Beyond Words: How Emojis Can Support Workplace Culture

by Jennifer Dulski

With more than 75% of all tele-workable jobs now working in remote or hybrid work environments, meetings are now mainly on video, and much of our communication is in messaging tools like Slack and Teams. Given that communication is less personal when people aren’t face to face, how we communicate virtually is much more important now. People are making their communication more personal (and more fun!) by bringing emojis beyond social media and into the workplace. For the most part, the addition of emojis and other graphics, like gifs, can add a lot of energy and personality that makes virtual communication more engaging. There are also a few situations where emojis can be too casual or inappropriate and should be avoided.

The Value of Emojis and Graphics in Forging Bonds with Colleagues

Forming friendships within the workplace is critical to employee happiness and productivity. Images, gifs and emojis allow us to find fun ways to show our personality to others in the absence of old-fashioned water cooler chatter and in-person facetime.

Emojis can help people connect at work, increase efficiency with quick shorthand, and provide emotional cues, especially in remote settings where people can’t pick up body language cues. A recent study from Slack showed that emoji usage can be effective in increasing efficiency and reducing noise in workplace communications. More than half of workers surveyed said emoji usage helps with nuanced communications and helps workplace communication happen more quickly.

Here’s an example of how that works in practice: “Reacjis,” or emojis used as a reaction in messaging apps, can be especially useful in hybrid and distributed teams to create shorthand around topics like completed tasks ✅, quick agreement 👍 or enthusiastic agreement 💯, among other examples.

That said, they can also be problematic at times; some research has shown that emojis can make people appear less authoritative or cause generational rifts if there is misunderstanding of what an emoji means.

Why Some Teams Are Creating Custom Emojis to Fit Their Needs

One way to bridge this gap is to create custom emojis around a shared language or set of experiences so there are no misunderstandings. The Slack study indicates that two-thirds of workers feel more bonded when the person they are messaging understands the emoji they are using, and Slack allows people to upload custom emojis to make it even easier for people to be on the same page. On the Rising Team platform, we give teams custom, animated emojis to download tied to different workplace scenarios based on sessions they’ve completed as a team. Examples include the interrupting iguana, , for asking someone if it’s okay to interrupt them, and a mic drop, , for appreciating someone when they accomplish something big. These emojis help teams create a shared language and shorthand around common workplace needs and situations.

When to Use Emojis at Work – and When to Keep It to Text

While emojis are a great way to show feeling and emotion through email and text-based messaging, there is a time and a place for them. As a manager, using emojis as a form of encouragement and positive feedback can be great. For giving constructive feedback or discussing more serious topics, keeping emojis out of those conversations is best. For employees, I recommend using in-person or live virtual chats when discussing topics or asking questions that are serious in nature. This ensures the point doesn’t get lost in the fun nature of emojis.

Jennifer Dulski is CEO and founder of Rising Team, which provides the industry-leading team-development platform, helping companies to increase employee engagement and retention, scale talent development, and improve culture and connection. Its software equips managers to run deeply connecting team sessions, remotely or in-person, without needing an outside facilitator.

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