Memo vs. Email: Choosing the Appropriate One

Dear Ms. Demeanor:

Our office functions almost purely on email. In fact, I can't remember the last paper memo I've gotten. But what about formal things, like giving someone a raise or making a job offer? Is it okay to use email for those situations?



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Dear Margaret:

No, no, a thousand times no! Such communications are highly confidential. There is much turmoil over the fact that corporate emails are not considered private. The theory is that when one is on company time, the products of all one's efforts do, indeed, belong to the company. In addition, there is usually a place where deleted mail is kept that is dangerously locatable by the industrious (or litigious) individuals who search for it. (Have you seen the IBM commercial where hackers break into a company's personal records and email the entire company about pay inequalities between executives? Trust me, the scenario isn't so far-fetched.)

A broader issue is that we are very much influenced by symbols. A sheet of formal company letterhead commands respect and adds a dimension of ceremony. Faxes and email, on the other hand, are missives usually sent in haste. And with faxes, again, there is little if any guarantee that no one will read it other than the person it's intended for.

If you can be assured of only the right person seeing a fax, then go ahead and send a formal letter that way. However, the hard copy of the document should also be sent by snail mail or overnight delivery.