Think back to the last work email you sent. Did it contain punctuations or emojis, or was it written in plain text? Was your response prompt or delayed? What about your recent Zoom call? Did you check your phone or email at least once during the meeting? Did you have to pause to make sure the other speaker had finished speaking or did you unintentionally interrupted someone’s speech due to an intermittent internet connection?

Leadership expert Erica Dhawan points to the examples above as “digital body language,” cues that signal the mood, engagement, and meaning of words we say in texts, phone, or video calls. Remote working has made digital body language more prominent. In a recent survey of 2,000 employees, a whopping 70% reported poor digital communication as their main work issue. When calculated, workers are inadvertently wasting about four hours of work in a week. That’s around 10% a day. So how do we solve these issues? Dhawan recommends the use of emojis and punctuation marks like the exclamation point to clarify the meaning of words. For example, adding the fist bump emoji represents mutual appreciation whereas using the enthusiastic “Thanks!” as a sign-off message instead of the emotionally distant “Regards.” has a more personal touch. Participants in video calls are encouraged to raise their hands before speaking and avoid multitasking as much as possible. If there are interruptions like an incoming call, excusing yourself or sending a message in the chatbox emphasizes your respect to others.

Digital communication may be difficult to express, or we may not be able to articulate it properly at all. Like any other skill, perfecting digital body language takes time but it saves both listener and speaker the confusion caused by miscommunication behind our screen devices.