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The Business Etiquette Guide To Emojis

Source | FastCompany : By LYDIA DISHMAN

When was the last time you added a smiley or some other small graphic as a stand-in for words in a message to your boss or coworkers? Chances are it was pretty recent: A recent study found that nearly half (41%) of workers use emojis in professional communications. And among the senior managers polled, 61% said it’s fine, at least in some situations.

The study was conducted by OfficeTeam, a temp staffing service that’s a division of Robert Half. It included responses from more than 300 senior managers at U.S. companies with more that 20 employees, and more than 350 U.S. workers who are employed in office environments.

Of the managers surveyed 21% found the use of the “smiley face” fun, 41% said the “OK” hand sign was fine in certain situations, and 39% found the “thumbs down” unprofessional. Only 19% of employees admitted to using them all the time to indicate the emotion behind their professional communications. Thirty-three percent said they eschew the graphics entirely and prefer to express themselves through their words.

The challenge is that a written expression of emotion in emails, texts, or even less asynchronous chats, isn’t always received in the spirit it was intended. Even teams who are accustomed to working remotely won’t always get a humorous reference or sarcasm, in large part because they only know each other digitally. So it’s no wonder that emojis have become a common crutch to try to express our feelings.

The problem is that emojis are a relatively new addition to the correspondence scene and no formal rules have been established. Etiquette’s OG Emily Post (aswritten by Anna Post) is dismissive:

“To smiley or not to smiley, that is the question. Unless you are absolutely certain an emoticon will be received well, avoid using them. To unsympathetic eyes, or simply to someone who doesn’t know you well, they look juvenile in business.”

For those of us who rely on group chat platforms like Slack to get work done, that suggestion simply doesn’t make sense. Fast Company recently covered some of the finer points of communication on Slack. In light of this study, we took a deeper dive into burgeoning emoji use and asked some professionals who work with remote teams for their best practices.


Kehayas tells Fast Company that the San Francisco-based startup moved to have all its staff work remotely two months ago. She says that working with someone you have never met face to face is much like working with someone you have met in real life. For both, it pays to experiment.

“You will feel out what kind of humor or small talk someone likes and how they like to interact,” she says. Starting with a simple smile could do the trick. “If they are joining a new, established team, a few well-selected emojis could be a great, friendly way of saying ‘welcome,’ she says.

A few well-placed emojis can pretty successfully replace a hug or verbal well-wishes when remote, says Kehayas. Also:

Do: Use emojis to infuse your emails or Slack messages with personality. When you are not dealing with face-to-face interactions on a daily basis, any word can be misconstrued.  There is a big difference between a plain “Yes,” and “Yes” with a smiley and “Yes” with the sunglasses smiley and the 100. Use emojis in these scenarios to let some personality shine through.

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