Emoji Culture: Future of Work ☀️🏢🏡 🐕 📅 🤼 🕥

My most recent post on LinkedIn cross-posted here.


July 17, 🌎 World Emoji Day is coming up! It’s time to check out some new custom emoji about to be released! The 17th was chosen because that was the default date for the calendar icon on early versions of iOS.

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What started as a simple form of expression in our 💬 messaging apps, emoji has now become a cultural phenomenon. Remote and hybrid work has made emoji a critical component of workplace culture that manifests in nearly every work communication and collaboration tool.

Slack recently unveiled a major emoji and effects upgrade to their Huddles feature; WhatsApp announced support for all emojis as reactions; Google Docs launched emoji support; and even Linkedin announced a new LinkedIn Funny reaction (shown below) which they describe as a way to “express that the post made you laugh, felt humorous, or offered light-hearted fun in a professional context.”  Some of you may even try it on this post 🙂 

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So how did emoji get started and find their way into our daily work?  

Emoji is the aggregation of two Japanese words. ‘E’ means picture and ‘moji’ means character so emoji translates to picture-character.

Not surprisingly, it turns out the earliest emoji were created using punctuation to make facial expressions such as the smiley and the shrug ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ in the 1980s. These symbols were sufficient for text-based chat but emoji, as we know it today, really got started in the 90s!  Take a look at this picture 🖼️:

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Yes, these are the first emoji made by Softbank in Japan in ‘97 for their cellular network and then Docomo followed with this in ‘99.

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But the real🪜step-up wasn’t until late 2009 with formal Unicode support. Apple and other companies added emoji support to their products for the 🇯🇵 Japanese market and users got wind and wanted to bring it into the 🇺🇸 US. Soon, emoji was incorporated into the iPhone keyboard and usage 🚀 skyrocketed.

Now we have emojis for different skin tones, different events, pop culture, 🎶 music, and more.

Why do people love emoji?

Well, the research is pretty clear. Emoji are ambiguous. Some like the ease and speed of communicating with emoji.  Others find emoji a quick way to express emotions.  And, of course, emoji also provide a way to show humor and our own unique personalities.

Emoji is now part of our everyday life.  In writing this up, I found Emoji Tracker which shows in real-time the usage of emoji across Twitter — it gives you just a little sense of just how frequently emoji is used as part of communication.  Whatever it is, people ❤️ love their emoji. 

Recognizing that emoji established a new channel for communication, social media companies like Facebook further innovated and made emoji a reaction with the “👍” button. In 2015, Facebook wanted to offer users more options and worked with sociologists to determine six “emoji reactions” to represent love, haha, yay, wow, sad, and angry for posts on their platform.  

And then came Slack which brought the reaction into the workplace!

Emoji, welcome to the office

Open any digital workplace tool like Zoom, Slack, Microsoft Teams, Google Workspace, etc., and you’ll see that the ability to instantly react to team posted updates or messages via emoji is integral to the user experience.  

The benefits of emoji in the workplace are more important than ever with remote work.  They help with positive feedback, engagement, encouragement, and camaraderie no matter where teammates are working.  They create fun and let us show our unique personalities.  They serve as a way to contribute to collaboration without distracting the flow of conversation.  They save valuable ⏱️ response time in many instances; and much more. 

Beyond using emoji as just reactions to comments., they can also be used as a way to share our presence — to indicate our 💻 availability or ⛔ not in the digital workspace.  The right emoji can express yourself in a way that you could previously only achieve working side-by-side. 

A number of organizations and team members have actually created emoji templates for common activities in their workplace.  At Divvy, for example, a team member shared their template used for status in Slack:

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These aren’t isolated examples. Emoji culture has become a critical part of the People Operations playbook and a must-have in the future of work. Whether prescribed or organically adopted, it should be promoted. 📊 Stats from a recent Slack survey and Adobe survey show that communicating with emoji and GIFs instead of workplace jargon has resulted in:

👋 66% feel more authentic. 🙌 78% say it made work feel more flexible, friendly, and inclusive. 🤗 88% are more likely to feel empathetic. 👏🏾 70% feel inclusive emoji, such as those that reflect different skin tones, can spark positive conversations.

And as an FYI, topping the list of favorite emoji is 😂, followed by 👍🏽  in second place and a ❤️  heart in third place. And of course, we know, emoji are just simply fun!

PSA: You think I’m going to write up a post and not talk about workplace emoji and Pulse 🙂 We solve for emoji culture in status.

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If your organization has not codified emoji culture, now is the time. It’ll improve your employee 😀 happiness scores and introduce some ✨ spice into your digital workspace. And if you’re looking for some inspiration, see some examples at Pulse of all the cool emoji people are using at the office!

Happy  🎉 World Emoji Day!  

Beyond the Green Dot

My most recent post on LinkedIn cross-posted here.


Ding! JohnSlayer17 has come online. Those old enough to remember that distinctive chime from AOL Instant Messenger likely have it emblazoned in memory. Little did we know that this simple notification sound and visual presence indicator would be the beginnings of a new way to work for decades to come.

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AIM and ICQ started it with status updates, such as Online, Away, Do Not Disturb, and more. Skype later introduced mobile, allowing you to be online while on the road. Then Slack brought emoji, allowing users to manually express themselves when setting a status. Despite the tech advancements made the last two decades, status has mostly remained stagnant. The green dot indicating availability hasn’t evolved, and it’s often manually set if set at all.

Now, for many, this didn’t matter. Most workers worked side-by-side with colleagues. Their physical presence provided more status than any digital manifestation ever could. It was obvious when their colleague was getting up for lunch, focused on a document, talking to someone else, or even in a joyful mood.

Then the world enters a pandemic. Suddenly, physical status is gone, and teams are solely relying upon that green dot while working from home. Colleagues have no idea who is around, when it’s best to connect without interrupting, or what’s happening outside of their core team. The lack of status and connection caused the number of meetings and scheduled discussions to skyrocket, while timely, ad-hoc collaboration and communications dissipated. And now, with many organizations returning to the office with hybrid work models, the green dot has become even more insufficient as it does little to indicate who is even at the office on any given day.

Recognizing this opportunity, an entire category of virtual office companies emerged. They created virtual maps with avatar-like heads for teammates to help colleagues visualize and replicate office presence in lieu of status indicators in workplace communication tools like Slack or Microsoft Teams. Unfortunately, these tools have mostly fallen flat because they were yet another messaging service to engage with when companies were increasingly entrenched with their existing communication tools.

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Meanwhile, organizations knew they had a problem. Remote work has led to Zoom fatigue, reduced motivation, impact on team morale, trust, empathy, loneliness, inability to unplug, time zone management, decreased innovation, and much more. Team metrics were plunging, and burnout was rampant. A survey by Monster.com found 69% of employees feeling exasperated while a survey by Indeed found 67% of workers believe burnout has worsened during the pandemic.

In an attempt to address these challenges, some teams went fully asynchronous, abandoning status and meetings altogether. Others created a hodgepodge of custom workflows to improve awareness around availability, implementing strategies like using shared spreadsheets to enter vacations, work schedules, and in-office days or setting open calendar blocks to indicate periods during the day when team members were available for interruption. Our workdays, however, are unpredictable, and constantly updating spreadsheets, messaging channels, and calendars to reflect our current status is cumbersome, inefficient, and frequently an inaccurate indication of our availability.

Today, for example, I got up to go eat lunch; stepped out to pick up my kids from school; decided to take a work meeting from my phone; blocked two hours for a meeting that ended an hour early; and put ‘focus time’ in my shared calendar to write this article hoping that nobody would interrupt me. In each and every instance, my green dot does not reflect my true intent, but there are signals and tech to figure this out automatically.

Enter Pulse – Automatic Status

Status is more than just a snippet of text; it is a form of expression and a way to communicate intent and foster empathy. Status, in many ways, is that meta-layer for remote work that organizations have been seeking and attempting to solve but in roundabout ways.

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Automatic status can be rich and informative. It does not mean that when you’re zoning out of a meeting or deciding to cheat on your diet, everyone knows. Rather, it means that when you want the team to know you’re deep in focus designing, the tech will figure that out and update your status for you. When you want to tell your team subtly to go easy on you this evening because you are leaving for vacation tomorrow, it’ll figure that out and softly convey this in your status.

Automatic status also creates empathy. It sets expectations. It communicates your intent. When you are that lone person working from Anguilla and it’s a holiday, it’ll let your team know in status that it’s a holiday in your country today. When you are working on a shared document and you want to signal that you are available to collaborate, it’ll share, in status, that you’re in that document and invite participation. It makes every workplace experience collaborative and multi-player while reducing interruptions, increasing flow time, and making you feel more in control of your day.

Additionally, it’s transforming the digital workspace from a stale set of green dots to something more lively, as if we are working side-by-side with our colleagues. Automatic status is completely changing how we work, and the best part about this is that the tech is there to make this all happen. Amongst APIs, laptops, mobile devices, and the tools we use, the signals to determine intent are available.

I believe Pulse’s automatic status is the next step. It is the evolution of the green dot we’ve been waiting for.