Back in 1963, a commercial freelance artist named Harvey Ball was employed by State Mutual Life Assurance Company to come up with an image to increase staff morale.
Ten minutes later, the smiley face was born.
Now you could argue that Harvey did not create the entire concept of a smiley face so much as patent a particular version of it. Surely kids were drawing stick figures with faces long before 1963, using two small dots for eyes and a nice wide arc to represent a happy mouth? But that sunny yellow smiley circle has certainly been credited to Harvey, who was paid $45 for his work and who never tried to trade mark or protect the design (something he apparently never regretted).
Jump forward a couple of decades to September 1982, and a computer scientist named Scott Fahlman is credited as being the first to create a slightly different kind of smiley face. Scott thought his university’s message board needed a way to distinguish between posts that were jokes and posts that were serious, so he suggested the use of punctuation symbols in a particular order which, when viewed sideways, represented a smile and a frown. You know the ones! 🙂 and 🙁
Needless to say, the symbols caught on. The purely text-symbol-based emoticons have evolved into the little picture emojis that are so ubiquitous today, with over 3,000 different emojis in the Unicode Standard, and over 5 billion emojis are sent daily on Facebook Messenger alone. There is even a yearly World Emoji Awards. No joke.
So, we all know what emojis are. If not, are you living close to/under a rock? We all use them regularly and frequently when we’re texting each other and messaging on all our social media platforms and commenting on everyone’s latest post and feed and story.
But do you use them at work?
Emojis in the workplace
That’s the big question, isn’t it? Are emojis (and emoticons and gifs and memes and anything like that) suitable for the work environment? Would you include a smiley in an email to your boss? Can you send a sad face when you’re writing to a colleague to explain why your report is going to be late? Can you add symbols and pictures to your written communications in your professional world?
Well, we do.
We’ll be the first to admit it. We use the odd smiley face in an email and have definitely been known to respond to someone with a gif or a meme. There’s no problem with it because we believe that symbols and pictures can convey warmth, humour, emotion, and meaning in a way that would be almost impossible without them.
Text can be a sterile medium, with no tone and no inflection, whereas a well-placed emoji can signal a particular mood and even potentially avoid a misunderstanding. Consider the following two sentences:
- I can’t believe you did that!
- I can’t believe you did that! ☺
Both sentences are very short, and they both convey incredulity. But the first one could be said either in jest or in anger, whereas with the second one there is no doubt.
So yes, we happen to think that using emojis at work isn’t completely taboo, but we also definitely think that there is a time and a place. It could be very easy to over-use emojis, or to use them completely inappropriately, both of which could seriously damage your reputation as a professional operator. So here are a few ground rules to keep in mind:
- Make sure you’re not using them inappropriately. Never put a smiley face after a sentence telling someone that they’re being let go.
- Keep it very simple. Don’t try to convey complex or layered concepts with a small yellow circle. Avoid any emojis that could be interpreted as flirtation, anger, or romance, for example, and simple expressions that can only be interpreted in the way that you mean them to be interpreted. if in doubt, Google their meaning!
- Don’t over-use them. One emoji in a short email to show warmth and solidarity is fine. Putting emojis after every second word is not fine.
- Somewhat related to the above – please don’t use emojis to replace words. You might think it looks cute to write, “Went for a ???? 2day to ????some ☀ and have some ????,” but trust us – it’s actually quite slow and annoying to read.
- Don’t use them with someone that you haven’t yet developed a relationship with. If you’re communicating with someone for the first time, then it’s safest to keep things strictly professional and emoji-free.
- If you’re not sure, don’t! Always err on the safe side. If you’re not sure if it’s appropriate, or you don’t know if the person will appreciate it, or if you’re not 150% certain what the emoji means (some of them might convey something very different to what you intend!) then just don’t use them. Always be sure that it’s the right thing to do.
Feel free to emoji your way through work – just make sure you use them wisely. Carefully consider the situation, as well as the person on the receiving end, and you should be fine.