Earlier this year, General Motors published a press release entirely in Emoji. The result? A mix of media intrigue—and confusion.
But it got me thinking: Are Emojis ever appropriate in the office? If they are, in what context? Here are both sides of the argument and a few tips for using them in the workplace.
In one of my last jobs in corporate finance, I sat right next to my boss’ boss’ boss. Every now and then I’d hear him cry out in frustration. The problem? Someone had sent him an email with a smiley face in it—the precursor to today’s Emoji. From early on I was clear that, in that environment, emoticons were frowned up. So, to make the best impression, I made sure that every email I sent had a particularly professional and formal tone.
The problem with new kinds of communication like Emojis is that you just don’t know how the other person will receive them. You don’t want to risk getting on the nerves of a superior, simply because you’re “on trend.” Do you remember when older generations were constantly bemoaning the use of text speak? In one particularly scathing takedown a critic described texting as “penmanship for illiterates.”
While texting is now part of our everyday communication, we’re just not there with Emojis. A smiley face is one thing, but Emoji is still far from a universal language.
Like typos and grammatical errors, communicating this way could cause the recipient to misinterpret your message (or worse, ignore it completely). If I send a friend a message of a stream of symbols and she’s a little confused, I know she’ll write me back asking for clarification. But my boss? Or that co-worker who never says what he’s really thinking? Where your career’s concerned, the stakes are just too high.
Typing out your communication, whether on a smartphone, tablet, or computer is hardly taxing—and it’s well worth the extra few finger swipes to be sure that your message will be understood by your clients, your colleagues, and your boss.
In the very same job, I used to be in regular contact with someone on our international team. Her emails were always sunny, full of positivity, and normally finished off with a flourish of smiley faces. I have to admit that I loved receiving them! (And who loves receiving emails?) Even though her desk was several thousand miles away, she often brought a genuine smile to my face. And that ability to connect is powerful: I still remember her!
These days I’m a long way from the corporate environment of that job. And my communication style has shifted as a result. I’m not quite ready to use Emojis with my clients, but my communication is less formal and more chatty in tone.
In my San Francisco home there’s a palpable sense that everyone’s on the lookout for what’s innovative, new, the next big thing. There’s a tacit competition going on to become an “early adopter,” and using Emojis at work certainly falls under that bracket.
One of the fastest growing workplace services is the messaging app. From Slack to HipChat to all of the services in between, part of the fun is custom Emoji and emoticons. On Slack channels, Emojis make a regular appearance, and they convey your emotions in a way that text often doesn’t. If you responded to your colleague’s image-filled discussion of where you should go for lunch with a perfectly punctuated sentence (as opposed to a shrimp icon), he’ll think you’re his grandmother.
In the right context, using Emoji demonstrates you understand current communication trends—while also conveying emotions in a way that words sometimes can’t.
So, Are Emojis a Do or a Don’t?
What’s acceptable at a laidback startup may not be acceptable at a corporate firm. It’s a lot like how some employees turn up to work in jeans and a t-shirt, but other companies still expect hires to arrive in a suit each day.
Funnily enough, the secret to getting things like dress code and communication style right is the same as the secret to successful public speaking: they all depend on knowing your audience.
So, pay attention to all aspects of company culture during your interview. And even if you think you have a pretty good sense of it, hold off using Emoji on day one. Take time to get to know your team, your clients, and your superiors: Even a laidback team might include a stuffy teammate (or vice-versa).
Be conscious about where and when others use it and under what circumstances communication becomes more formal. You might find that Emojis are more than acceptable on the team’s Slack channel, but that with clients the business takes a more professional tone.
And whatever the setting, I’d advise against using the smiling pile of poo.