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What can emojis do? On the role of emoji in team communication

5 osób siedzących i patrzących na telefony, nad każdą z nich widoczne emoji
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The use of emoji in communication at work, especially in the context of the language of the Gen Z generation, is more than just a fad. In fact, research highlights their considerable effectiveness and the impact they have on the emotions we experience because of them. Emoji can also change the perception of the people who include them in their messages. How do we use them on a daily basis? And how should we use them?

Why do we need emoji?

How may emoji that we use every day be affecting us? In July 2021, to mark World Emoji Day, Adobe released a report titled The Global Emoji Trend Report 2021 summarising a study that polled 7,000 male and female web users about their opinions on the role of emoji in digital communications and shaping on-line relationships. The results, while very interesting, will not come as a great surprise in this context. For it turned out that according to the majority of the respondents, emoji can have a positive impact on mental health, just to name a few. Sometimes they even enable us to feel more comfortable expressing our emotions, e.g. compared to face-to-face contact or a telephone conversation.

Emoji can break down the language barrier, foster a sense of connection with others, and people who use them seem funnier, much friendlier, and empathetic to others.

The findings regarding the use of emoji in the work environment also accounted for a very similar result. In fact, as many as 71% of those surveyed said they believe emoji can have a positive impact on workplace atmosphere, 73% said they make it easier to share ideas quickly, 63% said they improve team decision-making processes, and 51% said they reduce the need for meetings and/or calls.

In contrast, more than half of the younger generation – Generation Z – surveyed, even said they would feel more satisfied with their jobs if their team or supervisors used emoji more often in professional communications.

What does Gen Z think about emoji?

Of course, this type of behaviour can also bring about serious complications. In fact, in the cited report, as many as 63% of Generation Z agreed with the statement that they often use emoji in a completely different context than the intended meaning of these symbols. This essentially complicated ambiguity has already been evidenced by the difficulty that even the most popular emoji, which we use almost every day, can cause in communicating together.

According to data made available by Unicode the most used emoji worldwide in 2021 were therefore – ? ❤️ ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? (the popularity of these icons is, of course, partly related to the most common reactions available on social media, among other things). In this context, the very first symbol can already be considered quite problematic. The smiley face crying with laughter – ? (but also this ?), due to the frequency of its use by older generations, at one time even became an ironic symbol of “millennials and other boomers”, repeatedly mocked in memes and on TikTok. This one ?, on the other hand, is now more often a sign of being ignored than of joy, sympathy, and a friendly smile, and it’s better to motivate using this ? or that ? than that ? sign (? is often seen as a sign of passive aggression).

Although, to put it bluntly, all of the above emoji are rather questionable in this perspective – after all, they can be perceived as too random, not individualised enough, and lacking in meaningful engagement. Still, it is better not to give them up in communication (just keeping in mind the intergenerational dissonance they may cause). According to the Adobe report, as many as 75% of those surveyed believe that only sending emoji as a quick response – without any words at all – is a fully acceptable practice.

Do emoji support diversity?

However, it should not be forgotten that the emoji language represents a multiplicity of symbols – in the Unicode standard there are currently over 3600 of them, and each of them can carry a lot of meanings. An example of this is, mentioned above, the generation-specific use of emoji. In Gen Z language, ? can therefore mean – I’m going out!, ?? – shyness and embarrassment, ? – laughter,‍ ?‍♂️ – to be in a strange, awkward situation, and ? – someone or something embarrassing (although using these signs, without knowing the full context of their functioning, is sometimes risky!).

Thanks to emoji, we can also better express our sense of belonging (although according to a report Brandwatch Emoji and Emotions in 2021 as many as 33.3% of female and male users still do not feel fully represented by emoji), and the diversity of icons allows us to more easily express attitudes of equality and inclusivity. Thus, in communication, it is becoming increasingly easy to reach for emoji with different skin tones (after all, many people may perceive ? as an expression of oppression), gender-neutral icons – ?, and a range of other characters to broaden representation – ?️‍??️‍⚧️?????‍??‍??. Actually, this is an important characteristic. Emoji as a kind of space for visibility and empathetic approach.

Emoji, or the language of images

Using emoji in team communication is, of course, one of the many best practices that today’s digital reality offers us. A skilful reference to popular memes, trends, viral videos or other pop culture references offers a chance to reinforce our mutual relations (and not only in mixed-generation teams!).

Above all, however, it is emoji that allow us to express our feelings, attitudes, and emotions in a simple way, thus increasing the clear intent behind our message, as well as influencing the level of our collective well-being. The ongoing generational changes, including in the realm of media and communication practices, have reinforced this trend all the more powerfully. Our everyday communication will therefore be increasingly shaped by dynamic and engaging speech of images!