How emoji are making American workers feel more connected after a year of lockdown

The events of 2020 — and the subsequent rise of remote work — may be causing the "end of email," according to new research.

A survey of 2,000 Americans currently working remotely revealed 50% of respondents have stopped sending as many emails since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Fifty-one percent said it "crushes their soul" every time they get another email, with the biggest complaint being that email is a very formal and constrained way to communicate (43%).

In addition to that, respondents said email makes it more difficult to prioritize tasks (39%) and they feel less connected to their colleagues when communicating over email (24%). 

Conducted by OnePoll on behalf of Slack, the survey was part of a global study — in the U.S., U.K., France and Germany — and coincides with the one-year milestone of many people beginning to work from home as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The survey delved into the ways in which communication has changed during the past 12 months, and results revealed that eight in 10 U.S. workplaces have adopted new communication tools since March 2020, and as a whole, these are more informal (62%).

Less than half of those surveyed said they "always" use proper punctuation when messaging with colleagues (40%), yet 31% do always use emoji.

And while Gen Z may have deemed it "uncool," the "laugh cry" emoji (or face with tears of joy) was revealed to be the most popular emoji for respondents to use with their co-workers.

The "red heart" emoji came in at a close second place — and that might tie into an increase in positive reinforcement in the workplace, as 61% of respondents reported an increase in co-worker kindness during this year.

Sixty-one percent said it's been easier to connect with their colleagues since moving to remote work — and emoji are playing a role in that, as 69% said using emoji has made them feel more connected to their co-workers.

The survey revealed 55% have also felt increased feelings of solidarity and connection with their co-workers since the start of the pandemic last March.

"Especially during a time when many of us are working remotely, emoji have given us a way to express ourselves more quickly, clearly and with joy. While emoji can be playful, they're far from counter-productive. In fact, emoji can help unlock nuances that make interactions more empathetic, authentic and efficient," said Dawn Sharifan, Vice President of People at Slack.

"Nobody wants another 'reply all' email, but a quick 'thumbs up' emoji is great. As companies look to reinvent work with new and better tools and methods of communication, one thing is for certain: emoji in the workplace are here to stay."

Emoji aren't the only thing bringing employees together: for those who said it's been easier to connect through remote work, it came down to the opportunity to learn more about each other.

Respondents said it was easier to connect after meeting their co-workers' partner or kids on a video call (39%) — or saying hello to their pet on-screen (31%), while others said they learned about their co-workers' interests through their video backgrounds (36%).

That's not to say remote work has been easy from the start, though, and the average respondent said it took about four months to get settled into their new routine.

"We could never have predicted how the shift to a new era of work would accelerate over the past year. Flexible working models and digital tools have enabled us to be more efficient and productive than most would have imagined possible. This reinvented way of working unlocks us from the physical constraints of the office, the in-person meetings and the daily commute," said Dawn Sharifan, Vice President of People at Slack.

"Now is our moment and opportunity to solidify a world that is more inclusive and flexible. This will allow us to truly connect — perhaps more than ever before."