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  • Writer's pictureStewart | Eleven International

Remote Work Diaries: The Power of the Emoji

The world of work has changed irrevocably over the last few decades. The days of drafting and typing a letter to a client or associate now sounds so outdated, so antiquated, that the younger generation must be completely baffled at the very notion. However, while email replaced ‘snail’ mail in a heartbeat, for many businesses and corporations, the language of communication remained largely unchanged. ‘Dear sir/madam’ remained a difficult salutation to give up. After all, just because communications had become digital, why remove or alter the long-established language of business?

Today, that too has been largely abandoned, not least by the growth collaborative platforms such as Lark, Trello, Asana and others. Co-workers no longer send emails and ‘cc’ other team members, who need to be ‘in the loop’. We’ve moved on and adopted newer modes of communication that are more akin to a WhatsApp chat group. And while older members of a team (yours truly) might reminisce about the halcyon days of polite, well-structured letter writing, it’s actually high-time that we learn to sharpen our skills and embrace new forms of communication - and perhaps most importantly, the power of the emoji!

From Parchment to Emoji: The Evolution of Communications

When we think of the concept of remote work and the online collaborative platforms that make managing a remote team so much easier, we’re inclined to think about the Internet and its role in facilitating the world we live and work in today. It occurs to me that in fact the origins of collaborative communication actually lie in much more humble and historically distant beginnings. Pen and paper, postal services, and the arrival of the printing press gave like-minded people the chance to share ideas, research data, and opinions across the globe like never before.

Just as we owe the development of parchment and ink to major scientific and technological shifts in human history, today we find ourselves in a global society that moves much faster, and cares less about formality, and more about the human aspects of communication. Formal salutation may once have assuaged our desire for respect and civility, but in today’s fast-paced workplace (remote, virtual or otherwise), we now recognize the necessity of quickly relaying how we feel about an outcome, event or idea. The pinnacle of which is the emoji.

It all started with the emoticon - a way of using standard text and punctuation symbols to communicate basic emotions such as :( sad faces, and :-) and happy smiling faces among other things. Emoticons started to gain popularity as SMS text messaging grew in prominence during the 1990s. While emoticons are still used by many today, they have largely been displaced by emojis which began appearing as more complex, graphical characters available on smartphones during the mid-noughties.

Emoji and the Oxford English Dictionary

By 2015 the Oxford dictionary declared ‘Face with Tears of Joy’ its word of the year. Subsequent studies have shown that certain emojis are more popular in certain countries, for example the French seem more inclined to use a heart emoji than most nationalities, while Americans tend towards an eggplant for romantic engagements. Consider also that for people in China, a basic smiley face is considered sarcastic, or even rude.

Emojis in the Remote Workplace

At Eleven International we have without doubt embraced emojis as an important means of communication with dozens of ‘clapping hands’, ‘thumbs up’, and ‘fist-bump’ emojis being used on a daily basis. A digital fist bump isn’t quite the same as the real thing, but it carries the same emotional message and helps us feel closer as a team. Emojis take a split second to send and have the unique ability to convey a thought, or a feeling with unerring accuracy. We still type ‘thanks’ when needed, but why type actual text when an emoji can convey the message with greater accuracy, and more than a smidge more intimacy.

As a team of people from different nations and backgrounds, with different native tongues and cultural heritage, the emoji has become an indispensable form of communication. Crucially, emojis help us bridge linguistic and cultural differences, becoming a ‘lingua franca’, or common tongue.

When you consider that our online collaboration platform offers a choice of more than 180 emojis, it’s a wonder how remote workers ever managed to cope before. From a pair of clinking beer glasses that say ‘cheers’, to celebratory party hats and side-glancing kittens, emojis are a vital tool that help remote workers effectively, and efficiently communicate with each other.

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