HR Management & Compliance

How Leaders Use Emoji in Workplace Communication

Once frowned upon as teenager text-message slang, emoji have become a major part of how we communicate in the digital workplace (thanks, in part, to the rise of instant chat services like Slack and Microsoft Teams).

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And they’re popular for good reason: 81% of people think emoji users are friendlier and more approachable, 74% think they make positive news sound more sincere, and 65% feel more comfortable expressing emotion via emoji than by talking on the phone.

For remote employees using digital communication in place of in-person conversations (which is many of us these days), emoji can help take the place of facial expressions, jokes, or even tone of voice.

My company, Cultivate, recently published the report “Leadership Trends: Emoji Usage at Work,” which analyzes emoji usage in the workplace. To dig into this further, we used our artificial intelligence (AI)/machine learning platform to analyze an anonymous data set of Slack messages from multiple companies to determine a variety of emoji trends, including top emoji used by leaders (both positive and negative), what emoji managers use versus their team members, how emoji usage differs by company, sentiment usage with emoji, and more.

Key findings from the report are highlighted below. 

Summary of Findings

  • The most common emoji by far is Thumbs Up. Thirty percent of all emoji in our data set were Thumbs Up. Second is Heart (8.14%), then Laughing Face (6.35%). All of the top five most common emoji are positive ones.
  • Negative emoji were more uncommon. The most popular one (Mask Face) made up just 0.27% of our data set. Frowning Face is second (0.21%), and Thumbs Down is third (0.1%).
  • COVID-19/remote work did not affect emoji usage. The COVID-19 pandemic (and the increase in remote workforces) did not appear to have a significant impact on emoji usage—there was very little change in our data from Q1 2020 to Q2 2020.
  • People tend to stick to the same set of emoji. 71.2% of users used fewer than 10 emoji in the last 180 days. 50.7% used fewer than 5 emoji in that time.
  • Managers use different emoji than the rank and file. The top five emoji used by managers are entirely different from the top five used by their team members. In general, manager emoji tend to show positivity and appreciation (like the Clapping Hands and the Noisemaker), and team member emoji tend to show acknowledgment (like Checkmark and Eyes).
  • Emoji usage is different between companies. Companies seem to have their own “emoji vernacular.” Although there is some overlap, different companies develop different sets of commonly used emoji.
  • Emoji are tailored to respond to particular types of messages. There are significant differences in emoji usage based on the intent of the message the emoji are applied to. For example, an ad hoc scheduling request is more likely to receive OK Hand or Coffee emoji, while telling someone work has been completed often gets Thumbs Up or Rocket Ship.  

Data and Methodology

This analysis pulled “emoji reaction” data for 180 days ending on June 10, 2020, from four enterprises using Slack in the workplace. The total enterprise data set included 83,055 messages; 101,134 emoji; and 466 different types of emoji (custom Slack emoji were excluded). We also include “emoji sentiment,” a measurement of how positive or negative a given emoji is, calculated from a separate public data set from Twitter and Reddit.

You can read the report, including visualizations and more data on all of the top emoji lists, here.

Andy Horng is the Cofounder of Cultivate, a digital leadership platform. As Head of AI, Horng is building smart tools to facilitate healthy, frictionless workplace relationships. He is inspired by the ideals of intelligent infrastructure: machine learning woven into our lives to help us synthesize large quantities of information, overcome cognitive biases, and navigate the world at a higher abstraction level.

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