This greeting has long been followed by a quick extension of the hand, offered widely in our culture to propose goodwill, respect, and a gesture of friendship.
It’s been used as method employed by parents to get children to grudgingly make up; as adults to seal the deal on a negotiation or sale; and in so many other ways that had been a gesture of cordiality. Until 2020…
COVID-19 turned a spotlight on communicable diseases. While not nearly as deadly, maladies such as the flu and common cold are rampantly spread with a quick pressing of the flesh. Now more than ever, someone wiping their nose with a handkerchief or facial tissue won’t be looked on kindly when extending their hand as an ovation.
In my opinion, the handshake isn’t the only cultural norm that will become a casualty to the pandemic. I suggest that regardless of vaccines and herd immunity, the concern over the spread of both known and unknown diseases will forever be more scrutinized and protected against.
Let’s take a look at my predictions for the future when it comes to safeguarding our health, both physical and economic. If I’m correct, this might become part of the future “playbook” for societal norms.
Handshake is no más.
While we may see a return to the high fives in sports, the handshake has become a non-starter. At least it should be.
The understanding has long been held that the spread of germs and viruses has been led by the ubiquitous handshake. Heck, you don’t even have to like the other person, yet you feel compelled out of politeness to shake hands!
The good news is that you can stop. The pandemic has now given all of us permission to eschew the handshake for another form of greeting. You can do the fist or elbow bump; offer a respectful bow; or flash the “shaka” sign, known for Hawaiian and surf community culture.
Bottom line, you can still display respect and greetings without the need to touch someone’s hand.
The self-serve buffet line is out of order.
Holding an event?
Regardless of the size or scope, the old-style line in the buffet is going the way of the T-Rex. The last thing I want to do is touch a serving spoon that’s been handled by dozens (or more) people with varying degrees of hygiene.
If you’re going to the effort to feed people for your next company picnic or highly attended conference, you must invest in servers wearing masks and gloves to dish out the goods. What you don’t need is an allegation that you provided an unsafe environment. Either bring in a crew, offer individually boxed meals, or go table service.
Hybrid is the name of the game.
Not everyone will feel comfortable coming to live events. They might have underlying health conditions or might not feel well.
Every meeting needs to find a way to make virtual an option. This is both respectful and smart. In today’s technological world, it’s not as difficult as it might seem. Create a position on your team that involves an expert in technology to help you deal with the expected and demanded need for a hybrid model of in-person and virtual.
What are the rules?
It seems like the “old days” now, but there was a time about 13 months ago where there was an expectation that employees show up to work unless they were flat on their back sick. I know people might push back on this, but I’ve been around enough small businesses that expect an employee with a cold to show up and “gut it out.”
That’s no good anymore.
First, you don’t want sick people – at any level of “sick” – in your office or facility. They can spread illness that might infect a large percentage of your team. Not only that, what kind of performance will you get out of them?
It’s time to create a new “sick policy.” This is a policy that is understanding, not penal; encouraging, not dissuading; and that has virtual options to still attend work without compromising others.
These rules of engagement need to be written, communicated, and followed. We’ve endured too much as a society to go back to asking employees to work when they are even slightly under the weather. Too many of them are scared for their jobs if they don’t show up. Employers should make them fearful if they DO show up sick, because they would be threatening the health of their co-workers and continued operations of the business.
Masks are here to stay.
Masks aren’t going anywhere. In fact, those children that are toddlers will likely never know a world where having a plethora of masks handy won’t be the rule.
Masks have been polarizing. As I write this line, I’m still amazed by that statement, but I digress. Even after everyone has been vaccinated for COVID-19, people will be wearing masks more frequently, especially during flu and cold season.
You might find employees wanting to wear them to work. Let them.
You might find both employees and clients wearing them at meetings. Good.
You might find them commonplace at any point of the year. Don’t judge.
Masks have been a way of life in Asian countries for decades. Nobody cares.
Anyone who still has an aversion to people wearing masks in public will need to get over it. Masks won’t stall business dealings or make one look weak. Masks are now going to be a part of our culture moving forward, so everyone should find their own style of mask and embrace it.
This past year has taught us one thing – in a world of immense technological advances, a microscopic villain can take us all down. For business and lives to keep growing and thriving, we must continue to protect ourselves at all costs. Not doing so will be the next economic disaster.
So, mask up, get used to your monitor, and find a new, fun way to greet others. It’s the new and healthier reality.
This is my March 2021 column for The Kitsap Sun. To read it online, click here.
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