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Will We Ever Shake Hands Again?

Has 14 months of mask wearing and social distancing changed business etiquette? It’s still too early to shake hands and elbow bumping is gimmicky, so just nod instead.

GAINESVILLE, Fla. – After more than a year of masking and social distancing, many people are returning to a normal routine as COVID-19 vaccines blunt the pandemic’s effects. But with more restrictions ending, what will the workplace look like moving forward? How will business etiquette change?

For now, experts say, you may need to continue keeping the handshake – a traditional greeting and symbol of agreement on a transaction – in your back pocket.

“Don’t offer to shake hands if you are introduced,” writes etiquette expert Eva Del Rio in a column for The Gainesville Sun. “Simply say, ‘It’s nice to meet you,’ with a smile and a nod of the head while keeping your hands by your side. If someone offers their hand to you, it’s okay to say, ‘It’s so nice to meet you, but I’m not shaking hands yet,’ implying that someday you will.”

Elbow bumping, Del Rio notes, was a fun, new way to greet others at the beginning of the pandemic, but now she says it’s unnecessary and can come across as gimmicky in the workplace. Also, continue to respect personal space. Some consumers may be uneasy with someone who comes too close to them or if a shopper stands right behind them in line.

In March, nearly half of Americans – an equal share of vaccinated and unvaccinated people – said they felt uneasy about adjusting to in-person interaction again, according to a survey from the American Psychological Association. Del Rio says you don’t have to space yourself too far from others, but be mindful that people now consider “personal space” as a larger area than before the pandemic.

Everyone has different comfort levels, James Honeycutt of the University of Texas at Dallas told Cleveland.com. In describing proxemics, the study of social space, Honeycutt says that about 18 inches around your body is considered intimate space, up to four feet is personal, 12 is social and 36 is public.

Also, follow local mask guidance as a show of respect to others. “Remember, etiquette is not so much about rules; it’s about being considerate and thoughtful of others,” Del Rio writes for the Sun. “This means always carry a mask with you – just in case. And never make fun of someone for wearing a mask or taking a precaution.”

Source: “Post-COVID Workplace Etiquette,” The Gainesville Sun (2021) and “Will We Shake Hands Again? Whether You’re Burning Your Mask or Need Space, Expect Anxiety as COVID Restrictions End,” Cleveland.com (May 20, 2021)

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