In 2015, over 205 billion emails zipped between computers and cellphones around the world. These stories, quick check-ins, and inquiries flooded inboxes—including your own—so often that that number may not even surprise you.
However, when you factor out all the cat videos and potluck arrangement threads, that number dips to 112 billion a day—and those emails are all about business. Luckily, no one person gets that much correspondence on their own. Even Apple’s CEO Tim Cook reportedly only gets between 700-800 emails a day.
Wait, only 700 emails? The thought of answering even just 50 is overwhelming. So how do company leaders manage?
Depending on who you ask, the answer is likely through a mix of organizational strategies, inbox tools, and our personal favorite secret weapon, an executive assistant. Delegating email duties to someone else sounds great, unless you’re the one handling those messages.
Aside from the workload, you may have a few concerns before you even hit reply. That’s why we’re covering some of the basic questions that come with sending emails on behalf of your boss.
Q: How will I know if my boss would approve of my answer?
Before strapping yourself into the command chair and plowing through your boss’s inbox, you should ask a few direct questions to get an understanding of which messages you’re expected to take care of. This rundown may include specific contacts to avoid or flag for the boss, a preferred length, and even whether or not they want you to relay that you’re the one writing on his or her behalf.
Jody G., a Ninja who’s been sending emails from her boss’s account for years, says she got a feel for the correct tone and style by reading drafts over the phone for approval. Eventually, she could skip the call and whip up the response herself. For any inquiries that weren’t time sensitive, Jody drafted the reply and sent it to her boss to check before adding it to that 112 billion.
Q: Will the response be as trusted if I note that it came from me?
If your boss decides that the whole point of passing the email torch is to have them taken care of by someone else, he or she may give you the go-ahead to leave your name off the bottom. However, signing off on your own doesn’t detract from your credibility—it could add to it.
According to Jeff Hoffman, a renowned sales executive, consultant, and author, executive assistants are like “the CEO by proxy.” Rather than dilute the authority of any ideas or decisions expressed, he thinks words straight from the EA’s mouth are just as valuable as those from the horse’s.
“When it comes to any other ask besides signing the contract, I don’t distinguish between the CEO and their EA due to how closely they work together.”
Plus, including your own sign-off brings you out of the shadows a bit more, showing those who interact with your company that you’re a trusted representative of its direction and operations.
Q: Should I try to maintain the same tone and relationship my boss has demonstrated with someone previously?
It’s not unrealistic to imagine that your boss has gotten chummy with a few colleagues or professionals in the industry—but it is unrealistic to imagine that you could understand all those relationships well enough to keep them going.
In instances where it’s obvious that an email should read more warmly than a meeting request, stick with plain language and note that you replied on the boss’s behalf. You could also build upon Jody’s technique by drafting a less formal email template for your boss approve. Then, it’s ready when you need it.
If you’re taking over the thread mid-message, lead with a brief line that explains why the person on the other end may notice a difference. For Jody, a solid choice has been “I’m Person’s assistant, and s/he asked me to let you know that…”
Q: Does every sales request, event invitation, and sponsorship opportunity need a customized decline?
While we’re talking about templates, let’s clarify that a ton of your head honcho’s emails are going to be repeated requests. Not only can this sap time from messages that actually need thought-out answers, but there are only so many ways to say no. Plus, science says turning people down is way harder than accepting every request.
Vanessa Bohns, an assistant professor of organizational behavior at Cornell University says, “it comes down to this fundamental motivation we have to stay connected to other people. We don’t want people to think poorly of us … so we are really managing the impressions other people have of us.”
To complicate that even further, you’d actually be managing other people’s impressions of your manager—which is a pretty big undertaking. This is where asking the right questions comes back into play. If your boss clearly tells you the company isn’t interested in taking on any new sponsors or trying out new products, write a brief message explaining that you’re not looking for X service or product at this time and would like to be removed from any future outreach opportunities.
Luckily, these kinds of replies also make templates handy and you can easily draft a version for sales requests, non-customized event invites, or other opportunities your boss would hit ‘delete’ for.
Sending emails on behalf of someone else can be a difficult task. There are so many situations that it’s impossible to plan for them all, but it is possible to cut some of that clutter.
Do you have any tips to add when replying on behalf of your boss?