In a digital office 📧 📱, it’s easy to get the wrong impression from your colleague’s hastily-written Slack message 😱. When he said “great job” did he really mean it 👍🏻, or are you detecting a hint of sarcasm 🤔? We all know digital communication can be a minefield 💣 – can emojis help?
A growing body of research suggests that not only is it more acceptable than ever to use emojis at work, they in fact help you communicate better with your colleagues – particularly if you work remotely and rarely communicate face-to-face.
Though only in it’s infancy, research into the evocative symbols shows us that in today’s digital workplace emojis are an effective way to bridge the communication gap.
Dr Stephanie Malone, researcher at the Australian Catholic University, who has researched emojis with counterparts in the UK, says that we use symbols to convey meaning in much the same way we use facial expressions in face-to-face conversations. “Using emojis helps to clarify the intended message,” she explains.
It found that people who text-chatted with customer service agents gave higher scores to those who used emoticons in their responses than agents who did not. Customers also said that agents who used emoticons were more personal than those who did not.
While emoticons may seem too casual or even too silly to play a role in more formal communications, they can play an important role in professional and business communications, says S. Shyam Sundar, co-director of the Media Effects Research Laboratory at Penn State.
“To have a meaningful conversation we often need to be in the same place at the same time, however, in a mediated environment, when you’re distant and not in the same place as the person you are communicating with, it’s hard to create that feeling of togetherness,” says Sundar. Emojis can create that feeling remotely and can be a vehicle for empathy and clarity of expression, he suggests.
For the most part, those people already using emojis at work exhibit good judgement, says Malone. “Our research shows that despite people being aware of how useful emojis can be, they are aware that using emojis in some contexts – for example, email – may be less appropriate.”
As we’ve noted before, when it comes to more formal workplace communications, consensus remains that communications to managers and bosses should be carefully considered.
Research from staffing firm OfficeTeam found that 39 per cent of senior managers think it’s unprofessional to include emojis or emoticons in work communications. Forty per cent of senior managers said using emojis or emoticons was fine “in certain situations,” while 21 per cent didn’t see any harm in the occasional smiley face.
When is it appropriate to use emoji at work?
- Casual conversations with your team on workplace chat platforms such as Slack, Facebook Workplace, or Yammer, or communicating with team members via email. “Carefully consider the situation, the person who will receive it and the tone of your business communications,” writes Jacqueline Whitmore at Entrepreneur. Be sure to keep the situation in mind and restrict yourself from using them if you don’t know the person well or you aren’t sure who will receive your message.
- To build work culture. Slipping a SFW (safe for work) emoji or meme into communications with teammates can have a huge positive impact. It shows that you understand and value your colleagues outside of their ability to reach KPIs. However, always play it safe and if you’re not convinced your message will be well received, err on the side of caution. That said, the lines are blurring….Vice has reported on the companies who’ve gone so far as to register emoji urls.
- Any formal email to a superior. Think of emojis as a form of workplace slang, developed over months with your team. You want to be considered a professional by your boss at all times, so save the lols for your teammates – who will actually appreciate it.
- Any email to a client. It’s not a good idea to use emojis if you are trying to establish a new relationship with a client or colleague. Use professional language that will allow you to build up your trust with them.
Emoji translator 👀 📖✍🏽: most millennial job ever?
In what is thought to be the first such job in the world, last year a company in London advertised for a freelance “emoji translator” to join their business.
Head of Today Translations Ms Zilinskiene said that the company needed someone to translate diaries into emojis for clients, but could not find a specialist. Software translations can only go so far, she explains, so the agency posted an online job advert for a human translator.
The successful candidate will be paid per emoji for translation jobs and research into the changing trends in emoji usage will be paid at an hourly rate.