This week, we examine the effect of emoji-literate generations on our communication.

Emoj-tional

Exploring the place of emojis in the professional world.

Angelica Martin

Business Management

Trending

4 minute read

From hearts, sparkles and party poppers in Instagram ads to reacts on Zoom and Microsoft Teams, emojis are inescapable – even in places where they’ve historically been considered inappropriate. But have emojis managed to make their mark on the way we communicate, both within our own companies and with customers? Or are they being trained out of Gen Z’s workplace lexicon instead?
In short
  • Emojis have expanded beyond messaging and crept into spaces like advertising and even professional communication.
  • They fill in for the non-verbal cues of face-to-face interaction, making them more useful since the beginning of the pandemic.
  • However, consider audience and context before using them, as not everyone sees emojis as professional.
Unlearning my habits
I was a few weeks into my first ever corporate job here at CX Lavender when my manager announced that the time had come for me to write my first client email. Naturally, I was overcome with excitement at the opportunity. Would I completely blow them away with my charming nature and professional aptitude? This email was a perfect balance of warm and energetic, exuding future-best-friend potential, with a handful of contextually relevant and expertly-selected emojis sprinkled thoughtfully throughout. I added one final exclamation mark to sign off (6 total) and flicked it over to my manager to proofread.
No emojis!? Two exclamation marks!!!!? How was I supposed to be perceived as friendly and approachable with only size 11 Calibri and a bunch of full stops at my disposal? I really feared coming across as cold, blunt or rude. But I quickly learnt that unlike messaging my friends online, the unspoken rules of corporate email etiquette didn’t allow many opportunities to signal my tone – a lot of it was left up to guesswork. And as an overthinking Gen Z who assumed that a properly punctuated sentence with no emojis had a direct subtext of “I hate you and everything that you stand for”, this was very difficult for me to come to terms with.
“For the past 23 years, emojis have been filling the gaps in online communication where physical gestures, facial expressions and tone of voice would be.”
The role of emojis

For the past 23 years, emojis have been filling the gaps in online communication where physical gestures, facial expressions and tone of voice would usually be, allowing us to steer clear of uncomfortable misinterpretations, and softening messages that could otherwise come off as cold. Take these as an example:

We’ve got some feedback on that article you drafted. Can you give me a call?
We’ve got some feedback on that article you drafted 😇 Can you give me a call?

I don’t know if we can publish that.
I don't know if we can publish that 🤣


See the difference?

In a way, emojis have become a second language in modern culture – the essential complement to the traditional alphabet scripts. According to Oxford Dictionaries President Caspar Grathwohl, these scripts “have been struggling to meet the rapid-fire, visually focused demands of 21st Century communication.”1 And with the occurrence of the COVID-19 pandemic, the need for emojis has only grown.


With everyone suddenly locked up inside, working from home and isolated from one another, the world became very lonely. Gone were catch-ups for coffee, after-work drinks and communal office lunches. Casual, impromptu interactions with work mates were jarringly replaced by formal, self-conscious video calls with pixelated colleagues. Banter about the weekend was out – uncomfortable chatter about whether or not the screen share function had exposed your manager’s search history was in. (And yes, it had.) It was an eerily bizarre, unsettling time, characterised by a loneliness so soul-destroying that the World Health Organisation officially named it a “priority public health problem”. We were so desperately craving the deeply comforting warmth of mundane human interaction. And what was the closest thing we had to the familiar touch of another human being? Emojis.
So, let’s look at their impact
The latest Global Emoji Trends report from Adobe found that throughout the pandemic Aussies have felt more connected to friends and family they can't see in person when they communicate using emojis, with 88% of people being more likely to feel empathic towards someone if they use an emoji2. In fact, the majority of Australian users agree that emojis in workplace communication positively impact likability, credibility and make positive news or feedback feel more sincere. But it’s a tricky tightrope to walk. While using emojis with your colleagues can have a positive impact in making people feel connected and empathised with, customers may not feel the same. When it comes to whether or not Australians like it when a brand uses emojis in their communications, we’re split down the middle2. The difference? Age. Your emoji-heavy email may excite and impress a younger audience, allowing you to come across as friendly and relatable, while older audiences may view the same email as unprofessional, perceiving you as unreliable. But you can’t argue with the fact that email subject lines that include emojis are eye-catching and visually pleasing, and this is reflected in a statistically higher open rate3. This is also due to the fact that pesky anti-spamming algorithms are more likely to let your marketing email slide if it features an emoji. 💡
My emoji journey
When it comes to answering the question of whether emojis are changing the nature of professional communication or not, I think the two sides are meeting somewhere in the middle. I did eventually adjust to the corporate way of communicating (read: dry). Though, I still don’t believe there’s anything unprofessional about coming across as warm. We live in scary times, and if the last two years have taught us anything, it’s the importance of connection. So, while I might have ditched my comprehensive array of emojis for the workplace, you will always find this little guy in my emails: 😊
52 words on the word ‘emoji’
While many assume the word ‘emoji’ came from the English word ‘emotion’, the link is purely coincidental. ‘Emoji’ is actually a combination of the Japanese words for picture (pronounced ‘eh’) and letter (pronounced ‘moji’). It was coined in 1999 by Shigetaka Kurita who designed the first emoji for phone company NTT Docomo.
Written by Angelica Martin, edited by Abby Clark, 52 words by Adelaide Anderson, key visual by Patrick Brennan, page built by Alice Guo & Adelaide Anderson.
References

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