You’re new. You don’t really know anyone other than your boss, a coworker or two, and the HR person who guided you through the hiring process.
Not only will you need some time to suss out the overall work culture, but the finer points of digital communication can be especially tricky to master. Here are a few Slack and email missteps to watch out for in those early days as you settle in.
1. Forgetting The “Goldilocks” Email Rule
There came a point sometime in my first few weeks in my first-ever job when my boss had to gently ask me to please try and write shorter emails. Apparently a coworker had received a Tess of the D’Urbervilles–length email from me and wasn’t interested in savoring my prose style.
When you’re new and want to show that you can be helpful and proactive (“Look! I already thought of that, let me tell you about it!”), there’s a risk of getting long-winded and wasting your coworkers’ time. But too quick or casual can be the wrong move, too.
“I had to learn to stop doing subject line–only emails after I left the New York Daily News,” Fast Company’s Digital Editor Anjali Khosla told me. At a city paper, she said, “People don’t mind that. But at a monthly mag, it was considered quite rude. Especially six years ago.”
One way to hit that “just right” sweet spot between verbose and curt? “Lead with the ask,” counsels Jocelyn K. Glei, author of Unsubscribe: How to Kill Email Anxiety, Avoid Distractions, and Get Real Work Done. “The goal is to get the reader’s attention and have them understand the action that’s being requested immediately,” she writes. As soon as the email you’re drafting accomplishes that, hit send.
2. Playing Roulette With Slack’s Giphy Integration
One of the most perilous Slack faux pas seems to lie in the group chat platform’s GIF-embedding feature, courtesy of Giphy. The consequences can be pretty cringeworthy:
That actually happened to someone at my office their first week. They RightGIF’ed something that turned out to be NSFW. And without admin privileges to delete it. CEO had to come in and get rid of it.
— Adam Sell (@ajvsell) January 10, 2018
These days Slack mercifully lets you preview the GIFs that your keyword coughs up, and “shuffle” through as many as you like before deciding which one to send. But it wasn’t always so.
Kevin Chan, associate creative director at Barbarian, remembers when the integration “would randomly choose the GIF for you based on your keyword, [which] led to some awesomely awkward moments on the #general channel for those who didn’t know better. Lucky for them,” he adds, “that made it a little more blameless.”
When in doubt, skip the GIF and just send an emoji.
3. Trying To Be Funny
“At one of my jobs, whenever anyone new joined a team, their manager sent around a welcome/question email like, ‘Everyone say hi to Hannah, and everyone share your favorite movie scene from this year,'” says freelance consultant and writer Kate Andersen, “and all the current employees would respond, usually with GIFs.”
“As a fairly new employee myself, I mostly would opt out of the ‘game’ part of it and just say hello, but at one point I decided to go for it and sent around a funny Magic Mike GIF (think: shirtless-and-in-jeans group walk). A few hours later, my manager reamed me out (on Slack, at 10 p.m., on a Friday) for being totally inappropriate because I’d sent something depicting strippers,” Andersen says. “Nobody had complained, but he thought it was bad enough that he made me write a follow-up apology email and send it to the whole office.”
The takeaway here isn’t just (as above) to GIF at your own risk; it’s to steer clear of all but the most innocuous humor while you’re the newbie. Andersen felt her boss overreacted, considering that, in her view, “It wasn’t that different from things other people had sent (our CEO sent a woman in a bikini for a “celebrity crush” round!) and we hadn’t had any harassment or workplace training/guidelines in this vein, but I guess Channing Tatum’s imaginary job was just too much to handle.”
Still, Andersen learned her lesson: “Suffice to say that was the first and last ‘welcome thread’ I contributed to.”
4. Following Up Too Fast
Yes, you got hired because you’re a go-getter, and you want your coworkers to notice that you can get stuff done. But timing is just as crucial as length on email: Too slow to reply and people will start wondering what the hold-up is, yet too speedy and you’ll get on everyone’s nerves. As my colleague (and productivity whiz) Anisa Purbasari Horton pointed out in a Fast Company article recently, “There’s nothing wrong with following up, but there is something wrong with following up too soon.”
It can be tricky to figure out which tasks are urgent when you’re new, and you may feel anxious to tackle everything you possibly can as quickly as you possibly can. This can backfire, especially over email. Keep in mind that the email you’re sending is only a vehicle for the actual work you and your fellow team members are trying to accomplish.
“Leave a little bit of a window for the recipient to get back to you,” Purbasari Horton suggests, “and understand that they, too, have other priorities that are probably more important to them than your email.” In fact, there you have it: the first thing you’ve got in common with your new coworkers!