Dancing emoji have completely transformed how we talk at work
The happy dance is alive and well — It’s playing out in delightful loops on our work computer screens.
We’re talking about the bouncing creatures improving your Slack conversations with their sick moves. Someone finishes a project: Throw in the dancing banana! Sales numbers are thisclose to goal: Enter a bopping Mario and Luigi.
With all the happy dancers you’re probably seeing in your feed, it’s no surprise that seven out of the top 10 most downloaded custom Slack emoji (aka Slackmoji) groove like crazy. Beyond the banana and everyone’s favorite plumbers, the top 10 includes two dancing parrots, a dancing Carlton, and two versions of a breakdancing cartoon kid.
People are downloading positive, celebratory animated emoji to add to Slack more often than anything else, according to data from Slackmojis.com, the unofficial source for your company’s emoji needs. More than 1.2 million Slackmojis have been downloaded since the site launched in December 2015. (Slack says it doesn’t collect this kind of data.)
All this dancing could have a lot to do with how office communication has changed because of Slack. Five million people use Slack daily, and the communications platform has made talking to coworkers feel more like talking to your friends on social media. You’re not spilling secrets, but you’re still showing off your digital personality perhaps for the first time in a work setting. It’s more chit-chatty and friendly than email; plus it makes emoji at work acceptable.
Using emoji in work emails may look unprofessional. On Slack, however — no such problem.
“It’s weird, but Slack does have such a culture around emoji even when emoji exist in so many different places,” said Greg Koberger, founder of ReadMe, a San Francisco-based tech startup, and the creator of a Slack app called Slackmoji (but not affiliated with Slackmojis.com) that uploads packs of custom emoji with one click. “I think probably half of our Slack messages have emoji. It makes it more fun, it makes it friendlier.”
That coupled with the natural urge to put on a positive face when everyone sees your messages can turn Slack conversations into an animated disco. When most of your work conversations happen within Slack, how you present yourself there matters.
“If you’re not positive, if you’re not rewarding people, if you’re not reminding yourself to speak positively, than that’s career limiting,” said Patricia Riley, associate professor of organizational communication at the USC Annenberg School.
Then there’s the novelty factor. Slack supports custom emoji that you don’t see elsewhere. They make work feel less like work.
Perhaps it’s because an office joke about emoji fosters the sense of community companies seeking retention yearn for. At ReadMe there are 50 Slackmoji versions of its mascot, an owl named Owlbert, ready for any occasion. At Applaudo Studios, a web design firm in El Salvador, Slack conversations are peppered with emoji of employees making silly faces.
“We quickly started using emoji for pretty much everything we could.”
“When we got Slack, we quickly started using emoji for pretty much everything we could,” said Gary Torres, a software developer at Applaudo who created a bot called Moji that keeps track of your Slack channels’ emoji use.
While the tiny dancers dominate the most downloaded list on Slackmojis.com, which had 75,000 page views in August and features more than 2,500 emoji, the most-used emoji among Moji’s 6,000 users are static ones. Of the 50,000 emoji tracked by Moji since its June launch, the most popular include a happy face with tears of joy, thumbs up, the Lul meme, a smiling Barack Obama, and crying Michael Jordan. (It’s important to note that Slackmojis.com, created by developer Jonathan Kupferman, has nearly two years of data while Moji has about three months’ worth.)
As for Koberger’s Slackmoji bot, also released in June, the most popular list is topped by the dancing party parrot, just like at Slackmojis.com.
There are also non-dancing emoji in Slackmojis’ top 10. Like our groove crew, they’re meme-centric. They’re not exclusively positive symbols, though. Some express frustration, but in a breezy way.
Star Trek‘s Captain Jean-Luc Picard facepalming and a bunny slamming its head into a wall demonstrate an office worker’s plight, but they’re not buzzkills.
Custom Slack emoji like these let cubicle dwellers let off steam without seeming too grumpy. Plus, quirky emoji can take the edge off difficult conversations. Deploying Doge, which completes Slackmojis’ top 10, can make asking for an annoying favor more palatable. It’s one of the many flexible Slackmoji that means whatever you want it to mean.
But fuzzy meanings can also cause trouble. It’s a situation reminiscent of email’s rise to prominence in the workplace, Riley, the USC professor, said.
“Someone just sent me the sheep with the rainbow on it, what does that mean?”
“One of the things that of course led to email being disdained by a lot of people were all the problems of miscommunications,” Riley said. “People could be attempting sarcasm but it came across as berating someone.”
“Then you start getting a whole different level of miscommunication,” Riley said. “Someone just sent me the sheep with the rainbow on it, what does that mean?”
That’s not to say passionate Slackmoji users don’t know when to hold back. At ReadMe, employees also use emoji in Slack conversations with customers, but in a more buttoned-up way than their internal riffs. Some channels, like one used for customer support, are joke-free zones.
As Slack becomes more embedded into how we interact at work, office life without the dancing critters, thumbs ups, and crying Michael Jordans starts feeling empty. Employees at one South Korean company even use Slackmoji to claim tasks and use Moji to track who’s working hardest, Torres said.
Social media culture and internet humor has seeped its way into work culture on such a large scale thanks to Slack and its custom emoji, it’s hard to imagine turning back now.
That likely means it won’t be long before Slacking a coworker a leaping rainbow-colored sheep is the new normal, with no confusion attached.