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Emojis; the future of business communication?

Posted by: Jemma Puzey


There is a clear disconnect between generation Y and older generational managers in the workplace and arguably, much more so than between any previous generations.

The development of Smartphones, whatsapp, facebook messenger, twitter and face-time have all changed the way in which people pass on information; and it has altered business communication over the past decade, especially with those just entering the workplace.

Being digital natives, millennials are so used to being constantly connected that personal mobile phones are often in hand whilst they are at work. With technology being at the heart of modern businesses, millennials expect to use it throughout the working day, frustrating for many managers who feel that such communication should be conducted in personal time.

But how is this type of contact impacting on business communication?

A survey conducted by Harris & Poll and commissioned by GIF platform Tenor, state that millennials prefer to use visual expressions rather than words to communicate their thoughts and feelings. 36% of 18-34 olds surveyed said they preferred to use emojis than words; more than double the number of people over the age of 65 who said the same.

Emojis originated on Japanese mobiles in the late 1990s but gained popularity in 2011 when they were introduced onto iPhone keyboards. Emojis really made it when Oxford dictionary’s word of the year 2015 was actually the pictograph officially known as ‘Face with Tears of Joy ’.

Animated images known as GIF’s, have been around for over 20 years, think back to your MSN messenger days, and are even more popular with the millennials surveyed. Nearly two thirds claimed that GIFs expressed their feelings more accurately than words, compared to 40% of people over 35.

Clearly, if millennials are more comfortable with a smiley face than dialogue, it could pose a problem in the world of work especially if you are trying to build up the next generation of sales executives. In sales there is an obvious requirement to talk to people face to face and over the phone.

When asked, 68% of millennials said they are more comfortable expressing emotions through visuals rather than an actual conversation, compared to 37% of people over the age of 65.

So as the older generation retire, should we expect to see more business being conducted over whatsapp with a celebratory GIF to boot? Well, if you think back to just 30 years ago the majority of business was conducted face-to-face, through fax, over the phone or by post. Now it’s email, Linkedin Messenger and texts. So the obvious answer would be yes, or yes to whatever the latest technology is 30 years in the future.

With this in mind, personality fit will be even more important when hiring for positions such as sales, as employees will need to possess the right communication skills, quite possibility a much more niche skill in 30 years.

Possibly, a precedent for the future has already been set, with a London firm advertising for an Emoji Translator role. The first of its kind, the aim of the role is to explain cross-cultural misunderstandings in the use of mini pictures and then compiling this into monthly trend reports.

With all of these communication tools at our fingertips, the English language appears to be falling behind somewhat as people choose express themselves through digital tools instead. Recently, a UK linguist e commented that emoji was the country’s fastest-growing language. Now, when you “have no words” you have a laughing face or a shouting minion.

But these GIFs and emojis have clearly been developed for entertainment purposes and they don’t serve a purpose into the professional world. 

With Generation Z next up to join the working world, is the future of business a round yellow circle with tears of joy?

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