The move to remote and hybrid started by the pandemic has only picked up steam in the last calendar year. 46% of knowledge workers were hybrid or fully remote in May of 2021, by February of 2022 this number had jumped to 58%. 

While some elements of office life are widely missed, most workers want to stick with hybrid or fully remote. After all, remote and hybrid offers: 

  • A greater focus on trust, collaboration and sound processes
  • Support for work-life balance, lowered commute and real estate costs (for employers), and the ability to work from anywhere
  • Greater flexibility for working parents
  • An escape from many microaggressions and mentorship gaps perpetuated in-person

For the early and mid-pandemic, many organizations were scrambling to adapt their processes to remote. But as time has gone on, a host of best practices have emerged and we’ve been able to collectively learn from teams who are killing it remotely.  

One area where some teams are making tons of ground is adapting to and supporting evolving communication preferences. As we’ll explore below, this not only supports worker employee belonging, but also boosts productivity among remote-first and hybrid teams

A recent OnePoll survey surveyed close to 2,000 knowledge workers on their communication preferences and how they’ve changed through the pandemic.

Stale Workplace Jargon is Out

Over 60% of survey respondents note that they find stale workplace jargon (e.g. “circle back around,” “ASAP,” or “keep me in the loop”) off putting. With this said, close to 90% of workers surveyed admitted to using these phrases. Why? To uphold office norms or appear “more professional.” 

So why has yesterday’s jargon gone out of favor? 

  • Many jargon-filled phrases don’t provide a clear takeaway 
  • Workplace formalities aren’t emotive and don’t provide context in text communications
  • Formal jargon is wordy and takes up time to write and be read

There is a generational difference in perception of workplace jargon, but  the office is increasingly Millennial and Gen Z. And 80% of millennials want to eschew old-fashioned work jargon. 

communication preferences
Internet service photo created by creativeart –

Informal, Emotive Communication Boosts Productivity AND Belonging

With a little diligence it’s not hard to avoid a few phrases. But that’s only half of the picture. So what should we model preferred communication practices after?
A majority of Gen Xers and over 70% of Millennials believe that informal communications help them to better understand intent and avoid miscommunication. Taking this a step further, 6/10 workers believe GIFs, emojis, and multimedia are more authentic ways to interact at work. Additionally, close to 8/10 workers believe informal media makes work feel more flexible, friendly, and inclusive.

How’s that for boosting employer belonging? 

Finally, 71% of respondents noted that informal and concise messaging has helped them to work more productively and efficiently.
How exactly can a shift in message formatting make such a big difference? 

  • We’re fluent in ‘moji. Over 90% of the online population uses them daily, making them familiar and a universally-recognized carrier of meaning. 
  • Messages grab the reader’s attention and lend options for expressivity to senders. 
  • It saves time. The average Slack message is responded to in a matter of minutes, while the average email is responded to in two days.

Actionable Takeaways From Communication Preference Change

Now that we’ve tackled how communication preferences have changed throughout the pandemic and shift to remote, how can HR leaders take action? 

Draft “How We Work” Guidelines

Drafting “how we work” guidelines can be a great starting point for embracing workers’ preferred communication methods. While individual teams within your organization likely establish their own communication processes, you can simply provide a toolkit or ideas for different ways to approach communication. 

What sort of questions can an how-we-work “toolbox” answer? 

  • How strongly should we respect users’ messaging app status? (e.g. “deep work,” “head down,” and the likes)
    What interaction types best occur asynchronously
  • What communicative actions signify someone has seen a message? (e.g. GIFs? Emojis? Phrases?) 
  • What occurs when we tag someone (in a doc, messaging app, email, or ticket system)? 

Try and provide multiple examples of when each suggestion could be used and include additional context. While many of the above standards emerge within organizations organically, explicitly adopting policies is linked with lower workplace stress and higher performance.

Leverage Communication Preferences With Microlearning

  • Employing new communication preferences for corporate training leverages existing habits to onboard, upskill, or perform compliance initiatives. Text-based microlearning has emerged as a class of scientifically-backed L&D tools that are particularly aligned with contemporary communication methods. 

    Microlearning commonly occurs within messaging apps and is composed of small “bites” of learning that utilize multimedia such as GIFs, emojis, or informative graphics. Instead of business jargon-filled presentations or traditional elearning, microlearning is injected into the flow of work utilizing applications where most workers already spend more than 50% of their time.

    Best practices for microlearning include: 
  • Spaced repetition of concepts for increased retention
  • Use of attention-grabbing and mood-setting media like GIFs, emojis, or custom graphics
  • Starting with clear behavior change goals and “working backwards” to small blocks of content
  • Mixing action-centered and understanding-centered prompts

An additional benefit of microlearning is that it’s one of the most cost effective and scalable learning solutions. Rather than months of crafting custom videos, courses start with a set of messages that can be iterated on quickly. 

Too Long, Only Skimmed 😉

It’s only natural! 

Thankfully, emojis make content more skimmable by providing a glimpse into the tone and subject matter of surrounding content. They’re also one of the building blocks of a new less-formal communication style that has rapidly accelerated gains throughout the pandemic.

They’re a “low stakes” form of communication that’s efficient and provides context to our constantly connected workplaces. And with a bit of work, HR leaders can support a shift that both boosts productivity and belonging simply by embracing habits that are already established.