Workplace etiquette during Covid


Due to Covid-19, things are changing at breakneck speed, and that includes our social norms and customs. Gone are the days of greeting people with handshakes, or saying goodbye with hugs and air kisses. While the PDA-phobic rejoice, how should the rest of us adapt our touchy-feely ways?

Nowhere is it more important to respect social customs than in the workplace, so we asked Desmond So, founder of etiquette and confidence training academy East-West Institute of Applied Etiquette, to give us his expert advice.

How to greet people in a business setting

While hugs and handshakes are “on hiatus” at the moment, there are no rules for accepted alternatives – I’ve seen elbow bumps, foot bumps and waves. I’d say stay away from fist bumps because people may not feel comfortable with skin-to-skin contact. Whatever you do, be sure to initiate and maintain eye contact – and smile.


Don’t be afraid to set boundaries

Greeting rituals such as handshakes and hugs are just a form of communication, so there’s nothing wrong with asking what the other person is comfortable with. If you’d rather set your own boundaries, politely say, “For your safety, I’m not going to shake your hand” and go straight to an elbow bump or wave.

Mask on or off?

In my opinion, wearing a mask complies with current hygiene standards and everyone should keep theirs on unless eating (such as at a business lunch). Just because you have settled into the confines of a boardroom doesn’t mean it’s safe for you or others to take off your masks. Even if your counterpart takes their mask off, you’re absolutely entitled to keep your mask on.


Conference call etiquette

Follow these five rules: First, know how to turn on/off your video and sound on a dime. Second, identify yourself clearly by first and last name the first time you speak, especially if your video is off. Third, mute your mic when you’re not speaking. Fourth, stay in one place to maintain a stable connection and to avoid embarrassing surprises. Fifth, don’t forget to wear trousers.

A video call for work is no different than a real business meeting, so be prepared, give others your undivided attention and practice active listening. You should not be multitasking, typing emails or doing other things – this is basic respect.

For etiquette advice for everyday situations, check out a related piece here.

Desmond So is the founder and chief consultant of East-West Institute of Applied Etiquette, a corporate training business specialising in etiquette and confidence training.

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