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How to liberate yourself from repetitive emails

Most of us are facing the challenge of re-entry into the “new normal”. My FT colleague Rana Foroohar perfectly captured the weirdness of this moment as “the cognitive dissonance of corporate life,” in this week’s Swamp Notes newsletter (and you can sign up here). 

There is much to think about as we struggle to manage that weirdness, but the statistic that resonated with me this week was from EY’s second Belonging Barometer, which found that 82 per cent of the 5,000 people it surveyed across five countries reported feeling, or having felt, lonely at work. When we don’t “fit” into the corporate culture it is almost painful to be among people in a busy office.

The pandemic added new dimensions to this issue — the tricky matter of remote onboarding has left a lot of new staff feeling disconnected. A US survey of HR professionals last year found that almost all the respondents had staff who had never met their new colleagues — and 31 per cent of the HR professionals said that their new hires were struggling to make connections at work. That doesn’t necessarily mean they are all lonely — but it’s worrying.

An often-quoted “solution” to loneliness at work is helping workers to “build resilience”. I have seen this cited countless times but am still unsure what it means or how it might help. Please send me your thoughts, explanations — and tips for actions that might help ease loneliness at work. Jargon not accepted. You can also chime in on our poll to see the general sentiment among fellow FT readers.

I’ll end by saying that we don’t always need to rush to “fix” ourselves or our colleagues. I’d recommend reading this moving piece on lockdown loneliness by the FT’s Claire Bushey.

Read on for some excellent tips from Sophia Smith on email productivity — she’s transforming how our team works, and I hope she can do the same for you!

See you next week. Reach out to me with your thoughts and feedback on today’s newsletter at isabel.berwick@ft.com.


How I liberated myself from repetitive emails

© Credit: FT montage / Getty

If you, like me, would rather spend your time on more engaging pursuits than writing the same boilerplate email for the 40th time, let me introduce you to something called Gmail Templates. This is a powerful tool if your job requires that you frequently send the same types of emails, like reports, onboarding instructions, follow ups, or thank you notes.

Previously, I saved paragraphs in various Google Docs and copied and pasted them into an email when I needed them — but having the templates built into Gmail itself ensures I don’t get sidetracked by toggling between different tabs and windows.

To set it up, click the Gmail Gear icon, hit “See all settings” and navigate to the “Advanced” tab, then enable Templates and click “Save Changes”. To create a template, compose a new email, draft in your template, click the three dot icon > Templates > Save Draft as Template. The title you give it doubles as a subject line if you’re starting a new email thread. The next time you need to send that tedious email, instead of typing it out again, just click the three dots > Templates > select the saved template by name. Tailor if needed before sending. Boom.

Two tips to keep in mind as you get the hang of it: first, if there are spots in the template that you need to personalise, consider formatting them in red so you remember to slot in specific info before sending. Few email faux pas are as bad as sending a “Hello Name” email. (To avoid this completely, my templates just start: “Hi,” and I add the name as needed.)

Second, you can edit your templates by overwriting them — just follow the steps as if you’re creating a new template, but choose an existing one to save over. You might be tempted to save an updated version of your template from within a reply to an email thread, but be very careful about this. You could accidentally include something extraneous like your email signature or — God forbid — an entire email thread.

You can also send templates automatically by melding their power with Gmail’s filters. I haven’t ventured into this functionality, so I’ll leave that to you power users to investigate. (Sophia Smith)


Listen in: ‘Upskilling’ blurs our personal and professional lives

We kick off this week’s episode of the Working It podcast talking about space. Looking down on earth from above the atmosphere is called the “overview effect”, as we realise that there is a common planet we all share. It is — according to our guests this week, New York University’s Dan Bullock and Raúl Sánchez — possibly the key to sustainability and world peace.

That’s . . . a big claim. But Dan and Raúl are global communication experts, and they think that training workers to understand each other is key to a better future. There were a lot of really interesting parts of our conversation that didn’t end up making the episode, but you can read more in their book. I also talk to my FT colleague and podcast regular Emma Jacobs about the benefits of upskilling — aka training and development — for all sorts of workers. We are seeing a blurring in workplace and personal development skills that matches the blurring in our overall lives — it’s fascinating, but do you actually want your employer to teach you how to be less anxious?

Even as many employers tell people to get back to work, office occupation in the UK is at about a quarter of pre-pandemic levels. Next week we look at the future of offices — what does a tempting, human-friendly building look like? (Isabel Berwick)


Elsewhere in the world of work:

  1. The future is female: Historically, women haven’t left much of an imprint on the theories and practice of management, but that’s changing. Women now make up the majority of graduates, managers and professionals — and outscore men on leadership skills. Now, a new cohort of female executives is looking to overhaul the male-dominated management model.

  2. Beware the office narcissist: Do you have any co-workers who are entitled, have an inflated sense of self-importance, or lack empathy? The behaviour of the late publishing magnate Robert Maxwell provides an object lesson in the psychology of extreme power. People like this can prove challenging to reason with. Here’s why you should keep your distance at work.

  3. Lessen your stress: The global rise of anxiety and depression is on a collision course with the return to in-person work. If you’re experiencing heightened stress at work lately, follow these simple techniques to help you manage it and support others.

  4. Gadgets for hybrid work: If you’re looking for a smart way to spend that work stipend (or your US tax return), you’ll want to check out FT’s latest gadget reviews, featuring the most powerful iPad ever, a satisfyingly mechanical keyboard, reusable “Post-its”, and more.

  5. Missing out on ageing talent: There’s some new evidence to suggest that a significant number of workers over 50 who left the job market did not do so voluntarily. Businesses are attracted to the innovation and flexibility associated with younger workers — not to mention the lower salaries — but it’s leading to a loss of institutional memory and experience.


A word from the Working It community:

We had lots of great responses to last week’s call for the experiences of those who had (or had not) left corporate life in their 50s. 

Some of our respondents have become executive coaches (which seems to be an increasingly popular later-career option). One such reader is Xenia Wickett, who left a stellar career in NGOs, academia and government to become a coach:

I have had a phenomenally interesting career. I have absolutely no regrets . . . I now am able to spend 75 per cent of my time doing what I’m good at and enjoy, rather than, as a senior executive, 20 per cent of my time doing that and 80 per cent doing the other stuff that comes with the job. Don’t get me wrong, there are also challenges. But knowing that you’re truly having an impact in the way you can do best is a powerful drug.

And here’s a comment from a reader over 60:

I have an active brain that doesn’t like to stop. I enjoy the intellectual stimulation my work offers me, and I still get satisfaction from being able to help clients solve their problems. I fear I would become bored if I retire. In short, I am one of the fortunate few “over-age” people who is not being forced out of their job by shortsighted employers that prefer younger, cheaper employees. I think it’s because I’m lucky enough to work in a relatively niche area where my expertise and knowledge are valued.

And let us know . . .

Pilita Clark wrote about fraudulent expense claims this week — and now we’d like to hear from you. Have you ever fiddled your expenses? How? Did you ever get caught? Or are there expenses you feel your company should cover but doesn’t? We want to hear your stories for a wider feature on this contentious topic. Email work.careers@ft.com. We’ll keep you (and your company) anonymous.

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