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Emojis in the workplace can bring colleagues together

Two-thirds of hybrid workers use emojis to feel closer to their colleagues, and this can even lead to a unique workplace language evolving over time

A variety if emojis against a blue background

I was today years old when I learned 👀 means you're looking at something. As in, if someone posts a document into a channel, you send 👀 to clarify that you are, indeed, looking at the thing.  

I’m not 100% convinced this is correct, admittedly, but it's true according to a survey presented by the workplace collaboration platform Slack and language app Duolingo – released today for Word Emoji Day. I know, there’s literally a day for everything 🙄.

Nevertheless, 9,400 people took part in the poll, representing mobile workers across the US, Asia and Europe. Their interpretations of emoji use in the workplace, and how it contributes to office culture, however, just add more confusion – for me, at least. 

For example, the survey found an example of unusual emoji in which an unnamed group of workers deploys a racoon (🦝) when someone’s posted in the wrong channel. I don’t think I’ve ever used the racoon myself, but I’ve definitely posted something in the wrong channel by mistake many, many times. If one of my colleagues replied with '🦝' I’d be confused. I don’t even know what I'd use it for; replying to a racoon picture? Purchasing a racoon? I literally don’t know, but, if I worked at this mystery workplace, I’m sure I'd pick it up quick enough. 

This is because emojis are a type of unofficial style guide, tailored and deployed in ways that are specific to the team and the individuals that make it up. ‘Unofficial’ because it's largely unimportant to leadership – they won’t care what you use unless you’re being inappropriate; 🍆, for example, is a potential HR issue, although the survey suggests 56% of Chinese respondents claimed to not know its dual use 🤨.

Within an organisation, the people that make it up will have their favourites, and the more creative types in the team will even create custom ones. Over time, a unique language will evolve. At IT Pro we tend to use the traditional 👍, 🙌 and 👋  mostly. But our idiosyncrasies have given birth to many variations of the party parrot; including ‘beer parrot’, ‘sassy parrot’ and, my favourite, ‘partycage’, which is party parrot melded with the face of Nicolas Cage. 

We once had a collection of custom emojis that poked fun at one of our loveable old editors. They depicted him as an ogre and a dinosaur – lovingly – I’m led to believe. What’s more, our newest team member has already added a dancing Ewok– created and added to the database on his first day. In doing so, he’s signalled himself as both a Star Wars nerd and a fun guy – a very welcome addition to the team. 

It’s safe to say that emojis are now fundamental and universal communication tool that help us navigate a sea of workplace platforms, and this is largely driven by the use of platforms like Slack, Microsoft Teams and WhatsApp. The survey suggests 53% of respondents use emojis for workplace messages, with 67% saying it makes them feel closer to their colleagues, although 30% say they'd never send an emoji to their boss. 

The platform does also appear to be an important aspect, because emoji use isn’t the same through the medium of email. In fact, it could hinder a career path, according to research from Tel Aviv University. Emojis suggest a lack of “power” and may lead to colleagues and bosses thinking less of you, apparently. The first thing to point out here is you probably don’t need to send your colleagues an email, especially if you have instant messaging services. After all, if you only have access to a Gmail account, there’s an instant chat function within that, so stick to it and let the emojis fly. 

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