Do you find yourself using emojis, GIFs and other electronic symbols in your writing more than you used to? Do you love them or hate them? Have you ever sent an emoji or GIF and it didn’t mean what you thought it meant? (Eggplants mean what?) Like it or not, the way we communicate is undergoing a change.

Pros and cons of written communication

You are part of an evolution in how people communicate. For the first time in human history, knowledge workers communicate more in writing than any other way. This isn’t good or bad, it’s just a reflection of how work is done today. A lot of our work, especially if we work from home occasionally, is done in emails, Slack messages or texts.

We know that writing can be efficient and helpful. It’s also lacking in some of the nuance and clarity you get when actually speaking face to face with someone. The smiley face, the “Crying Jordan”, or the little girl dancing in triumph are all ways to add richness to a message that might otherwise be flat or lack any kind of emotion.

Because human beings have never invented anything that doesn’t have a dark side, these ways to add meaning to static messages also have less positive uses.

A co-worker pointed out recently that she uses them to acknowledge people without actually having to engage with them. Someone’s lame joke can be met with an LOL or a crying, laughing yellow circle, then promptly ignored. She manages to look supportive but doesn’t actually have to deal with the person who told the joke. Passive aggressive communication is alive and well.

Are emojis and GIFs superior forms of communication?

Here are some fascinating statistics I found out about emojis and GIFs, and what it might mean to us as communication continues to change”

  • As of March 2019, there were 3,019 emojis in the Unicode Standard. First, that’s a lot of emojis. We’ve come a long say from thinking we were hip for typing  :- )  More important,  it’s someone’s job to invent, screen and codify new ones all the time. How do you get that gig?
  • Scientists at MIT have deduced that people can process common emojis and visual messages in 13 milliseconds, a fraction of the time it takes to read words. By incorporating these tools we are actually creating a new kind of shorthand.
  • 70% of people studied say that emojis express their emotional state better than words. As a writer, this is a bit horrifying, but not surprising.
  • 72% of workers say they use emojis in their business communication. This is despite the fact that 39% of senior leaders consider them unprofessional.
  • The use of GIFs (pronounce it however you want) is rising exponentially. They are still most commonly used for informal communication within the team, and with insiders. The further outside of your immediate social circle you go, the more open they are to misinterpretation.

Audience is still important

As a 60-year-old man, I was horrified when Microsoft introduced over 50 emojis and figures in Teams. Who needed that silliness and infantile way of communicating? The more I participated in meetings with younger teammates, the more it became apparent that it allowed chat to be more fun, build relationships and lighten the mood when it needed lightening. It often helped create a more accurate tone for chat messages that might be interpreted as critical or harsh.

When using emojis, GIFs, and other visual short-hand, be mindful of not only what you mean to say, but how the other person will interpret it. If you don’t care for them, judge the intent not the message. If you love them, think twice about your audience, and whether there is another way to communicate your message.

Workplace communication changes constantly, and we need to understand our audience and adapt accordingly.

Communication is a key component of our 12 Weeks to Being a Great Remote Teammate learning program. Find out more about how it can improve your value to your team.


Wayne Turmel--The Remote Leadership Institute

Wayne Turmel
Co-Founder and Product Line Manager

Wayne Turmel is the co-founder and Product Line Manager for the Remote Leadership Institute. For twenty years he’s been obsessed with helping managers communicate more effectively with their teams, bosses and customers. Wayne is the author of several books that demystify communicating through technology including Meet Like You Mean It – a Leader’s Guide to Painless & Productive Virtual Meetings, 10 Steps to Successful Virtual Presentations and 6 Weeks to a Great Webinar. His work appears frequently in Management-Issues.com.

Wayne, along with Kevin Eikenberry, has co-authored the definitive book on leading remotely, The Long-Distance Leader: Rules for Remarkable Remote Leadership. Wayne and Kevin’s follow-up book, The Long-Distance Teammateoffers a roadmap for success not just for leaders, but for everyone making the transition to working remotely.

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