Emojis Are Cute and Fun, but Are They Good for Business?

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By Genevieve Douglas

Technology is transforming workplace communication by making it easier and more informal, but is the casual exchange of emojis and GIFs good for business?

Adding chat and texts to already numerous emails and phone calls means many workers are “bombarded by communications,” in large part because of technological advancement, Dennis Collins, senior director of marketing at conference technology provider West Unified Communications, told Bloomberg BNA Aug. 17. These new methods of communication are “mostly to blame for the degradation of communications among employees,” he said.

People are communicating more than ever but aren’t talking about the things they need to talk about, and that’s extremely costly when it comes to productivity and engagement, Stacey Engle, executive vice president at leadership development firm Fierce Inc., told Bloomberg BNA Aug. 17. Moreover, informal communication can also create more opportunities for misunderstandings between co-workers, Engle said. “If workers are not intentional with their words, then the lines between professional and personal relationships can be blurred,” she said.

In fact, researchers from the University of Amsterdam found that use of emojis in online business interactions resulted in perceptions of low competence, and in turn undermined information-sharing between workers.

But informal communications have value, especially with remote workers, Collins noted. Social media platforms for instant messaging or chat rooms give remote workers the opportunity for random conversations that they traditionally would have missed out on because they’re not in the office and aren’t privy to water cooler discussions, he said.

Moreover, emojis have the ability to “bring a sense of multidimensional context to words,” Collins said. GIFs and other media are able to communicate tone where words can’t, whether it be sarcasm, excitement, cynicism, or anger, he said.

Guidelines to Foster Communication

The ideal workplace communication environment should empower employees to have “critical conversations that ultimately move the needle on business goals,” Engle said. In practice, that means workers are open and willing to give feedback, willing to confront each other respectfully, and participate in meetings where they feel they’re being heard, she said.

To achieve this, HR needs to invest in training employees at all levels of the company on communication guidelines, Engle said. “The notion that senior leadership really owns the conversation is not as true as it was a decade ago,” she added.

HR must consider multiple factors when developing communication guidelines for the workplace, Collins said:

  •  The age differences within the workforce matter, because there are preferred styles of communication based on age. “You can’t be one-size-fits-all with a multigenerational workforce,” he said.
  •  The type of work the organization performs and how collaborative/communicative the average employee’s job is are also factors.
  •  “Rules of engagement” should be designed by senior leadership. These rules should cover what kinds of communications are appropriate on different platforms, such as when it’s all right to text, email, call, or instant message. “Writing a report should be more formal, while a check-in can be more casual,” Collins said.
Once defined, communications guidelines should be part of the organization’s onboarding process, Collins added. It can have “a great positive impact,” he said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Genevieve Douglas in Washington at gdouglas@bna.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Peggy Aulino at maulino@bna.com; Terence Hyland at thyland@bna.com; Chris Opfer at copfer@bna.com

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