I've worked remotely since (wow, has it been that long?) 1996. Here are five short, sweet emails I've found extraordinarily useful:

1. The Stall and Probe

Problem: Your boss suddenly and unexpected asks to meet with you.

Dumb Move: Immediately hop on the phone with the boss. Chances are you'll be blindsided and thus less able to advance your own interest.

Smart Move: Find out what the boss wants and secure some time to think about it, so you'll be prepared for the discussion.

Example (customize as necessary):

SUBJECT: Re: We need to talk

I'm in a meeting with a customer but will be free in an hour.

To ensure we have as productive a meeting as possible, could you give me an idea of the topics we'll be discussing?

2. The Relationship Reviver

Problem: You need something from a contact you've neglected for several years.

Dumb Move: "Hey, long time no see. I hope you're staying safe! Hey, I was wondering if you could do something for me ... " Your email will just be deleted, because you don't have a relationship with this person any longer and therefore don't have the right (or have lost the right) to ask a favor.

Smart Move: Reestablish the relationship by doing research on your erstwhile colleague and then show some curiosity about that colleague. Trade emails a couple of times, and then segue to your request. More about reestablishing relationships via email.

Example (customize as necessary):

SUBJECT: Your recent promotion


You might remember me from when we worked together on the Potrezebie  project at Veeblefetzer.

Hey, I saw an article in Industry.com that you presented at the Industry Trade Show. Can I ask you a quick question about your presentation?


3. The Vacation Saver

Problem: You're taking some time off and don't want to start your first day back responding to a huge pile of emails. This is perfectly reasonable, because time off is time off, not just stockpiling the work you would have done so you can do it when you get back.

Dumb Move: "I'm away from the office and have limited access to email but I'll get back to you as soon as I can!" This is the email equivalent of hitting yourself in the head with a ball-peen hammer.

Smart Move: Refuse to accept emails when taking your time off. More about vacation autoreplies.

Example (customize as necessary):

AUTOREPLY: I am out of the office but thank you for your message. Email received between [these dates] will be deleted from this server eight hours from now. Please send your message again after [this date].

4. The Ghostbuster

Problem: You've been ghosted.

Dumb Move: "Why aren't you answering my emails?" You're basically accusing the other person of being a jerk and immediately putting them on the defensive. If they've been avoiding emailing you, this kind of hectoring will only make them less likely to get back to you.

Smart Move: Appeal to their better nature and give them a graceful way to reengage. More on how to be de-ghosted.

Example (customize as necessary):

Subject: Are you OK?
Joe, I haven't heard from you and now I'm concerned that you might have fallen ill or run into some other sort of difficult problem.
Could you please just send me a quick email to let me know that it's just been because you're busy, so I can stop worrying?

5. The Pesticide

Problem: You've received an email that is truly idiotic.

Dumb Move: Ignoring it.

Smart Move: Actually, ignoring it is probably the smart move, but if you're feeling frisky, you could forward the original email back to the sender with the succinct message below (based a classic snail mail).

Example (make the appropriate substitution):

SUBJECT: Possible identity theft

I'm forwarding you an email that I received earlier today. I feel you should be aware that some *jackass* is sending stupid emails from your account.