Taking a break? Working from home? Do not disturb? Which emoji says it in one tidy character? Should we use emoji at all?! (tl;dr: yes)

A duotoned dark purple and beige version of the Apple 'person shrugging' emoji, in front of a bright green starburst shape

An emoji is an icon that represents an emotion, symbol or object. They’re an evolution of the original emoticons that were created using a combination of basic symbols. Like a shrug emoji 🤷 vs emoticon ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Emoji have become a language of their own, and each platform has a slightly different dialect. If you’re using an iPhone, you’re seeing a different palm tree emoji than your Android counterpart (as is the case in my household!).

Compilation of 16 different palm tree emojis, each with the same basic trunk and leaves but with varying levels of detail, shape, colours and lines.

It can be hard to know what each emoji means to different people. Take the palm tree 🌴 for example, Emojipedia says its meaning is:

A palm tree, a tree-like plant, as grows by the sea. Depicted as a palm tree with long, green, feather-like leaves and a tall, brown, segmented trunk. 

May be used to represent beaches, tropical climates and cultures, summer fun, and vacations (holidays). Vendors implement a similar tree in their 🏝️ Desert Island.

Microsoft’s palm tree bears coconuts, as Samsung’s previously did. Apple’s palm tree previously had more erect palms.

We use the palm tree to represent ‘paradise’, as a reminder of a goal state where you feel good, as you might on a tropical holiday or if you were on top of your workload, for example 😏

Using Emoji on Slack

Emojis are encouraged in Slack, as you can use shortcodes like :palm_tree: 🌴 to type them out, or ‘react’ to any message.

When you open up the emoji keyboard, you can also see your most frequently used. I’m a big fan of smiles, grimaces, hand gestures and love hearts, it seems!

Screenshot of the ‘insert emoji’ screen in Slack showing 36 ‘Frequently Used’ emoji and an ‘Add Emoji’ button

You can also set a skin colour (as indicated by the raised palm in the screenshot), but I like the default yellow as a sort-of neutral option — particularly as people in our Slack account tend to show their support for something by clicking on an existing emoji reaction, and so it counts these up together, like this:

Screenshot of a Slack message from Jess saying "I've done my dash for today, seeya back fresh tomozza" with a wave emoji reaction and the number 5 next to it (indicating that 5 people used the same wave response)

You might have a shared emoji language or common emoji reactions like :heavy_plus_sign: ➕ to indicate that you agree, or allocating some other meaning to particular emojis.

At Slack, for example:

We’ve started a habit of associating certain emoji with teams. For example, if someone posts an idea in the feature request channel, and someone on the platform development team thinks it’s a good idea, they’ll add a custom platypus emoji reaction to the message. Anyone on team platform can search for has::platypus:, find every message tagged with it, and quickly generate a list of feature ideas.

Or at Evergreen, they asked coworkers to tag messages that every new 18F employee should know with the :evergreen_tree: 🌲 emoji so they could search for Slack for: “has::evergreen_tree:” to find all such tips and tricks.

A Slack message saying “One more thing: if you write something on Slack and think all future new hires should also read it, please add an 🌲 as a reaction. Like this.” With the same emoji and number one beside it, as a ‘reaction’ to this message.

You can upload custom emoji to Slack, such as the party parrot or ‘this is fine (on fire)’.

Animated cartoon parrot wearing a white face mask and jiggling back and forth while changing between different neon colours
Illustration of a smiling dog wearing a hat and an animated burning fire flame in the background

(As an aside, it was fun coming up with appropriate alt text for those two. I landed on “Animated cartoon parrot wearing a white face mask and jiggling back and forth while changing between different neon colours” for the corona parrot, and “Illustration of a smiling dog wearing a hat and an animated burning fire flame in the background” for the fine / on fire dog.)

As you might’ve guessed, I’m not afraid of (over?)using emoji in my digital communication. I find they can give that extra warmth or friendly tone you might otherwise miss when reading plain text, and makes an email subject line more informative at-a-glance.

Example of three email subject lines, each with a different emoji at the end (home, thought bubble, and a clock).

I’m a proud emoji nerd 🤓 and my spirit animal/emoji is the squirrel 🐿️ 

Which emoji are you?

Pro-tips on digital communication

If you like this one, you might like to follow it up with one of these: