Outlook Reactions to Respond to Email

Users Can React with an Emoji Instead of Sending an Email Reply

We like to keep a close eye on changes Microsoft makes within Office 365 to make sure that the Office 365 for IT Pros eBook contains the most essential information for tenant administrators. Sometimes, Microsoft publishes details of a change that’s mildly interesting but doesn’t meet the threshold for inclusion in the book. Such is the case for Microsoft 365 notification MC445423 (13 October), announcing the introduction of reactions for Outlook.

Reactions in Outlook work the same way as reactions in Teams do. Microsoft says that reactions allow users to show their “appreciation and empathy with one click or tap.” In other words, instead of sending a reply by email to say that you appreciate the content of a message, you use a reaction.

All Outlook Clients Covered

The feature is scheduled to appear in all versions of Outlook with the following Microsoft 365 roadmap ids:

Microsoft says that roll-out for all clients except Windows starts in mid-October and will complete by the end of the month. Outlook for Windows is always a little behind (or a lot behind) when UI updates are necessary to support new features. For instance, external tagging for email arrived in Outlook for Windows a year after the other clients. In this case, Microsoft expects to roll-out the feature at around the same time and complete it worldwide by the end of December. We’ll see. It’s important that all Outlook clients support the feature.

It’s important that all Outlook clients support reactions. If a gap exists, senders and recipients won’t see or be able to add reactions. Of course, many clients that connect to Exchange Online won’t support reactions, including older Outlook clients, POP3 and IMAP4 clients, and Exchange ActiveSync clients like the Apple iOS mail client. Without UI and code updates to recognize, display, and interact with reactions, these clients will be a reaction-free zone.

Sending Reactions

To send a reaction, look for the icon (a face) in the set of actions displayed for a received message. Hover over the icon and you’ll see the set of available reactions (Figure 1). Six are available for now (thumbs up, heart, celebrate, laugh, surprise, and sad), which is the same set that Teams originally supported before it upgraded its UI to allow users to select a reaction from 800+ emojis.

The range of Outlook reactions available to respond to a message
Figure 1: The range of Outlook reactions available to respond to a message

Six different shades of thumbs-up are available to cater for different skin tones. This is the same set of “inclusive” emojis Microsoft launched for Yammer in February 2021. Like Yammer, Outlook remembers which skin tone you prefer and uses it as the default in the future.

A short time after reacting to a message, the reaction appears in the copy of the message in the mailbox of the sender and other recipients. You can remove and replace a reaction to increase or decrease the level of empathy felt towards a message content. Again, after a short time, the updated reaction appears for the other message copies.

Notifications

Email senders receive notifications as recipients add reactions to messages (Figure 2).

A notification for an Outlook reaction
Figure 2: A notification for an Outlook reaction

Microsoft says that senders of messages who receive reactions will receive a digest email. So far, no trace of a digest email for reactions has appeared.

Cross-Tenant Outlook Reactions

According to Microsoft, reactions only work for messages received from someone inside the same tenant. However, I have tested this feature across different tenants, and it seems to work, perhaps if the two tenants are in the same Office 365 data center region. Figure 3 shows a message in a tenant that’s received reactions from users in two other tenants.

 Sometimes Outlook reactions work across tenants
Figure 3: Sometimes Outlook reactions work across tenants

Outlook.com and Exchange Online share the same infrastructure, but reactions don’t work across the commercial-consumer boundary. I didn’t test reactions for messages from other email systems, including on-premises Exchange Server. Given that the display of reactions depends on the availability of suitable UI and code to understand reactions, it didn’t seem to make much sense to pursue this question.

Outlook Reactions in MAPI Message Properties

An inspection of message properties with the MFCMAPI editor reveals that several properties are used to track reactions. Figure 4 shows the ReactionsSummary property for a message, where you can see that the message received reactions from two recipients. Other properties track the count of reactions and a user’s history of adding reactions to a message.

Outlook Reactions data in message properties
Figure 4: Outlook Reactions data in message properties

The Teams Oreo Emojis

Speaking of things that won’t turn up in the Office 365 for IT Pros eBook, the October 18 announcement that Microsoft had teamed up with Nabisco (the maker of Oreo Thins) to create a 15-minute break as part of National Cookie week left us cold. A fair case is arguable that too many emojis are already available in Teams. Adding two more to represent an Oreo biscuit and a smile with an Oreo biscuit (Figure 5) hardly seems like a good use of Teams development effort.

Oreo emojis in a Teams channel conversation
Figure 5: Oreo emojis in a Teams channel conversation

In any case, type (oreo) or (oreoyum) if you must.

Will Outlook Reactions Succeed?

I’m a bad person to judge if reactions in Outlook will be successful. I never used the original Likes feature (announced in September 2015), which is a similar concept and uses a similar mechanism to track Likes received by messages. Perhaps expanding the set of available reactions will help people appreciate the feature.

What’s probably more important is that Teams has laid the foundation for people to understand when to use reactions to respond to messages. We’ve been using thumbs up, hearts, and laughs to respond to chats and channel; conversations for years. Although reacting is the same as in Teams, a large percentage of email traffic is for business communications where a simple reaction is neither appropriate or sufficient. Email is a very different way of communicating to Teams.

I don’t know if reactions can transition to Outlook in a way that makes sense and adds value, especially when the feature only works for some messages handled by clients connected to Exchange Online. Time will tell.


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7 Replies to “Outlook Reactions to Respond to Email”

  1. Have noticed this in mobile Outlook and UI is BAD. To show this reaction button they pushed all content 1-2 lines downwards, meaning i can see less content without scrolling. Where with some emails i was seeing critical content line right away, now i have to scroll a little bit.

  2. I’m not seeing other people’s reactions in my emails and they can’t see when I like their emails. I can see ONE thumbs up and when I hover over it I only see my name. I used to see everyone who liked it before the new emojis appeared.

    1. Don’t assume that the old Like functionality that existed in OWA for quite a while is the same as the new emoji-driven “reactions.” You’ll need to have everyone use an upgraded version of Outlook to see the new reactions everywhere.

  3. Let the good times roll – I just received my first “Reaction Daily Digest” for Monday, November 28, 2022. This is going to cause some confusion in my user base – some are Outlook Online users but most are on the desktop app…

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