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Email Etiquette and Shared Workstations

Workstation Business Email Etiquette Requires Thinking of Others

A site visitor was curious and pondered:

In our open office we have several workstations where staff share PCs. What is the proper response should one staff member find the open work-related email of another staff member, which has not yet been closed?

I have a situation where a second staff member knowingly typed a message in the other staff member’s email, sending from him to him. She acknowledged in the message that “your email you were about to send was open so I used it to send this and closed it.”

He felt his privacy was invaded and her action was a breach of etiquette. I am their supervisor and am dumbfounded by her action. He shot off a separate email to me complaining about the privacy issue. How do I handle this?

Email Etiquette Goes Both Ways

If you are sharing email programs or PCs, your options are dependent on the setup. The next person may have no choice but to close the previous user’s email/account in order to access theirs.

The other option is to try to find the other staff member and ask when they expect to be finished. But what if that person is nowhere to be found? Are you expected to not work and wait for the person who left it open to reappear?

This person probably didn’t know what to do since it was an incomplete email and she needed to use the PC. To just close it may have caused the other person’s work up to that point to be lost.

Maybe she wasn’t succinct in her comments. However, by doing what she did she actually did him a favor and saved the his work.

While the issue of privacy is a concern, there should be no expectation of privacy in the workplace on company time on company equipment. Especially when you leave your email open on a known shared computer.

Personal Responsibility

If he was truly concerned about his privacy, he shouldn’t have left his email and account open, visible and accessible to anyone who walks by. To assume that the shared computer is off-limits or that anyone who needs to use it should just wait until he comes back is narcissistic at best.

As far as the other staff member; first look at intent. Have you asked her why she did what she did? You may be surprised to find she had good intentions.

It very well could be her intent was to be helpful by allowing him to not lose his unfinished work. But you don’t know until you discuss this with her before jumping to conclusions. Then you are clear about her intent and if any corrective action is necessary Intent is important.

He’s the one who walked away without thought or concern to others who had to use that computer (or his own “privacy”). I would be more dumbfounded by the employee who leaves his emails vulnerable and then complains about privacy invasion.

eTattling isn’t a Good Look

The fact he didn’t come to you — or her — to speak face-to-face about his issue is a bit odd. Add the fact he chose to be an “eTattler” instead of discussing this with the other employee, to me, reflects his lack of ability to take responsibility for his actions in a team environment.

Consider a face-to-face, not by email, with both parties to discuss the issue. Have a discussion about what each should do in the future when they run into this situation to the satisfaction of all involved.

It may also be beneficial to create a policy or announcement about this type of situation. This provides guidance so that in the future all employees are on the same page and know what to do. And what to expect if they leave their emails incomplete and open to anyone who walks by.

Have you run into this situation? How did you handle it and what was the response?

Share the knowledge!