Communication Etiquette

Effective communication is critical for developing relationships and trust while avoiding misunderstandings. Be sure to be clear, concise, and to care about your audience when communicating. Most importantly, be sure your communication has a distinct purpose. While our colleagues and customers have a variety of preferences for communication tools, it is essential to consider and employ the following recommendations when engaging in professional communication methods.

In Person

When something is important, nothing compares to face-to-face communication. While this may take more time, it is generally the most effective way to communicate and strengthen relationships.

If you need to use a conference room for an in-person meeting at ESD 123, remember to reserve the room through the Outlook calendar. Learn how to reserve a conference room at the ESD 123 main office here.


If communication in-person is not possible, the next best option, in most cases, is by phone. 

  • The standard greeting when answering the phone is "ESD 123, this is [Your Name], how may I help you?"
  • If you are expecting the individual to respond, make sure to leave a message. If you are calling a land line, take the time to leave a voicemail. If calling a cell phone, most people pay more attention to their texts than voicemail (see texting guidelines below).
  • When absent for more than one day, use an out-of-office greeting on your voicemail. Find instructions for setting personal greetings on an office phone here.


Texting can be a useful communication tool for certain audiences when communicating via cell phone, however, it is important to follow these guidelines:

  • Use sparingly and keep brief. 
  • Any texts related to agency business are subject to public records laws and retention. To adhere to public records laws, only text using an ESD 123-issued cell phone for agency business.
    • A public record is defined as any record made by or received by any agency of the State of Washington in connection with the transaction of public business regardless of physical form or characteristics (per RCW 40.14.010)


Our world relies more and more on email communication, so it is important to follow the basics of email etiquette when you are representing ESD 123. Here are some simple email tips for communicating effectively with colleagues and customers:

  • Remember all ESD 123 emails are subject to public records requests.
  • Communicate professionally.
    • Use proper spelling, grammar, and sentence structure. You can set Outlook to automatically check your email for spelling and grammar errors (File >> Options >> Mail >> Spelling and Autocorrect).
    • DO NOT TYPE IN ALL CAPS! It’s the equivalent of yelling. Instead, bold your type for proper emphasis. Additionally, spellcheck will not catch errors when you type in all caps!
    • Do not use text abbreviations [ex. TTYL (talk to you later) NP (no problem), JK (just kidding), IDK (I don't know)].
    • Avoid overusing emoticons and multiple colors.
  • Keep emails short and brief. Instead of a lengthy email, consider making a visit in person or a phone call and sending a follow-up email after the conversation has taken place if needed. 
  • Do not use email for difficult conversations. Instead, speak in person or over the phone first and send a follow-up email afterwards if a written record of the conversation is needed.
  • Always include a subject. Leaving the subject blank can get your email flagged as spam.
  • Check the subject and sender fields for accuracy.
  • When to use the Cc: and BCc: fields:
    • Cc: When it is important for those recipients to simply know about the contents of the email, but you don’t need a response from them.
    • BCc: To send copies of an email to a hidden recipient OR when emailing a large group of email addresses, to protect the identity of the others.
  • “Reply” vs. “Reply All” (avoiding email “clutter”)
    • Only use the “Reply All” option when every recipient needs to see your response.
    • DO NOT “Reply All” when you receive an email on an agency-wide distribution list (e.g., ESD 123 Staff, ESD 123 Internal Staff, etc.).
  • Do not use Read Receipt (RR) on every email. It is viewed as intrusive and/or annoying.
  • Use ESD 123 approved email fonts & stationery according to the ESD 123 Graphic Standard Guide. Our signatures are designed to give recipients consistent context for you as the sender and ESD 123 as an agency.
    • Use an ESD 123 approved email signature on all emails, including replies. 
    • Do not use patterned backgrounds or unapproved quotes/sayings.
    • Requests for any temporary changes or additions to an employee’s standard ESD-approved email signature must be submitted to and approved by the Communications Department. 
  • Acknowledge emails in a timely manner. Employees should strive to respond to emails within 3 business days. Even if you need more time to research the answer to a question, let the sender know you received their message and when they can expect a full response.
  • Set your out-of-office automatic reply to both internal and external emails when gone for more than one day. In Outlook, simply select (File >> Automatic Reply) and follow the prompts (see full instructions here). 
    • Temporary Absence – "Thank you for your email. I am currently out of the office until [date]. For immediate assistance, please contact [Name] at [email]."
    • When drafting your out-of-office message, it is appropriate to include the general reason for your absence. You don’t need to offer specifics about where you are going and why, but if you let people know that you are on vacation, they will be less likely to try to contact you or expect you to be checking emails. 
    • Employees on Summer Hours – Please use the “Office Hours” line of your signature block to indicate your hours and days off if working four-10s, rather than an auto-reply. (e.g., Summer Office Hours: Mon.-Thur. 6:00AM - 4:30 PM)

Use of Mass Email Distribution Lists

A mass email is any email message sent to the entire agency or a large subset (e.g., all ESD staff, all Court Street staff, etc.). All mass emails must:

  • follow ESD 123’s Graphic Standards Guidelines
  • be reviewed and approved by the Communications or Human Resources Director

Appropriate Use:

Mass email is appropriate for information that pertains to the majority of the recipients, is critical and/or time-sensitive, and meets one or more of the following standards: 

  • Alerts staff to situations about health and safety risk.
  • Provides information essential to the operation of ESD 123 business.
  • Notifies staff about changes in governance, policy, and practice.
  • Communicates essential information from the Superintendent or other ESD 123 senior leadership.

Inappropriate use of internal mass email includes, but is not limited to:

  • Messages that are not in line with the ESD’s mission.
  • Messages that are commercial.
  • Political activities that advocate for or against a ballot measure or candidate.
  • Solicitations for contributions, charities, or participation in personal activities not related to or sponsored by ESD 123.

Access and Authorization:

To reduce the number of mass emails sent, only approved senders may distribute an email to an All Staff or all regional school district superintendents list. Those senders are identified and approved by the Office of the Superintendent, Communications, and/or Human Resources


ESD 123 staff have free access to the Zoom videoconferencing system. When joining or hosting a Zoom or other videoconferencing meeting, keep these tips in mind:

  • Make sure your camera and audio are working properly before you join the meeting.
  • Assure that the background you have selected is appropriate, professional, and not distracting. Approved ESD Zoom backgrounds can be accessed by staff under Templates, Files, & Resources on the Marketing & Communications page.
  • Behave as if you were there in person. Show up on time and avoid multitasking.
  • Keep your camera on whenever possible and appropriate. It’s difficult to interact with a screen full of blank boxes.
  • Use the “mute” button when not speaking to avoid background noise.

Learn more about setting up Zoom here.

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