Use emoticons to communicate with your team

Employees don’t control their emotions at the office door — or in the Zoom room. But it can be harder to read how your team is feeling when you’re working remotely or in a hybrid office. Managers can use emojis as a fun and easy way to connect with their team. They can offer deeper insight into how your team is feeling, help you develop your own cognitive empathy, help you model appropriate emotions, and reinforce your company culture. However, emoji use can be an intergenerational and cultural minefield, so if you’re new to the practice, the authors suggest starting with simple emojis (e.g. thumbs up) rather than ones that represent faces. complex emotions.

Leaders have often relied on physical cues, such as facial expressions and body language, to gauge and communicate emotion or intent. But that’s harder in the remote workplace, where facial expressions and physical gestures are difficult to read and convey.

Anecdotal evidence, as well as conversations we’ve had as part of our ongoing research on effective leadership in the digital age, points to the growing use of emojis in the virtual workplace as an alternative to physical cues. They can help clarify the meaning behind digital communications, as well as the type and strength of emotions being expressed. But they can also be an intergenerational and cultural minefield. For example, Gen Zers would be offended by their colleagues’ use of the smiley face emoji, which they consider condescending. And cultural and geographic differences can mean that one person’s friendly gesture is another’s offense.

To lead in a remote or hybrid workplace, managers need to be aware of these pitfalls and need to understand how to use emojis effectively.

Use emoticons to communicate with your team

Based on recent research on emoji use in the workplace, our interviews with leaders who have identified themselves as using emojis for team management, and our own research on effective leadership , we’ve identified four ways using emoji can help you connect with employees and improve your leadership in a hybrid or remote environment.

1. Get deeper insight into how your team is feeling.

When employees of Danske Bank A/S, a Danish banking and financial services company, log on to join their remote management meetings, they share an emoji. “Our virtual meetings start by capturing the mood of the day. We each post a sticker with our name and an emoji that represents how we feel,” explains Eduardo Morales, owner of a Danske Bank product. more than 40 people, sharing emoji allows attendees to get a sense of each other’s mood, as well as the collective mood of the group, with just a glance at the screen.” This saves time, yet our interactions are richer,” Morales says. “Emojis allow us to think about and express a wider range of feelings beyond the standard verbal response of ‘I’m fine.'”

The simple emoji selection task gives team members a moment of self-reflection, which has been shown to have a positive impact on performance. And those with greater self-awareness become more thoughtful in expressing their emotions, which translates to better accuracy in selecting emoji to represent their given mood.

2. Build your own cognitive empathy.

Your employees’ emotions are a data point that can help you understand what motivates them and how they experience their work.

“How can I, as a leader, understand what my team is working on and how they feel about their work when everyone is remote?” asks Luke Thomas, founder of software startup He decided to start using emojis as part of his weekly checkups. He asks his direct reports to select an emoji to indicate how their week went, then follows up with open-ended questions, such as: What went well this week? What was the worst part of the week? Can I help you ?

Thomas explains that these updates allow him to have richer individual discussions and then act on the needs of his employees. “I spend less time doing status updates and check-ins, and more time building better relationships, removing blockers, and coaching,” he says.

3. Model the appropriate emotions.

Emotions are contagious and research suggests they could be amplified even more in the digital space. Managing your team’s emotional state and mood is an essential part of leadership, and emojis can help leaders express and model emotional cues appropriate for certain situations.

A senior executive at a global consumer products company explained that he uses emoticons and GIFs to help motivate his team members and colleagues: “I use them as ‘energizers’ to energize and create positive moods and behaviors within my team.” He described a recent example of how he used a humorous GIF and emoji to bring a moment of levity to a difficult financial discussion that was taking place over an online chat The numerical benchmark served as a transition, helping to steer the discussion in a more positive direction.

Leaders can greatly influence the emotional culture of an organization. Using emojis that represent positive emotions in the workplace, such as happiness, pride, enthusiasm, and optimism, is a first step for leaders looking to effectively model digital signals.

4. Reinforce your company culture.

Organizations have emotional cultures that can impact everything from employee satisfaction to burnout to financial performance. Emojis can both reflect and enhance your organization’s emotional culture in your daily communications.

“Our corporate culture is very fun and friendly – ​​we hug each other a lot,” shares a manager at a global furniture retailer. After switching to remote working, company managers had to find a new way to express this aspect of their culture. “We can’t close a single service meeting without sending emojis and GIFs. Lots of them,” one told us. If the emotional culture is bubbling, as it was for described above, emojis can be used freely and without necessarily the leader setting the standard.

In other work cultures, leaders use emojis to reinforce their organization’s core values. Take the example of the materials science company, DuPont. “We like to show our appreciation and appreciation for each other, so I often use the applause emoji to recognize people’s accomplishments,” says Lori Gettelfinger, DuPont Global Brand Leader.

Take the time to assess your organization’s emotional culture, which can be codified in mission statements, values, and day-to-day behaviors. Then think about digital gestures, such as emojis, that can help reinforce it.

Minimize opportunities for infringement

If you are new or hesitant to using emojis in the workplace, we recommend that you start with simple emojis (eg thumbs up) rather than emojis that represent complex emotions (eg laughing emojis with tears) to reduce the likelihood that an emoji will offend. .

The offense usually stems from misinterpreting a sent emoji or when someone uses an emoji that they think means one thing but really means another. For example, if a manager sends the emoji of two joined hands, is it sending a message of gratitude? A favor request? Or is it hands clasped in prayer? And does the emoji with the smiley face and two hands signal a friendly “hello” or give a hug? If you’re not sure, it’s best to avoid using emoji and stick to something simpler and less open to interpretation.

Employees don’t control their emotions at the office door — or in the Zoom room. And when you’re leading in a virtual space, it can be harder to read how your team is feeling. Using emojis can help managers connect with their employees and boost their organization’s emotional culture.

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