply or Reply to All buttons are pressed. This obviously assumes that only the original sender needs to see the replies (which is true in a lot of cases). So many DL messages are simple questions or FYIs, with a great majority of the replies being simple answers or thank yous intended for the original sender. These make great BCC candidates.


  • If the sender wants replies to go to specific individuals, those people should be included in the CC box. This allows recipients to simply click on Reply to All and their replies will go to the intended people rather than to the entire DL.


  • In cases where the sender feels that the DL should actually be replied to, place the DL into the CC field rather than the BCC or the To field. It’s important to use CC rather than To because it shows consideration of the email policy and that the sender consciously chose to open the email up to replies to the DL. If people were to use the To box then you wouldn’t be able to tell the difference people who were ignoring your email policy, and people who were consciously following it. This allows you to police the email policy somewhat, because anyone who still uses the To field will clearly not be following your policy and so can be reminded of it.


  • Or if you really want to cause a stir, give us a call and ask us to disable the Reply to All button for all of your users. Some very big companies have done this with great results!

Too often we start a conversation by emailing a distribution group (or just multiple people) and then everybody in that group is part of the conversation forever. Instead, take the time to prune the recipients down once the target audience is determined. I don’t care what the email is about; if you send someone something that they don’t need to read you will waste a minimum of 10 seconds of their time. They have to open the email, process it in their brains, and then deal with it (delete!). I’m not sure about you, but that takes me a lot more than 10 seconds most of the time.

So be mindful of the CC frenzy, your use of Distribution Groups, and the Reply to All button. By doing so, you are helping everybody be more productive! This is just one small piece of the fairly large email noise puzzle, but I hope it helps you!