How to professionally ask for an update at work
Last updated on: July 18, 2022
It’s been a couple of days since you last heard from a coworker who is in charge of a very important project implementation. The deadline is coming up soon, and you’re planning on reaching out to said coworker to get the latest update.
You are trying your best to resist the urge to use “A gentle reminder”, or “Just checking in” in your email or a team chat message.
Yet, you are still not sure how exactly to formulate your message to sound professional and polite, but not overly insincere.
If this sounds familiar, you’ve come to the right place.
In this blog post, we’ll:
- Define update requests
- Outline different types of update requests at work
- Detail key steps to crafting a professional update request
- Offer examples of asking for an update professionally
Let’s get started!
What is an update request?
An update request is usually a written request sent to a person you’ve communicated to before about a previously discussed matter.
Commonly referred to as a “follow-up”, the update request is a standard practice in modern-day business communication.
In most cases, professionals are using email for formal update requests.
However, with the rise in team chat technology, many organizations have switched to business chat apps for both internal and external communication. Team messaging apps like Pumble, for example, support fully-managed guest access, which allows organizations to move away from email entirely even for third-party communication.
Each time you write to a coworker requesting information or action, or to a client reminding them to take action, for example, you’re sending an update request.
Requesting and responding to update requests is probably the most common business writing activity for most professionals across many industries. This is why it’s imperative to optimize these types of work messages to meet a professional standard.
Types of updates at work
Depending on the formality level with the person you’re requesting an update from, and the specific work situation, we can distinguish several types of update requests you may encounter in workplace communication:
- Following up after a job interview — A thank-you note or a follow-up sent to a hiring manager expressing gratitude and interest in the company and the position you interviewed for.
- Asking for status updates — Writing to a coworker or a third-party contractor to ask about tasks or projects progress updates.
- Reminding someone of an important event or a deadline — A brief note to remind your team members about an important deadline that’s coming up. Or, a quick reminder about an industry event sent to people you network with.
- Building a connection or catching up — An email or a message sent to people from the industry you network with to catch up and keep the conversation going, or to a sales lead to continue building the connection.
- Saying thank you — An email or a message sent to coworkers, connections, clients, partners, or leads to express gratitude for their help, great work, connection, or their time.
Why is it important to formulate your update request in a professional manner
Workplace communication, by default, requires a certain level of professionalism and politeness.
Showing respect to the people you communicate with in business and paying attention to the tone and the style you use is not only considered common courtesy, but it’s essentially imperative in workplace communication.
In addition to meeting standard requirements, update requests call for an even higher degree of professionalism and politeness due to the specific nature and purpose of these types of messages.
When we ask someone for an update, it generally implies that we need something from that person — whether that’s a piece of information, their attention, or time. This is why it’s critical that we take into consideration one of the key factors that may affect how our message will be received and acted upon.
As we’ve learned, people’s attention span is getting shorter.
According to Microsoft’s research in 2015, the average time a person spends on a webpage dropped to 8 seconds. When translated into emails, team chat messages, and all business communication that is primarily conducted online — especially in the pandemic and post-pandemic times — it’s clear that you don’t have too much time to grab the attention of the recipient of your email or a message.
An unprofessionally formulated request simply won’t work. The same goes for lengthy, unstructured update requests that take too long to read and comprehend.
At the same time, a well-structured and professionally formulated update request ensures your messages will receive maximum response rate and priority.
5 Characteristics of an effective update request
Before we get into detailed tips on how to craft a professional update request, let’s first consider the main traits of an effective update request.
So, what is an effective update request?
An effective update request is professional and polite
First and foremost, a professional update request needs to be formulated with common business communication etiquette in mind.
This includes everything from a polite and professional tone and style, to an appropriate level of formality depending on the nature of a professional relationship between the sender and the recipient.
For example, if you’re communicating with a team member you’ve known for years, it would be fine to phrase an update request like this:
“Please send over a status update for project X. Thanks.”
However, in more formal communication, with a client, for example, this phrasing borders on rude and can be even considered aggressive. A more polite and professional update request would include a polite greeting and closing, in addition to more context and overall a more polite wording and tone.
Here’s an example:
Hope you are doing well.
I’m writing in regards to project X. Could you please provide me with a status update?
Thank you for your help.
💡Pumble Pro Tip
To learn more about effective communication skills, check out our ultimate guide on the topic:
An effective update request is well-timed
Effective and professional update requests follow a reasonable timeline.
In most cases, it’s appropriate to wait at least 4 to 5 days after the initial contact, email, or a meeting before sending an email or a message asking for an update.
Of course, there will be specific, more urgent situations where it would be perfectly reasonable to reach out even earlier.
Furthermore, well-timed update requests also include checking people’s availability status before you hit send, if you’re communicating via business messaging apps, for example.
An effective update request is clear
Clarity is another key aspect to consider when asking for an update in a professional setting.
You want the recipients of your messages to understand your intended meaning right away with no room for multiple interpretations.
Avoiding vague expressions, slang, or any phrasing open to misinterpretation is key, especially in cross-cultural contexts.
An effective update request is informative
Making sure that your update requests contain all the crucial pieces of information regarding time, place, or objective details ensures there’s no ambiguity and no additional back-and-forth emails or messages.
An effective update request is brief
Another crucial element to consider when crafting professional update requests is the context in which most professionals receive and respond to emails and messages.
For modern-day professionals, this setting usually includes an overflowing inbox of emails they read on the go.
Even in the best-case scenario, when your request update reaches the most organized professional that labels and categorizes their emails right away, you still want to make your message brief and skim-friendly.
How to professionally ask for an update
How to ask for an update in a professional setting?
Here’s a step-by-step process.
1️⃣ Open with a polite greeting
First impressions last, regardless if you communicate in person or over email.
As mentioned earlier, there’s a certain standard of professionalism and politeness that is expected in business communication, especially if you’re writing to clients or business partners you’re not on a first-name basis with.
However, failing to include a polite greeting in your work messages can seem rude and aggressive, even when you’re shooting a message to a teammate in a team chat.
You don’t necessarily need to go above and beyond in an introductory greeting — but, a few simple words can make a big difference in how your message comes across.
Here’s how a few polite phrases can make a difference.
❌ Don’t use:
“Please send over a status update on the final logo design for client X.”
Happy Friday! 🎉
Could you please give me a quick status update on the final logo design for client X? We need to include it in all the designs and have everything ready for final review on Monday.
Thank you 🙂”
2️⃣ Avoid corporate jargon
Today, there’s hardly anything else professionals dread more than a “Just checking in” message in their overflowing inbox. It’s up there with “circle back” in terms of the amount of negative feelings it can cause to people on the receiving end of these phrases.
Undeniably, you should refrain from using some of these cliché business phrases when asking for an update professionally.
First of all, you risk sounding like someone using the lazy route to politeness while creating the opposite, insincere effect.
In addition, these phrases add no value to either party and have no other effect than to prolong getting to the main point of your request.
❌ Don’t use:
“Just checking in to see when you’ll be available to meet this week? I’d like to pick your brain on the [industry trend].”
“Hi, how are you? Please let me know if you’re free sometime this week to meet for lunch. I’d like to hear your thoughts and discuss some ideas on the [industry trend].”
💡 Pumble Pro Tip
To get an in-depth analysis of industry jargon and its proper use, visit our ultimate guide on the blog:
3️⃣ Formulate your question/request clearly
It’s critical to show people you communicate with that you respect their time.
As email statistics reports show, the average person sends and receives around 126 messages on average per day. We can only imagine what this number looks like for business chat messages.
To make lives easier for the people receiving your messages, check your update request for clarity:
- Eliminate all unnecessary phrases and redundancies
- Avoid using words that have multiple connotations
- Remove any filler words
- Be as clear and as straightforward as possible
- Use active voice
Let’s see how the update request would look like following these tips.
❌ Don’t use:
“A decision to move on with the X proposal for the project was made by the team. Please let me know if you can manage to get the files ready in ten days.”
“The team decided to go with the X proposal for the project. Please let me know if you can prepare the files in ten days.”
Paying attention to clarity when formulating your update requests not only conveys professionalism and shows respect for people’s time but also improves your chances of getting a timely response.
💡 Pumble Pro Tip
For more tips on how to polish up your business writing, check out our guide on the blog:
4️⃣ Ask open-ended questions
Another great practice when you want to ensure maximum time efficiency in your update conversations is to use open-ended questions.
Starting your questions with Why, What, and How, for example, will provide a solid ground for receiving detailed replies, instead of one-word answers.
Open-ended questions reduce the number of back-and-forth emails or messages and improve overall productivity and communication quality.
❌ Don’t use:
“Do we have any updates on task X?”
“What’s the status of task X?”
5️⃣ Add a call to action
In some instances, you may need to clarify the next steps you want the person to take — i.e. a call to action.
Whereas in most regular update requests both parties are clear on the next steps, there are specific situations in which you need to specify the desired action more clearly. Best practice examples suggest highlighting a call to action by placing it in the last paragraph of your emails and messages.
For example, if the matter you need an update on requires additional actions, besides the email reply, make sure to communicate your expectation in a clear call-to-action.
Be sure to include any additional information the person may need to comply with your request.
This can be anything from a phone number to an address, or a specified time or date.
Here’s an example:
“Could you please also have a quick call with Jane Smith to ensure the figures align across all departments?”
6️⃣ Provide enough context information
Say you’ve met a potential lead during an industry networking event. They’ve expressed interest in your business services or a product and asked to continue the talk over email. Or, your PR team may have made the initial connection.
These and similar scenarios require you to provide more context in the beginning before you get to the point in your update request.
Adding something along the lines of: “As [PR person name] mentioned…” or “Over [event name] we talked about [subject matter] and you mentioned…” to give a brief context and remind the person you’re writing to about your previous discussion.
In addition to showing common courtesy, this practice also ensures that you’re disclosing enough information which can improve the overall efficiency and effectiveness of the exchange.
6️⃣ Justify your request
Make sure to include a “because” when asking for an update. This one simple word can make a huge difference to how recipients perceive your update request messages.
In a 1978 study called “The mindlessness of Ostensibly Thoughtful Action: The Role of “Placebic” Information in Interpersonal Interaction”, Harvard researcher Ellen Langer discovered that the word “because” carries immense power.
Interestingly, the study showed that people are more likely to respond positively to a request if it includes the word “because” regardless of whether it’s followed by a reasonable justification or not.
So, next time you’re asking someone for an update, consider adding a “because” followed by a reasonable justification to increase the compliance rate.
Here’s an example:
“I would love to see the numbers you drew for the X project, because I’m presenting in a meeting tomorrow and it would be great to have the full picture. Would you mind sharing an update by 5 p.m. today?”
8️⃣ Set a reasonable deadline
Another key element when asking for an update at work is to set a clear deadline. Assigning a clear date and/or time ensures timely delivery and creates a sense of urgency when needed.
Still, it is important to set a reasonable deadline to leave enough time for the recipient to complete the requested task.
At the same time, you don’t want to make it too flexible, and risk the recipient labeling your message as not urgent, and potentially forgetting all about it.
When in doubt, you can always ask them to confirm if the suggested time frame works for them.
“I would like to include your plan in our proposal presentation. Please let me know if you can send it over by 5 p.m. tomorrow.”
9️⃣ Close in a polite and thoughtful way
Don’t forget to close your emails or team chat messages following the same principles of polite and professional business communication.
Whether you’re requesting an update from a teammate, or asking a client to update you on the results they’ve achieved with your product, it’s always important to close your request on a polite note.
Simple phrases such as: “Thank you for your time” or “Thanks for your help” are a great way to express gratitude and remain concise.
Even if you’re communicating over a business messaging app, it’s still appropriate to add a closing line, even if it’s just a quick “thank you” and an emoji.
🔟 Add value
When you’re following up or catching up with a potential client you want to build a connection with, you may need to provide an element of added value.
As you’re essentially asking something from them — whether it’s their time or attention — it’s always a good idea to give something in return.
Provide value first and you would feel more comfortable asking for an update on your previous conversation, a call, or a meeting.
Moreover, you’re more likely to get a favorable response if you lead with a favor.
After all, it’s a common human tendency to feel urged to give something in return to reciprocate a favor.
For example, you can share a link to a resource they would find valuable, or offer free access to a webinar or a course that features solutions to their particular pain points.
💡 Pumble Pro Tip
If you want to learn more about how to successfully ask for a favor in a professional setting, read our in-depth guide on the blog:
Examples for asking for an update professionally
If you’re looking for a more appropriate substitute for “just checking in”, here are some useful phrases and examples you can use when asking for an update.
From requesting a status update to following up on a job interview, we’ve covered several common professional update scenarios.
Phrases to use when requesting an update from employees
Managers are frequently tasked with asking their team members for updates on tasks and projects. Here’s an example of how this request can look following the tips we listed earlier.
Please can you spare a moment to write briefly about how task X is going? You can write in the group chat with Sarah, to keep her informed on the progress as well.
Many thanks 🙂”
Here are some other useful phrases you can use with employees, depending on the specific context:
“You mentioned yesterday you were expecting a response/results/update from… Is there any news?”
“Have you had a chance to do…? We need it by X, because… Let me know if you need help/more time…”
Phrases and examples for following up with a teammate
To better understand how to follow up with teammates, let’s look at a more elaborate example:
Katie and John are members of the content marketing team.
They’ve just finished a weekly team meeting where they discussed upcoming article topics.
John mentioned working on an outline structure that could be potentially used as a style guide for an entire blog category.
Katie suggested that John share the document in the team channel in Pumble to have all team members reference their structure.
After the meeting, Katie sent a brief follow-up to remind John to share the link to the document.
Since this is a semi-formal communication situation, and the matter was discussed a short while ago, Katie cuts straight to the chase, while still maintaining a friendly and polite tone. They omitted the “gentle reminder” phrase, which is considered unnecessary in such context and may even come off as an insincere attempt to sound polite. Instead, Katie shows she respects John’s time and expresses genuine interest in his work in a polite and sincere manner.
Other phrases you can use when asking a teammate for an update also don’t have to include anything too formal, especially when you’re occupying the same hierarchical level at a company, or if you regularly communicate with your teammates unofficially.
Here are some less formal phrases you can use with teammates:
“Hi 🙂How’s task/project X coming along? Please keep me posted, because…”
“Hey 🙂Have you heard back from X? I need to feed back to Y. Please write a couple of sentences as soon as you get a chance.”
“Hi 🙂How did it go with project/task/client/call X? I’m sure you did an amazing job — I know how hard you worked. 🤞💪🎉”
Phrases to use when requesting an update after a job interview
Follow up after a job interview is the single, most effective way to:
- Express your gratitude to the hiring manager and the team that conducted the interview for their time and consideration
- Show your enthusiasm and interest in the company and the position you interviewed for
- Demonstrate your proactivity
- Get more information on your application status
- Improve your chances of getting the job
Here’s an example with useful phrases you can use to write a professional follow-up after a job interview.
Thank you very much for your time last week — it was a great pleasure meeting you all and discussing the X role. I left our call feeling assured that ABC company shares my values and promotes the work culture I aspire to be part of.
I especially enjoyed speaking about [X job requirement], because it provides an interesting challenge I would like to commit to resolving…
I’m looking forward to your update.
Please let me know if there’s anything else I can provide at this stage of the application process.
Phrases to use when catching up with a potential client
Always try to maintain a more formal and professional tone in your client communication.
Here are some examples and phrases you can use when catching up with a potential client:
Hope this week’s been treating you well.
I really enjoyed our conversation on [industry topic/common pain point] last week. Hope you found the [X resource] useful in resolving the [Y issue]. Let me know if there’s anything else that can be done on my end to set everything up.
Looking forward to seeing you at [Z industry event]. We can chat more over lunch.
Just listened to your latest podcast episode on [industry topic]. I liked how you encapsulated the key points of [industry strategy]. That’s exactly what we’ve been trying to address with our [strategy/product/service].
Let me know if you’re free to talk about potentially working together sometime this week. I’m available Tuesday through Friday around lunchtime. Hope we can arrange a call soon.
Wrapping up: It takes more than “just checking in”
In a world full of “gentle reminder” messages, it’s important to make your update requests stand out. Getting there takes a little practice, some thoughtfulness, politeness, and sincerity.
When looking for ways to professionally ask for an update, you should take into account the step-by-step guide we outlined in this article to ensure your update requests are:
- Professional and polite,
- Informative, and
And, most importantly — always remember to end on a thankful note.