The week of June 7-13 is National Business Etiquette Week.
Business etiquette has always been a vital aspect of the work world. But in our post-pandemic world as employees return to office buildings, how might business etiquette rules change?
We’re in uncharted territory; there’s no “business etiquette book” that tells us how to proceed, post-pandemic, as we return to our workplaces.
But here’s a glimpse to help you navigate what might be the “new normal” in business and office etiquette.
The handshake: This traditional greeting in business will eventually return. It’s been around since the Roman Empire and only halted temporarily during the bubonic plague in the 14th century and the 1918 Spanish flu epidemic. So, in the interim, you can acknowledge the other person with a smile along with a slight up-and-down head nod and good eye contact. If the handshake happens accidently (and it will!), just keep hands away from the face until you can wash them. Thinking about using the elbow bump? Probably not a good idea; you never know if the person recently sneezed or coughed into their elbow.
Office guidelines: Reconfigured office space, staggered work schedules or reducing employees in the office by half — and the other half working remotely — is gaining popularity to help people feel comfortable and free from worry. Hold meetings in conference rooms with reduced numbers of chairs rather than in individual offices. Wipe down the conference table, chairs and phone before you leave. You’ll likely see portable hand sanitizer stands in public areas, tape on the floor in front of someone’s desk and signage requesting that employees walk counterclockwise in open areas.
The office break room: Stay socially distanced from others when getting coffee or using the microwave. Wear a face mask if desired; no one should judge. Use sanitizer wipes to disinfect controls on the coffee brewer, microwave, refrigerator and faucet handles after each use.
Personal space at business social events: When business socials reappear on calendars, should you attend? That will, of course, depend on your comfort level at the time of the event. The customary “personal space” of 1½-4 feet for mingling and making small talk with someone may increase for people to feel comfortable in these settings.
Elevator etiquette: It’s hard to legislate numbers of people in elevators; just be smart about it. If building management posts signs with suggested social distancing capacity, such as 2-3 persons, respect their guidelines. When waiting to enter, stand to the side and allow a 6-foot clearance for those exiting before you enter.
Business card exchange: Don’t toss your business cards; they’ll make a comeback! If you’re not comfortable holding someone’s card, consider a business card scanner app that uses your smartphone’s camera to scan the card’s details to your smartphone.
The business lunch: Most restaurants, now operating under new national and state guidelines, offer safe, socially distanced dining. Expect to see masked servers, single-use menus, tables spaced farther apart and no communal breadbasket. Stick to one-on-one lunches, outdoors if possible. And for offices that cater in buffet-style lunches for vendors or clients, order individual box lunches instead.
When it comes to business etiquette in a post-pandemic world, new rules for engagement are evolving. The goal is that each business professional conveys a spirit of courtesy and sensitivity to others as workplaces reopen and the business arena adjusts.
Rachel Wagner is a licensed business etiquette consultant, trainer and speaker and owner of the Bixby-based business etiquette firm Rachel Wagner Etiquette and Protocol.