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The Fragility of Remote Communications

Remote communications are super fragile. When we are chatting online, writing comments online, or sending emails we do not see each other and so we are not reading non-verbal signals like body movements, facial expressions. Recently I’ve encountered a perfect example demonstrating how a very small thing may really affect the quality of your online conversation in a bad way!

This communication issue was caused by .. a smile icon!

So, we were chatting with a developer on Upwork. Upwork (NASDAQ: UPWK) is one of the largest online freelance marketplaces in the world. Last few years they’ve made a lot of improvements in the user interface to help their clients and freelancers communicate better and faster. And one of these improvements was a set of new smile icons inside online chats. These icons automatically replacing “old school” text smiles like this : ) into a small funny smiling icon.

We are all accustomed to these smiles icons because we see them in all other online chats. And we are all using a lot of smiles inside chat messengers like iMessage, Whatsapp, Facebook Messanger, and social networks like Facebook, LinkedIn, and others.

And here is how a text-based smile : ) is auto-replaced with an image on Facebook:

This is how : ) is replaced in Apple iMessage chats:

And this is how : ) is replaced with an image on Upwork:

See the difference? Upwork icons are slightly different from other online chats! It may look like this icon is not just smiling but actually laughing:

For example, this phrase:


You did a great job : )
Will appear like this in Upwork chat:
Or this phrase:
I’m working on it : )
Will turn into this:
What is the issue with this?
Unfortunately, Upwork’s default smile is very close to a laughing smile or LOL smile, like the ones used fo laugh emotions in popular chat apps:
This LOL smile uses wide-open mouth and brows going up or eyes closed because of the laughing.
Sure, it is OK to use laugh instead of a smile when you are chatting with a friend or making a comment on the social network. But what about work chats (like ones on Upwork)?  For people familiar with Facebook and iMessage but not yet familiar with how Upwork is replacing these icons, it may look like you are laughing even if you didn’t mean to. Common work phrases with a wrong smile image can appear as you are laughing and making a joke on your counterpart.
This is where remote communications are exposing their fragility. Improper smile or improperly used word (that is a common issue for non-native English speakers) may turn a conversation into conflict, decrease trust, and cause a long-term misunderstanding.
So, what is the solution? The solution is to avoid emojis and smiles when you are chatting about your work project.



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