Emojis, the ever-expanding range of pictorial icons used to supplement text-messages and social media, are entering workplace vocabulary. Is it time for businesses to embrace 'text speak' or should the office be emoji exempt?
The news that 76% of U.S. workers use little yellow faces in their day-to-day work-related emails is at odds with the business communications many of us typically receive. That's not to say that the odd smiley-face won't appear, but they are by no means commonplace. Should we learn to love them, and if we do should guidance be introduced around their use?
The rise of the emoji has come on the back of the social media revolution. Short messages can be insufficient to allow us to fully express ourselves and there has been a move to visualising our expressions. Social media platforms such as Snapchat and WhatsApp and the availability of wireless networks have made the sending of photo messages and pictures simple and affordable. Adding some form of expression can clarify the meaning of a message that might otherwise be misinterpreted.
What we write in emails is getting shorter too, so it stands to reason that what we say can sometimes be misconstrued as being abrupt, offensive or offended. The light touch of an emoji can make the meaning clear, as well as suggest that time is against us.
America is considered a world leader in digital and tech developments in the workplace, so it is likely that this cultural change will make its way across the Atlantic, eventually.
However, there is a dark side to emojis. Emojis are not, and most likely will not ever be considered a formal method of communication. You wouldn't expect to see them on your bank statements or in a final demand. I would be surprised if another lawyer were to use them in official correspondence, online or otherwise. Sometimes, the situation will render them inappropriate, but not everyone might recognise those situations, which is when guidance or a policy may come in useful.
For organisations with an international presence or client-base, a policy to guide employees in the use of less formal communication tools. For example, news emerged this week that in Russia, the country’s media regulator could ban same-sex character icons from social media if an investigation finds they contravene laws intended to prevent gay “propaganda”. Using the icons in cross-border emails could, regrettably, cause organisations and their workers unwelcome problems.
A new survey of American’s work communication habits has shown that over three quarters now make use of smiley face icons in their office emails as the ubiquitous text message icons spill over from the private sphere into the workplace. Whilst workers are becoming increasingly confident in their use of such imagery in communications with their boss this adventurism only extends so far however, with 60 per cent limiting themselves to the basic yellow smiley and sad faces.