The office isn’t one physical place anymore. You might say your morning pleasantries to co-workers through Slack, Yammer, HipChat or another online communication tool..

It’s an increasingly common mode of working (our team at CMSWire is spread across two continents) and all organizations have to grapple with how serious or informal their communications should be. 

Should everyone play it straight, keeping in mind that everything you say is (probably) archived and available to management? Or do you want to go more casual in order to keep the workday from being drab and unexciting?

The answer isn’t easy. We chatted with Dennis Collins, the senior director of marketing at West Unified Communications, to get some answers. His firm helps companies create an optimal communication setup, which gives him a lot of background to draw on when asked for strategies to handle this issue.

‘Text Type’ Is Everywhere

One trend that Collins noted is how people are increasingly writing all their communication in the same manner as text messages: brief phrases and abbreviations like “thx” or the infamous “LOL.”

“That’s not always appropriate,” he said. 

“Though the way you use the tools are not absolutes. What you really need to look at is the use case — what are you trying to accomplish? What’s the purpose of the meeting? Is it just for a status update? Such tools can impact the manner in which you meet.”

Of course, opinions on this will vary. Slack, for example, even encourages some of this informality through its integration with Giphy. 

All you have to do is type “/giphy fail” and you’ll get something that may enlighten your coworkers’ day. In general, online conversations tend to mimic the way that people interact in the face-to-face world. Those who are in a workplace that’s more formal and serious will probably communicate that way. If there’s levity and a lot of humor, that trend will show up in online communications as well.

The Role of Emoji

Emoji often calls to mind teens and tweens communicating with one another through those wacky characters. But they’re not always about play. 

Some news organizations, for example, use such characters as part of their workflow. Or Collins notes that sometimes a quick “thumbs up” to someone’s comment can be the right response: it’s quick, visual, and to the point.

“That’s where the emoji help, in the absence of biofeedback and short of putting your message in all caps, how do know what degree of seriousness they have?” Collins said.

In essence text-based communication has much of what you find from any type of human interaction: lots of nuance and subtleties. The key is to really know your team and find out what is their preferred communication style. Before you know it, you’ll then be sharing all the emoji or GIFs you desire.

Title image "Texting by a Wall" (CC BY 2.0) by garryknight