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Collaboration

From jargon to emoji, the evolution of workplace communication styles

A survey of 2,000 remote and hybrid workers found a preference for more informal and emotive communication

By the team at Slack16th February 2022Illustration by Pete Ryan

How many Zoom happy hours have you joined since 2020? Is your daily walk around the block the best part of your day? Does it grate on you when someone says “You’re muted!” or “Can you confirm receipt?” Have you joined your office’s dog group?

There’s no question that the way we work has changed dramatically since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic. Not just in terms of where we physically work but also in how we work and communicate with one another.

We’ve all had to adapt, with many companies implementing a remote or hybrid work model that replaces physical office spaces with a digital headquarters. And with less than 30% of global knowledge workers working from the office every day, according to a Future Forum Pulse survey late last year, employees are demonstrating a clear desire to permanently adopt a hybrid work model. After all, a digital HQ provides:

✅ A modern, more flexible work-life balance with employees being able to work from new places
✅ Executives the chance to hire diverse, qualified talent found outside their former geographic hubs
✅ Companies the ability to work more asynchronously and more efficiently across time zones

Employees are also creating their own communication styles that fit a dynamic, digital work landscape. Market research company OnePoll surveyed 2,000 workers who use collaboration tools like Slack—as well as legacy office tools like email—to confirm how their communication styles have evolved since the move to remote and/or hybrid work.

“With online communication where tone can be easily misinterpreted, it’s important to be thoughtful and intentional in how we communicate with our coworkers of all backgrounds, locations and ages, to ensure they stay connected and engaged,” says Ali Rayl, senior vice president of product at Slack.

Key takeaways

The data shows that employees want to be informal, opting for casual chats and expressive reacji that mimic human conversation. Ultimately, remote and hybrid workers are:

🚫 Moving away from workplace jargon like “circle back,” “per my last note” and “take this offline”
💬 Adopting short, more concise messages among colleagues
😀 Enjoying an increase in productivity and a sense of belonging thanks to informal communication like emoji and GIFs that help illustrate tone, intent and self-expression

Channel-based communication platforms like Slack are also reducing the need for email—and the etiquette that goes with it. Colleagues can enjoy emotive shorthand with emoji and GIFs, plus more informalized back-and-forths than those found with email. And with companies like Cole Haan, T-Mobile, Procore and Stripe using Slack, this trend is permeating all industries.

Workers dislike when colleagues use stale workplace jargon

Almost half of those surveyed say they have a colleague they find difficult to work with due to their communication habits. It’s no coincidence that from social media to Saturday Night Live sketches, there’s been a rise in content poking fun at the workplace. People are ready to ditch the jargon. Among survey respondents:

😕 63% noted they find it off-putting when colleagues use workplace jargon in messages while communicating with them
🙅 They found terms like “ASAP,” “keep me in the loop,” “team player,” “give 110 percent” and “just checking in” particularly overused and bothersome

However, as much as coworkers dislike these antiquated habits, they are not immune to communication pitfalls themselves:

👎 89% admitted to using workplace jargon
💼 The top reasons? To sound more professional or intelligent and to maintain office norms

Ever had a moment when you’ve gone back and edited a Slack message after you’ve sent it? Well, you’re not alone:
🔎 83% of survey respondents have admitted to going back and editing messages they’ve already sent to avoid certain phrases

The use of slang and abbreviations are encouraged among colleagues

Among email, Slack messages and Zoom calls, there is an abundance of interpersonal nuances to be mindful of. By relying less on email and more on quick chats, employees no longer feel the need to stay strictly professional at the expense of productivity. Instead, they’re tweaking the ways they talk to one another and get work done outside the physical office.

Amazon Web Services, which operates at a massive scale and speed, relies on Slack Huddles for quick conversations, casual follow-ups to meetings and onboarding.

Audio-only tools like Slack Huddles can re-create quick, informal discussions once held in the office and allow for informal verbal communication to flourish.

Lack of formality can also have a huge impact on communication among colleagues—in a positive way:

🤝 70% of workers surveyed prefer when their coworkers communicate informally versus staying strictly professional
👀 73% of millennials and 57% of Gen Xers agree that informal messages helped them to avoid miscommunications and better understand intent while working separately from their colleagues

“By being mindful of how you communicate, you can help foster a productive and connected workplace. This is why we have created tools to allow for text-based synchronous and asynchronous communication as well as audio and video.”

Ali RaylSenior Vice President of Product, Slack

Communicating with emoji and GIFs instead of workplace jargon has allowed:

👋 66% of respondents to feel more authentic in their workplace
🙌 78% to say it’s also made work feel more flexible, friendly and inclusive

At Oscar Health, a direct-to-consumer health insurance company, every care team has a custom emoji, which is used as a “read receipt” on important announcements.

Informal communication increases not only productivity but also a sense of belonging

While we may use fewer periods, type shorter messages and rely on GIFs to express emotion, this does not mean we’re any less connected or productive:
📈71% say informal and concise work messages (using emoji, GIFs, etc.) have helped them to work more efficiently and productively

“Once we identified that you can use an emoji reaction to respond to a question or topic, it just took off. Emoji reactions were a really big game changer for us.”

Russell LeaderAssociate Director of Planning and Engineering, Verizon Wireless

 

Embracing the use of emoji and GIFs to help express emotions and nuances while not being physically together helps us all work smarter and more effectively for ourselves, each other and customers:

👭 75% say showing their personality through informal work messages has helped them better connect with colleagues even when they’re not in the same office
🏡 While 73% think it has helped them navigate the transition to remote and hybrid work

This was especially true for younger employees: Eighty percent of millennials agreed, compared with 60% of Gen X respondents.

“Informal communication through modern collaboration platforms helps overcome perceived barriers between senior leadership and their employees, leads to transparent and informative discussions, and makes work more fun, allowing employees to express themselves and create a more welcoming work environment,” says Rayl.

In summary

As remote and hybrid work models become the norm and companies adopt digital HQs, employees are finding new ways to converse and get work done within platforms like Slack that are reflective of their personal styles and preferences:

✅ Tone is expressed more clearly without room for misinterpretation thanks to emoji and reacji
✅ Sales people are able to develop richer relationships with customers due to quicker correspondence and new tools like audio notes
✅ Introverts and extroverts alike feel more connected to their colleagues with more options for communicating
✅ Flexible ways of working are embraced through asynchronous communication with tools like Slack and DMs

Specifically, emoji, GIFs, tagged channel messages and DMs are retiring the need for clunky phrases, long-winded explanations and rehashed material. Instead, these tools offer straightforward visual cues, fun yet functional notes and self-expressive ways of doing business. And the data speaks for itself: Seventy-two percent of survey respondents hope to continue to use informal work messages instead of workplace jargon going forward.

The way we work and engage with one another is changing from the strictly professional norms we once knew, for the better. We have more tools and resources than ever—like Slack—to work smarter, more efficiently and in a more human manner, wherever we are.

Methodology
This survey was commissioned by Slack and conducted by market research company OnePoll between January 14 and January 19, 2022, using a random double opt-in survey. It was distributed among 2,000 remote and hybrid workers based in the United States. OnePoll’s team members are members of the Market Research Society and have corporate membership to the American Association for Public Opinion Research (AAPOR) and the European Society for Opinion and Marketing Research (ESOMAR).

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