will the handshake surviveWill the handshake survive in the future of work?

Of all questions related to our post-pandemic resumption of work, this one has me the most vexed. Clearly, the handshake, which is a Westernized standard for business engagement, unsettles many. As we remind ourselves that hands spread germs, few of us who work will gladly continue shaking others’ hands.

Which leads me to this: should the handshake survive?

If the Covid pandemic illuminated anything, it is that, in 2020, our distance from others—and their hands—wiped out influenza fatalities.

One year ago, headlines predicted the imminent death of the handshake. And, no greater authority than Dr. Anthony Fauci signed the death-certificate.

One year after pandemic lockdowns ensured, as more than 10 percent of the US population is fully vaccinated from Covid, many companies and hiring managers plan to return to normal operations. Even if their workforces remain partly distributed, people in companies will soon assemble in the same space for meetings, conferences, and other get-togethers.

When gathered, will hiring managers expect their people to shake hands?

Even as the C-suite invests heavily in hand-sanitizating stations, there will be a considerable number of people in their ranks who will bristle at the mere thought of pressing flesh.

So, what do we do about the handshake? Here are some thoughts:

  1. Encourage consent. There will be many people who want to shake hands and many others who won’t. Company leaders must do their part to make their people feel safe, and safety compliance must occur from allowing people to opt-out of handshakes without fear of shame or repercussion.
  2. Explore handshake alternatives. Will the handshake give way to namaskar, an adaab salaam gesture, or something else? Non-contact forms of greeting are customary in much of the world, but not in Western culture. Given that post pandemic, a large portion of the American workforce will remain remote or distributed, we must allow all who gather for work some creativity to explore ways of greeting others that don’t raise anxieties or spread infection.
  3. Establish meaningful workplace greeting policies. Companies must update and expand their policies to include how we may or may not greet one another. Some of them may announce that they are now handshake-free zones. If 30 years ago, workplaces successfully became smoke-free zones, then now they may also become non-contact greeting zones.

Will the handshake survive?

Time will tell. But, let’s not shake on this. Instead, let us resolve to make work and business greetings cheerful and safe. When we do that, our best days lie ahead.

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Image credits: Man offering hands over heart greeting, lucigerma for iStock Photo; Podcast button, J. Brandt Studio for The Dan Smolen Experience.