Semiotic Instability and the Birth of Emojis as a Tribal Language
THE WAVE 👋
As a company distributed across Canada (and Ecuador), we span four time zones. This makes the morning “hello” and evening “see you later” something asynchronous.
Our remote team members gradually began starting their day with a 👋 emoji in
#office Slack channel. This serves as a friendly greeting, and also a
light reminder that “Hey, I’m here!”
It’s the digital equivalent of seeing someone walk into the office and nodding on their way by.
At the end of the day, another wave serves the same purpose: a friendly goodbye, and a gentle notice that “Hey, I’m out!”
I’M BACK! 🔙
Another interesting pattern came from our resident emoji artisan. When they would post a message about a brief absence (“Running out to get a coffee”), instead of following up with another message (“I’m back”), they add the 🔙 emoji as a reaction to their original message.
It’s a handy way to indicate when you’re back without interrupting people. It also shows an updated status if someone is catching up and reads your message later.
While neither of these patterns were mandated or documented, they’ve both been widely adopted by the team. It’s fun to see how our group works out our own little communication patterns.
THE #TROPHY-CHEST 🏆
Some of these light usage patterns are worth formalizing (we’re paving the cow paths). As we started to use the trophy 🏆 emoji to acknowledge achievements, we’ve gone on to gather these items each Monday into a Highlights of the Week presentation. Read our other post on how we 🏆 to celebrate.
I 👀 YOUR 👍
There are a few other emoji reactions (reacji, in Slack parlance) that we’ve imbued with a bit of extra meaning.
- The 👀 emoji indicates that you’ve seen or read a message.
- The 👍 emoji indicates agreement or approval (it’s not 🚀 science).
OUR OWN EMOJI DIALECT
We’ve also added a few of our own custom emoji to Slack:
- For each of our team members, we have a custom emoji for their name, so you
:nick:into a sentence (without necessarily using their full username). We also use these to identify who pushed code to a production website with one of our Slack bots.
- We have a custom
:merged:emoji to indicate when a GitHub pull request has been merged and a
:github:octocat to indicate that there’s a GitHub pull request associated with a message.
- When a discussion wanders off-topic in a channel, we try to push it back to
#watercoolerchannel (where there is no topic and people can safely ignore it if they so choose). We use the
:watercooler:emoji to (maybe a bit passive-aggressively) nudge conversations out of the wrong channel.